FINE CELL WORK is a charity and social enterprise committed to the rehabilitation of prisoners. Our aim is to support prisoners to finish their sentences with work skills, money earned and saved, and the self-belief to stop offending and go on to live meaningful, independent crime-free lives. We do this by training and paying them to do exquisite needlework to create beautiful products for sale. In our 25 years working in prison, we have supported over 8,000 prisoners.
Why we do what we do
Fine Cell Work’s programmes change lives and attitudes within prison. By providing employment opportunities to prepare prisoners to successfully reintegrate into the community after release, we are working to improve prisoner well-being whilst also reducing recidivism. The increasing number of inmates and high levels of reoffending have become part of a vicious circle of increasing levels of violence in society. It has been demonstrated that prisoners who attend vocational training and are employed in prison are more likely to secure employment shortly after release, thereby preventing the likelihood of continuing to live a life of crime. This has a positive impact on the individual, local communities, wider society and the economy. To further increase our impact, we established the Open the Gate programme in 2017 to support prisoners post-release. This programme has been very successful with only a 2% reoffending rate (against a national average of 46%) and with over 30% of participants going into work (against a national average of 17%) and10% into vocational training.
How we do it
Fine Cell Work has created the largest workforce of hand-embroiderers in Europe. Products made in prison are developed in collaboration with leading designers and then sold to the public, design houses, retailers and museums. Our stitchers are supported by volunteers who visit prison fortnightly to teach needlework. These volunteers are committed to our mission and able to respond according to the needs of the prison groups with enterprise and compassion, which has a deep impact the prisoners. Their delivery of our frontline programme has added to our efficiency.
Prisoners can progress their skills by volunteering as class co-ordinators and peer mentors and completing accredited stitching courses. They earn approximately a third of income from sales and are encouraged to save for release. Fine Cell Work is the only British charity and social enterprise providing earned income for prisoners on such a wide scale. The prisoners report that the making of high-quality needlework boosts their self-worth, instils self-discipline, and fosters hope. By being part of a team, each group a mini-workplace, their productivity earns them an income while giving them valuable work experience and connecting them to the world outside. They take great pride in knowing that we sell the results of their high-quality work. To engage as many prisoners as possible in the production process, all Fine Cell Work production is carried out in UK prisons or The Clothworkers’ Studio in Battersea. The success of our programme delivery and our experience was evident in the way we responded to the challenges imposed by the pandemic as we were one of the few organisations to continue our work in prisons. The charity’s model is sustainable; a quarter of its income comes from sales of prisoners’ work.
To train prisoners and ex-prisoners in high-quality needlework skills, so that they can engage in paid, purposeful, professional, creative activity.