Volunteering to Teach Needlework in Prison

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Fine Cell Work is a charity and social enterprise that works with teams of volunteers to train groups of prisoners in needlework in prisons across England. The stitchers are paid and their work is sold. This process helps prisoners gain hope, discipline, and a sense of purpose.

This activity is good for wellbeing because

  • there is a wealth of evidence that stitching can improve wellbeing through its creativity and the mindfulness of the activity, things that are often absent in prisons
  • the ability to earn and save money allows stitchers to improve their living conditions in prison, and have a safety net for when they are released to reduce reoffending
  • teaching people new skills in the challenging environment of a prison is a fulfilling activity that gives volunteers unique experiences

“As I suffer with bipolar and chronic depression, focusing on stitching keeps my mind from wandering down some very dark paths. Seeing the designs appear and completing a piece makes me feel good about me.”

Fine Cell Work is a charity which makes beautiful handmade products in British prisons. They are recruiting volunteers to teach needlepoint, embroidery, and/or quilting in a new stitching group at HMP Peterborough.

Teaching prisoners high-quality needlework boosts their self-worth and self-discipline, fosters hope, and encourages them to lead independent, crime-free lives.

Read about some of the experiences of prisoners and ex-prisoners, and the impact the programme has had on them, in this blog.

What to expect?

Volunteers work with a small group of stitchers (which is what they call the prisoners who work with them). There are always multiple volunteers per group – usually around three volunteers for a group of ten stitchers.

The teaching component is not very formal. Fine Cell send kits for volunteers to work through with their stitchers, containing instructions and all the required materials for each project. The current volunteers are happy to go to the first few sessions at HMP Peterborough to get the group up and running.

Potential volunteers are asked to fill in a short application form. Fine Cell would then invite you for a brief interview. You ideally would then visit one of the existing groups so you can get a feel for what they do and see if you are comfortable going into prison.

Volunteers require a DBS check, which Fine Cell will organise. Fine Cell staff provide training on topics such as maintaining boundaries and safeguarding. Volunteers will also be trained by the prison on safety and protocol.

Training a volunteer and arranging their security clearance to work in prison usually takes between two and six months. Because of this investment of time, Fine Cell hope that most prison-based volunteers will be able to commit for at least a year or two.

More information

Volunteering in prison with Fine Cell Work involves patience and a time commitment, but is also hugely rewarding, and puts you in the privileged position of being able to work with some amazingly talented people in a very unusual setting.

You do not need to be a highly-skilled stitcher, but basic knowledge is essential. Teaching experience and/or experience of working with vulnerable or excluded groups is desirable but not a must.

Volunteering is free, and all expenses related to volunteering with Fine Cell Work are paid for by the charity.

How to contact

Where to go

HMP Peterborough Saville Road Westwood Peterborough PE3 7PD

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