Fine Cell Work is a charity that I can’t say enough good things about. Its aim is to train prisoners in skilled, paid needlework which may be for a commission or to be sold in finished form. The work is of amazingly high quality as prisoners are taught and supported by volunteers many of who were trained at the Royal School of Needlework and/or belong to the Embroiderers and Quilters Guilds. One of the core aims of the charity is to foster discipline and self-esteem in prisoners and to give them important work and self-management skills that can be used in life after prison. Recently I had a chat with FCW managing director Victoria Gillies:
CB: I spent a fantastic day at Waddesdon Manor recently at an event that you co-ordinated with the textile department of the house – can you tell us more about your connection with Waddesdon?
VG: Waddesdon Manor is the country seat of the Rothschild family and the Rothschild Foundation has sponsored FCW in the past. In 2011 the charity had a fundraising event in memory of the founder of Fine Cell Work, Lady Anne Tree, to set up a fund to work with prisoners after they left prison. A member of the Rothschild’s family knew Lady Anne Tree. Recently, the Foundation hosted a reception and sale at the Dairy, with an event at Waddesdon about textiles in their collection the next day. Fine Cell Work products, made in prisons throughout the country were sold in the shop. In fact FCW were able to take a textile design from Waddesdon which has a rich textile archive and use the image for a needlepoint kit.
CB: I understand that you have had some prestigious commissions? Gavin Turk, The V&A Museum, The Prince of Wales etc. Do you have any interesting commissions coming up that you can talk about?
VG: There is a remarkable commission that has just been unveiled at the British Library which is by the eminent British artist Cornelia Parker. It’s a contemporary interpretation of the Magna Carta in the form of a hand stitched representation of the Magna Carta’s Wikipedia Page and is over 14 metres long. The text of the piece is stitched predominantly by Fine Cell Work stitchers with the illustrations being done by the Embroiderers’ Guild, the golden crown by the Royal School of Needlework and the Wikipedia logo by Hand and Lock. The whole piece has been stitched by over 240 people including professional stitchers, prisoners, civil rights campaigners, lawyers and volunteers from FCW. In fact I stitched the words New Zealand as this is where I am originally from. Cornelia used a wonderful expression about it when she said that she wanted it to be ‘the work of many hands’.
CB: What are FCW’s aims for the future?
VG: FCW has been around for 18 years in which time amazing things have been achieved. In the next 18 months to two years we are looking at creating an employment hub in Greater London to help prisoners coming out of prison to use and extend the work skills they have. We are currently running a pilot scheme with seven prisoners as they leave prison to help them into accredited training, getting qualifications and gaining employment. We currently have one ex prisoner who is working in a very high end soft furnishing company and another who is taking a full time upholstery qualification. We want to build on this going forward and will be able to increase the number of ex-prisoners who are helped into work by the hub. We are also looking at ways of working with interior designers to provide soft furnishing services on a regular basis and we are expanding our workshop in HMP Gartree which will help support this.
CB: The designs for both the completed work that you sell and the kits are beautiful – who is behind these?
VG: We work closely with talented designers who volunteer their time for us. Melissa Wyndham has worked with us extensively in the past and her pineapple cushion which she designed recently has been a best seller. We also work closely with Kit Kemp who has a new range with us coming up and will be launched in November at Ham Yard Hotel in London. Both Melissa and Kit are on our board of trustees.
CB: What is the process of commissioning a piece of work?
VG: Anything is possible! We have a commission’s expert who will work with someone who wants to commission a piece. If there is already an idea of what is required, we can work on how it is achievable or can provide ideas from scratch. We have almost completed an absolutely stunning embroidered wall-hanging almost covering the width of one wall for the Worshipful Company of Glaziers to hang in the Glaziers Hall near London Bridge. This was designed by a stained glass designer and stitched in small pieces to create a large wall hanging that has the effect of water on glass. This is going to be unveiled in July this year.
CB: Thank you so much for your time Victoria and please extend all our best wishes to everyone involved with FCW.
See more about Fine Cell Work, buy the work (or needlework kits if you are feeling industrious) or commission some work at www.finecellwork.co.uk