Volunteers' Week 2021: A thank you
The last time our team of dedicated prison volunteers went into prison to teach embroidery, needlepoint and quilting was almost 18 months ago. As the country shut down, so did prisons and with little warning, the volunteers were prevented from returning to their regular visits to groups of men and women in prisons across the country. The prisoners lost their regular social contact with the volunteers, the camaraderie with their fellow stitchers and for some, they lost their only connection with the outside world.
A lockdown would never stop our prison volunteers from doing all they can to support the prisoners that they teach. Many of them are now writing to their groups on a regular basis. Not just good old-fashioned letters, but beautifully hand-stitched cards with heartfelt words of encouragement and support. These cards and letters have helped our stitchers feel connected to Fine Cell Work, to the outside world and to their volunteers. They have kept spirits high, whilst also being a way for our volunteers to give feedback to stitchers on the work they have been returning. New techniques and varied stitches have also been taught via these cards and letters.
Many of our volunteers have continued to regularly drive to prisons, often up to two hours away, to meet prison staff in car parks and laybys to hand over kits for stitchers to complete during lockdown. We can not thank our prison volunteers enough for their continued dedication to the prisoners they support during a year that has thrown so many personal challenges their way.
“Each volunteer brings a wealth of knowledge, life, experience and a link to the outside world. The place of freedom, hope and dreams. They bring humanity to an inhumane world” – FCW Stitcher
It isn’t only our prison volunteers who have stepped up and adapted the way they supported Fine Cell Work this year. We would also like to acknowledge and thank our wonderful production, design and hub volunteers as well the team of Fine Cell Work mentors.
Lockdown has been difficult for everyone, including the ex-prisoners engaged in our post release programme (who we refer to as apprentices). In “normal” times, mentors would meet apprentices face to face in the hub and work with them to help identify, set and reach their goals of further education, training or getting into work. Whilst the hub was closed, and staff worked from home the mentors set up zoom accounts and held lengthy sessions with apprentices online or over the phone. This invaluable consistency during a time of huge change and uncertainty for our apprentices was made easier to weather by having consistent and empathetic support from their mentors, who encouraged and inspired them to carry on working towards their goals and dreams.
“My mentor is supportive. It is lovely to have someone who doesn’t judge me and who I can connect with about parts of my life that do not revolve around custody.” - FCW apprentice
Our production volunteers were unable to attend the hub, where they usually teach apprentices or support the production team with kit-making and other tasks. Instead, they took on challenges from home – taking over their kitchen tables whilst making up kits for prisoners, stitching samples of new designs and working out wool and thread quantities for new products. With the prison workshops closed we would not have been able to continue sending in work to prisoners if it were not for their support. We simply would not have had the capacity to make up all the kits to meet our stitchers needs.
In between lockdowns our hub volunteers came in to our hub workshop in smaller groups to help us make up work produced by prison stitchers into products available for our customers to buy. This is usually done in the prison workshops, which have also been closed since March last year. We received huge amounts of work back from our stitchers during the pandemic, but we would not have been able to continue selling this work if it wasn’t for the Friday afternoons our volunteers got together and made up, piped and stuffed cushions and giftware ready for us to sell. We have been overwhelmed by the support these volunteers have given us. Without them we would have no products to sell, to bring in essential money needed to continue running Fine Cell Work and our stitchers work would still be sitting on a shelf in the office not being seen by the world.
We would also like to extend our thanks to our dedicated, patient pop-up shop and events volunteers who have kept in touch over the past year and are itching to get back out there, helping us to sell our wares this year. We are hopeful that we will be able to do this soon and are grateful to you all for sticking with us.
And so – we would like to say a huge, almighty THANK YOU to all of our volunteers for being flexible, adapting to challenges and continuing to be the most invaluable facet of the Fine Cell Work family. We cannot express how much your support has meant to staff, apprentices and prisoners up and down the country. You have enabled us to continue providing meaningful, creative, paid work to prisoners and ex-prisoners, empowering them to lead meaningful, crime-free lives.
Jenni Parker, Head of Programme Delivery