Last month when I was around the Bloomsbury area I came across a pop-up shop next to Pentreath & Hall on Rugby Street. They had the most striking collection of needlework cushions in the window, so I went in to explore further and got talking to the sales assistant, and I found out that these were no ordinary cushions…
The brilliantly named Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise that trains prisoners in skilled creative needlework to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem.
I was seriously impressed by the craftsmanship, the work is of a superb quality because the prisoners are taught by volunteers from the Embroiderers and Quilters Guild. The pop-up shop was there to showcase the new collection commissioned by Pentreath & Hall - ‘Falling Cubes’ and ‘Tetrahedron’, the dynamic results of fusing traditional needlework techniques with graphic, contemporary designs.
The enterprise is actively supported by some big names in the interiors industry. Designers like Jasper Conran, Cath Kidston and Kit Kemp have all commissioned works.
The prisoners are paid for their work, which includes cushions, quilts and bags. They learn new skills and help support their families with the money they earn. These can then be sold around the world. Some pieces are commissions, and others are heritage pieces, for organisations like the V&A and Tate Modern.
Fine Cell Work’s vision is to become more embedded in the prison system and to guide prisoners towards formal work training and qualifications and to match them up with organisations that can provide support or employment on release.
Craftwork in prison can help prisoners discover a more constructive and reflective side to themselves. Fine Cell Work aims to broaden horizons beyond the prison walls, helping inmates to make a contribution by connecting them to wider society and giving them a brighter outlook on their future.
"I am learning a new skill which I did not think possible. I also know that people do care about me and what I do because otherwise why would people take an interest in my fine cell work! I now believe what others think about me makes a real difference to how I conduct myself.”
Steve, HMP Wandsworth
Fine Cell Work was founded by philanthropist, Lady Anne Tree you can read her interesting story here.