Volunteers' Week 2024 - Meet Leah Jensen

Leah Jensen - photo credit Jamie Trounce

Volunteers' Week, running from 3rd to 6th June, celebrates the amazing contributions volunteers make to communities across the UK. It’s a chance to recognise, celebrate and thank the UK’s incredible volunteers for all they contribute to our local communities, the voluntary sector, and society as a whole.

Volunteers are essential to Fine Cell Work, and are on the front line of our programmes, delivering our services both inside and outside of prisons. To mark Volunteers' Week, we spoke to some of the amazing individuals who give their time and energy to help deliver our services. In this article we meet Leah Jensen, a designer maker that works predominantly in ceramic, wood and textile, who has been volunteering with Fine Cell Work since November 2023.

Leah, what does your volunteering role at Fine Cell Work entail?

I teach embroidery and tapestry, alongside three other volunteers, to stitchers in one of Fine Cell Work's prison cell groups.


What drew you to Fine Cell Work as an organisation?

Shortly after my 30th birthday, I had a seizure that resulted in a brain cancer diagnosis. In the subsequent couple of years, I had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. All of this happened in the midst of COVID, so my weakened immune system, coupled with exhaustion from the treatment, meant that, aside from hospital visits, I was in near complete isolation for over two years.

The day I discovered I had a brain tumour, I instinctively knew I had to start sewing. I was very lucky to have been taught how to sew and embroider by my mum as a child. Stitching became an absolute necessity for my wellbeing through the illness and recovery, a distraction from the physical discomfort and escapism from the intrusive negative thoughts. Importantly, it was an activity that I could do in bed, that would pass the time with very little energy required. I often felt so lucky I was able to sew and wondered what people that didn’t stitch, do to cope.

Before this, I had known about Fine Cell Work through various craft communities I worked within, and it just happened that at the point I was beginning to feel better, there was a callout for volunteers. I knew I had to apply because, although I have no idea how it feels to be in prison, I felt there were certain parallels with what I had been through that left me with a sort of vivid empathy for how difficult it must be. I believe that creativity is for everyone and should be as accessible as possible as it is just so therapeutic and relaxing. I felt compelled to share the knowledge that I have.

What do you find most rewarding about your role?

Being able to pass on the knowledge and skills that were such a lifeline to me at an intensely difficult time, and hearing from the stitchers that they are finding it beneficial to their wellbeing is just incredible. The stitchers in our group are really talented and nice to chat with - I always feel happier after a session. Seeing how quickly their stitching improves, and how keen they are to help one another, makes me feel that we’ve helped to set up a really great group.

What do you find most challenging about your role?

I am left with some cognitive damage from my treatment, so sometimes the paperwork is a challenge, but my fellow volunteers and the staff at Fine Cell Work are incredibly supportive, so this hasn't been a problem.

Also, you inevitably hear about challenging circumstances that the stitchers have that you are powerless to assist with. I feel that most of the time they just want to be listened to, and the sessions provide a peaceful place for this to happen.

What has volunteering at Fine Cell Work given you?

Returning to work after illness is pretty daunting but volunteering has given me that confidence boost I needed. I think I’ll be ready soon!

 The theme of this year's Volunteers' Week is 'uniquely us'. In your mind, what's the most unique thing about volunteering with Fine Cell Work?

 Being part of a community of likeminded creative people, and having an allotted time to sit down with them and sew!

What would you say to someone who's considering volunteering with Fine Cell Work?

It’s an incredibly rewarding experience, go for it!


Leah Jensen is a designer maker who works predominantly in ceramic, wood and textile. She is currently working on a textile project about her experiences with brain cancer with the intention of holding an exhibition to raise money for brain tumour research.

www.leahjensen.co.uk | @leah.jensen
Photo credit: Jamie Trounce

Learn more about volunteering with Fine Cell Work here.
Learn more about Volunteers' Week here.
Read an interview with another Fine Cell Work volunteer, Sarah Ashford, here.


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