Their work is sought out by groups as diverse as English Heritage, hotel chains, interior designers and ecclesiastical orders. Eager customers wait months for a commission to come to fruition and then proudly display the needlework in exclusive hotels and stately homes.
So far, so middle-class; the surprise lies in the knowledge that these demanded pieces are crafted by prisoners, enabled by the efforts of Fine Cell Work, an organisation which teaches needlework to prison inmates. In operation now since the 1960s, the brainchild of prison visitor Lady Anne Tree, the organisation positively engages prisoners and in its time has received designs from such luminaries as Jasper Conran, Celia Birtwell and Cath Kidston.
Fine Cell Work operates in 26 prisons in England, engaging hundreds of prisoners in the work, 80% of which are men. A prisoner will spend an average of 3 years working with Fine Cell Work, in a cathartic process, aiding rehabilitation and providing a prisoner with focus and a means of earning money for his family and his life after prison.