UK

Can fashion help prisoners prepare for life on the outside?

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Media captionThe London College of Fashion is helping to run the project at the women's prison

Inside Holloway Prison - home to 500 prisoners - there is a room just off one of the many monochrome corridors that hits with you with a blast of colour.

A row of bags, in all sorts of shades and patterns, hangs on a rail.

On a nearby table there's a collection of cushion covers and make-up holdalls. A fashion workshop is in progress.

London College of Fashion (LCF) is providing the expertise, with tutor Carolyn Sumerfield in charge of the day-to-day teaching.

The Ministry of Justice has funded the machinery and set up the workshop.

It hopes the programme will give this small group of inmates a better chance of rehabilitation when they're released.

The plan is for the women to work for NVQ qualifications in prison. And next year, items made in Holloway will be on sale in the High Street.

'Transforming lives'

One of the driving forces behind the programme, which began three months ago, LCF head Prof Frances Corner said: "Fashion, in a way, is both inclusive and exclusive.

"It was very important to me to get the message across that the London College of Fashion isn't just about making and creating extraordinary designers and photographers, but actually is something that anybody can aspire to be part of.

"So as part of our commitment to widening and transforming lives we decided to develop a project with prisons."

At one of the sewing machines is Janet, who was convicted of fraud and is due to complete her sentence next year.

Image caption Inmate Janet says she wants to continue working with clothes when she leaves prison

"We are all here because we have done wrong," she says. "Nobody is more embarrassed and ashamed than me."

She says the workshop "takes away the boredom".

"There is nothing worse than sitting in a cell 18 or 19 hours a day," she says, adding: "If I could, I would be here 24/7.

"It's not just sewing, it's cutting out, designing, overlocking, button-holing. I've made clothes for my grandchildren."

Janet wants to carry on training and pursue a career in the trade when she gets out.

'Confidence boost'

Lois, who's also due for release next year, is serving four-and-a-half years for drugs smuggling.

She was given the chance to move to a different prison but decided to stay at Holloway because of her place in the workshop.

"I love it," she says. "It has really boosted my confidence and given me something to look forward to when I get out there.

"When I get out I want to be able to sew cushion covers, design them, sell them on the internet - or maybe have a little shop.

"I can't wait to get out there because I don't want to lose all my ideas."

Image caption It is hoped women working on the scheme will earn a qualification

Across the country, there's a shortage of skilled machinists. In London alone, the industry needs another 150.

Once they're on the outside, the aim is to put the women in touch with employers who are willing to recruit someone with a criminal record.

Prof Corner is passionate about rehabilitation.

She says: "People come to prison. They do their time.

"We need to be preparing them to support themselves so you don't end up with this vicious circle of them having to turn to crime again because we have given them no skills to support themselves."

'Difficult cuts'

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling recently denied there was a crisis in prisons in England and Wales.

In the wake of recent reports focusing on violence, suicides and staff shortages, campaigners say there are not enough projects like this.

They welcome such outside involvement and complain that, in general, training programmes have been slashed because of government cuts.

Justice minister Simon Hughes, visiting the workshop, acknowledges that "the big failure in English penal policy has been that we have not stopped people coming back again and again".

He says: "Yes there are cuts, yes it's been difficult.

"But we are trying to make a virtue of necessity and spend the money more wisely to make it go further."