Fine Cell Work: the social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled needlework

Lucy Purdy

Teaching prisoners creative sewing boosts their employability and self-confidence, say those at Fine Cell Work

The Fine Cell Work team train offenders to do high-quality, creative needlework in their cells. The aim is that the work helps foster hope, discipline and employability. Those at the social enterprise want to help people to finish their sentences with skills, money earned and saved, and the self-belief that will help them avoid re-offending, as well as guiding them towards training and support on release.

Image: Fine Cell Work

The social enterprise works in 32 UK prisons with more than 600 prisoners each year. Prisoners are taught by volunteers and the sale of their work – from finely embroidered cushions in geometric designs, to cosy patchwork quilts – gives them a sense of connection to the world beyond prison. “For many of our stitchers, completing a Fine Cell Work kit may be the first time they have ever seen something through from start to finish,” says managing director Victoria Gillies. “The sense of satisfaction in making an entire product – and being paid for it – greatly improves their wellbeing, confidence and self-worth.


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“One stitcher I met last week was using his income to pay for his daughter’s ballet lessons; another used his money to pay for his children’s train fares so that they could visit him once a month. Others save their Fine Cell Work money to help them pay a deposit for rented accommodation on release, or a bicycle so that they can get around.”

Image: Simon Bevan

John (not his real name), a Fine Cell Work service user in his 50s, found out about the charity from a fellow prisoner. “Sewing is what some in jail would consider ‘women’s work’ but a big incentive for me was doing paid work,” he says.

Image: Fine Cell Work

“I got along with people and there was a great sense of camaraderie. I enjoyed the challenge of stitch-ing and the fact there was scope to be creative: it gave me something to focus on. I would say to any-one starting their journey with Fine Cell Work to make the most of it. Put whatever you have done behind you and move forwards with your new life.”

Featured image: Simon Bevan


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