The Prison Shop – so simple and effective

My three days at Bergen prison are over and tomorrow morning I fly to Oslo and then Trondheim. It was great really, I was bit down on it all at first – just missing home. Truth is there is so much to write about it is hard ordering my thoughts, that is why blogging is useful for me (even if no one reads it) to help me consolidate my learning. I am circling a couple of serious blogs about storytelling and museums. This is a light hearted gush about a brilliant idea, I do not know why this is not happening in prisons in the UK. I am going to bring it back and devise a way to do it, it ticks so many boxes.

Every prison in Norway (and other some other Scandinavian countries) have a prison store, stocking items made in the prison. the workshops in the prison range from carpentry, candle making, ceramics, metal work, wash bags, candles and cards. All the goods are also available on line. The wooden furniture and children toys and tables and chairs are best sellers. They have large contracts in wooden benches down to tiny items and gifts. I looked round the workshops – it was good to be making items that were then going over the wall. It is somehow more real, more connected to outside and not just tokenism ‘making’ of stuff to adorn the prison with.


Prisons Stretch works in have a couple of in house business’s – or at least aspire to – but nothing joined up – it seems to be  down to the individual drive of committed staff (as usual) whether something takes off. Jailbirds for example sells cards but only at churches and fetes, and to other prisoners – its not really a through-the-gate service. There are a few printing business’s, but nothing ‘craft based’ like we see in these shops. I know some of the prisons I work in have ‘enterprise centres’ – where making goes on.  But there is no organised outlet – the work isn’t quite shop standard, it all feels a bit community artsy and  not outward looking. These entrepreneurs should think about the real market place, peoples homes outside, selling on line, marketing and research into popular products (candles for example)

My very favourite product is a high design product made in conjunction with designers. Two Norwegian designers were involved in the making of a lamp called ‘Bake me a cake’ – I saw them being made in the workshop and they are fine designer products – and they sell for a whopping 2890k which is about £270 – not second rate tat at all. The lamp has a ‘file’ inside and is a playful take on the ‘file in the cake joke’ for prisoners.


DSC_0129I have had ideas about doing some prison fashion projects before and tried to get funding, people are fascinated by prisons and I think if a serious designer could be persuaded to help design some basics that could be made the prisoners it would be a winner. Socially aware T-shirts and bags that would change every season. Simple items. Customising charity clothes, which is a massive business in its self.  It happens in Berlin and Milan prisons, I researched it and found lots of instances of designer bags and all sorts of interesting design objects being made by prisoners in Eastern Europe and around – jewellery and all sorts. Considering a lot of prisoners attempt to go into self employment the skills that are learnt producing proper saleable items on the outside are immense. I would have thought it was a massive turn on for employability skills as well as the more obvious soft outcomes. DSC_0130


At Central St Martins there is a Design Against Crime department, I have met with them a few times and we are looking at working together. They have various themes to their work, from empathy and resilience to the creativity and skills of the prisoners to create pieces. They advise and develop  anti- crime products – bicycle locks that are unbreakable and anti ATM devices. I would love to see some well thought of designers champion the creativity and craft skills of the prisoners. I had thought also, with all this emphasis on the building of new prisons – how about consulting with the prisoners about designing new prisons – or even the prison staff.

Since writing this blog Stretch has had a lot of very interesting and enlightening meetings with DACRC and found out more about their work. In fact they do everything I suggested and more! They are pioneering an ‘Innovate Inside’ programme which is, as I suggested (not on my suggestion ), a programme of work that develops prison innovation from the inside.


3 thoughts on “The Prison Shop – so simple and effective

  1. All of the ideas and concepts are without doubt very sound and very solid- but so are the brick walls you will have to face when trying to implement them- it’s a tough business you’ve chosen to be in – British prisons are the toughest in the world – and so is British society – like a silent army hell bent on keeping people down – especially to those that have offended – ‘you done bad – therefore you must pay’ –
    especially hard – almost non existent when it comes to compassion and forgiveness – Eternal optimism is an admirable trait – one you have – everlasting hope another – thank God – in abundance – Long live STRETCH!!!!!


  2. Don’t waste your time. The good and the great in society are not engaged in helping prisoners reform or rehabilitation. It makes for nice dinner party conversation but how much do Fine Cell needlepoint cross stitchers make on the £160 designer cushion decorating many sofa in countlesa Chelsea pied a terres. £2? Cushion makes for nice dinner party conversation and lovely patrons get to feel good about themselves.

    As a society we’re conflicted between 2 opposing drivers, punishment and rehabilitation. Creativity can’t thrive in an environment of oppression and mistrust.


  3. Pingback: Change-making in Norway | carlottaallum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s