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  • 7 Dec 2016

Fine Cell Work opens New Hub for Ex-Offenders

xtadqjg2Fine Cell Work (FCW), the charity which trains and pays prisoners to do fine needlework in their cells for commercial sale, is planning to open a London-based crafts training studio for ex-offenders. This will be the fulfilment of a long-held dream. The workshop has been christened the Fine Works Hub and will offer work experience, accredited employment training and one to one mentoring to participants. It will be a busy, creative, hopeful place where ex-offenders will collaborate with designers and volunteers to build the Fine Cell Work brand.

Credit: Fine Cell Work

Our aim is to make the Fine Works Hub the “go-to” site for needlework and soft furnishings, selling high-quality, handmade British goods to the interior design trade. By 2020 we plan to be supporting 60 ex-offenders annually into employment and settled living.

The project has received glowing endorsement from one of our most loyal supporters, the Duchess of Cornwall, who said “I hope that the Fine Works employment hub for products ‘Handmade in British Prisons’ will grow and prosper through this important work.  It shows we can be proud of things achieved in our prisons, and by our prisoners.”

The Fine Works Hub is not a new idea. A frustration has been the charity’s inability to meet its workers’ need for post-prison support in order to translate their textile skills into real employment. There is moreover a widely-recognised need in the UK for textile and upholstery sector workers.

We have been testing and planning the model for three years now, and we have had outstanding results. We have worked with thirteen ex-offenders, and have had a 92% success rate. Put another way, there has been only 8% reoffending as opposed to a national average of 46%.

Of these thirteen former Fine Cell Workers, all of whom were all trained in prison by FCW in textile skills, seven have found work in textile trades – upholstery, soft furnishings, machine embroidery, costume-making and leatherwork. We are very aware of skills shortages in these areas, particularly in sewing machine skills, and are planning to recalibrate our production and training to ensure that Fine Cell Workers learn a wider range of employable skills, including machine skills.

The workshop will have a primary focus on sewing machine production, and we are currently engaged in the most extensive market research of our 19-year history to ensure we can produce a wider, more commercial range of hand-sewn and machine-finished products.

All Hub workers will do a textiles qualification and all will work with an employment mentor. There will also be opportunities for paid employment as well as training bursaries for participants to specialise their textile skills.

We currently have a small workshop at our Victoria-based office where ex-offenders as well as volunteers can work together on production tasks. It is extremely gratifying to see our former Fine Cell Workers blossom in confidence and social skills as they come to feel more accepted, more capable, and to have more genuine hope of social reintegration.

Credit: Simon Bevan

It is an old adage that once you are released from prison you find yourself serving a second sentence. Bob, a former Fine Cell Worker who now has a successful career in IT, writes,

“Getting out of prison was quite scary. Once the gate opens you are on your own. You feel how big and fast and noisy everything is. I went to Sainsburys and it was terrifying. If you have no support it is hard to survive. There are internal things you have to deal with. Having freedom feels strange. Even though you are free you are still not independent and you cannot support yourself. You have nothing to do all day. Sometimes you get to a point when you feel maybe it was better inside. You need something to focus on and you badly need day-to-day purpose.”

“Coming to volunteer with FCW was crucial because it gave me a sense of purpose and value. It gave me confidence for job interviews where I would have been terrified about being an ex-offender. Volunteering with FCW you have a role with responsibility. You’re being given trust. That is so important because you feel people wont give you trust because of where you have been. The trust they give you makes you feel “I can build up my future. I can tackle barriers and deal with a job. All because there are people who have believed in me”.

Tom, who is now working part-time as an upholsterer while he completes his formal upholstery training, writes,

“When I got out of prison Fine Cell Work really helped give me the confidence to do something with the hand-stitching skills I had learned inside. They provided a space where I could come to and not feel overwhelmed by all the challenges I had to face when I was released. They introduced me to people who could help me develop my career. Now I am training as a professional upholsterer and working part-time in the field. Thanks to Fine Cell Work I have a new life and a career path in something I really enjoy.”

In 2017, Fine Cell Work’s twentieth anniversary, we plan to relocate to a larger space where we can work with many more ex-offenders and expand our social enterprise. Please stay with us on this exciting journey, and keep buying our ever-wider range of products, as this will help us ensure our brand can grow alongside our ability to rehabilitate offenders.

Credit: Katheryn Benedict-Perri