We’re kicking off an exciting new series called Spotlight On! We’ll be chatting with various people in a similar field to us, getting an insight into what they do to find out more about other work being carried out in prisons.
First up is Zannah! We’ve been lucky enough to have her on board with us to help out with our latest money course. Here she explains how she got involved with different sorts of prison projects, and tells us about her hopes for the role that creative courses can play in the lives of those in prison.
Tell us a bit about yourself and personal background.
At school I was happiest in art class, when you could get into a creative flow and sense of freedom with self-expression. This led me to do a BA in Textiles and then an MA in Design at Central Saint Martins where I explored well-being. After this I volunteered at HMP Thameside, a Category B prison with a project called MakeRight where we co-designed anti-theft bags with the men there, and then I was offered a job there.
What has your involvement been with the criminal-justice system in the last few years?
As a Textile Officer I spent a year at HMP Thameside where I designed and delivered a course making textiles for charity. The men learnt sewing skills, design thinking and made sensory Fidget Quilts for dementia patients, and Weighed Blankets for children with autism. The class also made beautiful patchwork cushions and quilts to give to visiting friends and family members. They formed a really positive community and supportive environment of mutual respect where they could be creative and give to charity whilst having fun. The members who were on suicide watch in prison said that being in class was good for their minds, that it helped them unwind and forget they were in prison.
Are you currently involved in any other projects?
I am a Research Associate at the Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central Saint Martins, where I have been re-developing creative courses for prisons. The goal is that they provide the men with meaningful work and improve well-being.
What is your vision for the future of this type of work?
Currently I am in the process of setting up a social enterprise which will provide Textiles and Baking courses in prisons — MakeRight and BakeRight. In the future, my colleague and I would like to set up a cafe selling cakes, smoothies and ice cream to employ people coming out of prison whilst they work out what they want to do with their lives.
Why do you think it is important that projects such as these operate within prisons?
With the largest reoffending rate in Europe, and overcrowding and death rates up by 20%, UK prisons are failing us. With the government cuts I believe as a society we need to do more to give people in prison a chance, to provide more skills and training so they can get jobs on release and build hope for a better future.
Creative courses such as MakeRight and BakeRight provide people in prison with employable skills, creative outlets and positive learning experiences. The courses aim to build confidence, empathy and communication skills, and by making useful textile work and delicious cakes, participants are able to make a significant contribution back to society.