Fine Cell Work, the charity that teaches fine needlework to prison inmates and sells their work on their behalf, is holding a Christmas selling exhibition and fund-raising reception at Leathersellers Hall on the 19th of November 2009. After benefiting greatly from the support of the Clothworkers and Drapers Companies at similar occasions in 2007 and 2008, an annual “Livery Company” event is becoming a fixture in the charity’s calendar.
The reception is intended not only to raise revenue for the charity’s expansion of its work to more inmates but also to raise awareness about the current plight of our overcrowded prisons.
Fine Cell Work is a uniquely creative charity established twelve years ago to train prison inmates to do professional embroidery and quilting in the long hours when they are locked in their cells. The charity now employs 340 inmates (eighty percent of them men), many of whom stitch for as long as 40 hours a week. Many send the money they earn back to families or save it for their release.
It is well known that ex-offenders who have some financial resources and have been able to maintain their links with families are less likely to re-offend. One said, “You feel you’re supporting yourself. It’s a comfort to know that. I feel proud I’ve been given something to achieve to get pride and self-respect.”
The inmates’ beautiful cushions, rugs and quilts have sold on three continents and received coverage in more than sixty publications. In 2008 Fine Cell Work sold £177,425 of soft furnishings hand-made in prison, proving that offenders are capable of producing the highest quality work. The inmates received a third of sales and numerous thank-you letters from customers. This is immensely good for their self-esteem and their employability after release.
Designers with and for whom Fine Cell has worked include Nina Campbell, Chester Jones, Allegra Hicks, Nicholas Haslam, John Stefanidis, Melissa Wyndham and many others. Prisoners are currently also working on commissions for quilts for the V & A and a wall hanging for the Jerwood Foundation, not to mention commissions for several livery companies and for English Heritage itself.