I noticed over the years what a terrible waste of time there was…And I got such a lot of fun out of embroidery." Lady Anne Tree
As a visitor to HMP Holloway women's prison in the 1960s, Lady Anne worked with two long-term prisoners on intricate needlepoint carpets which were subsequently sold as collectors' items in New York.
Lady Anne felt that the women who had put so much hard work into the pieces should be able to earn money from their work, and so she became determined to establish an organisation in which prisoners could learn a skill to the highest level and be paid for their efforts.
Lady Anne cited two reasons for focusing on needlepoint for her campaign. Her mother-in-law, Nancy Lancaster, owned the interior designers Colefax and Fowler, so "I had the possibility to sell good-quality needlework for good prices through shops." She was also convinced that sewing was therapeutic: "It is meditative, a way of thinking, of taking stock."
After decades of lobbying the Home Office to change the law so that prisoners could earn money from their work she achieved her goal. Working out of a bedsit in Bloomsbury, Fine Cell Work officially started operations in 1997.
Today, Fine Cell Work has 60 volunteers training over 400 prisoners in 29 prisons across England, Scotland and Wales and prison systems in other countries have expressed interest in starting similar schemes.
The work has been exhibited by the V&A , commissioned by English Heritage and sold to leading interior designers.