Over the past six months, Fine Cell Work has worked really hard to adapt our way of working in order to continue providing much needed support for the people at the heart of our organisation - our stitchers. The increase in home-crafting throughout the pandemic has demonstrated how now - more than ever - stitching really can provide a lifeline for those experience prolonged periods of isolation.
This guest blog has been written by Russell Webster, an external consultant who carries out monitoring and evaluation work for Fine Cell Work.
"Stitching has given me a sense of normality. I have closed my door and settled down to stitch as in the past, pre-COVID days and the stress of the endless changes in here has receded. Stitching has really helped me."
All of us of have had individual experiences of living through the pandemic and associated lockdown. If the truth be told, for most of us it has been pretty miserable for a lot of the time. How much worse, then, has it been for people in our prisons who have essentially been in solitary confinement for more than six months with the vast majority having no physical contact with family or friends.
Fine Cell Work is the only paid job which prisoners are able to carry out in-cell and can be a financial lifeline. In addition to the earning potential, there are significant therapeutic benefits to the intricacy of needlework and as soon as the organisation knew a lockdown was coming, every available staff member and volunteer pitched in to get as many kits as possible sent off to prisons before all outside contact was suspended.
As lockdown continued, Fine Cell Work was keen to know how its stitchers were coping and how the organisation could keep supporting them. I have been the charity’s independent external evaluator for the last few years and designed a questionnaire which was sent in to everyone stitching in prison. For many people, stitching was the only activity which they were able to continue to do and many survey respondents made it clear that stitching has been a psychological lifeline for them.
"I have ADHD and personality disorder, I'm easily bored and struggle with concentration so 23 hours a day lock-up isn't ideal! Once I pick up that needle, I end up hyper- focusing on sewing and before I know it is 11:30 PM and I have been sewing all day. I get lost in it, I get a calming feeling and sense of satisfaction knowing I'll put a smile on someone's face when they purchase the completed work."
Fine Cell Work sent every stitcher a £50 bonus payment to ensure that they did not run out of phone credit and could keep in touch with families and friends. This gesture was massively appreciated by stitchers, but many more valued the fact that the organisation stayed in contact and continued to offer support even more highly. Most people are desperate to maintain links with “the real world” and information about what is going on outside prison walls has become precious.
Several individuals also spoke about the importance of people in the community simply remembering them and thinking about them. Prisoners have often feared that once they are out of sight, they are out of mind and the pandemic has exacerbated these fears. Prisoners are cut off from family and friends by the suspension of personal visits and are aware that many of us living in the community are consumed with our own worries about coronavirus and preoccupied by the (much less stringent) restrictions on our daily routines.
Simply being remembered turned out to be very important to peoples’ morale; people appreciated the simple things such as "not being forgotten during lockdown", "being kept up to date" and "still feeling part of a team".
I am confident that the team at Fine Cell Work will continue to do everything in their power to remain in touch with and continue to support all its prison stitchers.
We need your support now more than ever. Please donate to support our work or make a purchase to allow us to create more work for our stitchers.