Inspirational Women's Wednesday: Fine Cell Work

- Meet Katy Emck -

There are many women who work with Ethical Collection London that have helped to create our amazing brand. In honour of these women, we are dedicating one day a week, Wednesday, to introduce them and celebrate their achievements. We sent each of the women seven questions to answer about their businesses, inspiration and life. This week, we are sharing the wisdom of Katy Emck from Fine Cell Work.


Fine Cell Work is a social enterprise that teaches inmates needlework. Prisoners are paid for their work and hand create the incredible products that are then sold. The organisation trains the inmates in new skills so that they can support themselves and their families, as well as broaden their horizons upon release. Fine Cell Work aims to give prisoners a brighter outlook and future.


Founding Director of Fine Cell Work: Katy Emck

(Founding Director, Katy Emck) 


Q: What inspired you to join Fine Cell Work?
A: I was scraping together a living as a part-time lecturer and literary journalist when I was recruited to the job of setting up Fine Cell Work. I had worked in prisons before and was friends with the daughter of our founder, Lady Anne Tree. It was a very part-time job, not contractual or anything. I became inspired by our volunteers and by the strange and wonderful journey of discovery which the job of setting up FCW in prisons took me on. I loved the freedom of it, and the fact that I was always learning and no-one was telling me what to do!


Q: What did you do before joining the business?
A: Before joining Fine Cell work I had worked as a literary journalist and lecturer and before that I had done improvised theatre in start-up charities American and British prisons. I was viscerally drawn to prisons (I assumed the people there were in many ways victims of social injustice, and I still think I am largely right in that). I think I had a feeling that anything was possible, as my first job in prison theatre had been so outlandish in some ways…


Q: What are the 2 points (or more!) that makes Fine Cell Works a sustainable/ethical social enterprise?
A: Fine Cell Work is both sustainable and ethical because our beneficiaries, the prisoners, are at the heart of the enterprise. In a sense they “own” Fine Cell Work, and the work of their own hands drives the enterprise. They are paid for the embroidered and quilted products we make (they get about 40%) - and they get great pride from the fact that the work is truly commercial; high quality, sought after, and exquisitely made. I believe the project therefore has real integrity. The prisoners’ products generate some revenue back for the charity (covering about 30% of our overheads) and the prisoners also get significant revenue from it. A prisoner can more than double their regular prison earnings (about £10 a week) through doing cellwork. They work jolly hard for this money and deserve every penny they get.


Q: What do you love the most about your job?
A: I love the creativity if it. It is always new and it taps into the creativity and desire to do good things of offenders – people who have been written off but who actually have a lot to offer. I love the collaborativeness of it. The prisoners, the volunteers, designers, business people, all pulling together and contributing to make something wonderful.


Q: How do you balance work/home life?
A: I am getting a bit better at it. But I still do work probably four out of seven evenings. There is just so much to do! And obviously I do it because I love it and find it interesting.


Q: What achievements are you most proud of in business and or life?!
A: Probably Fine Cell Work.


Q: Who do you admire and why?
A: Barack Obama for being the first black president, a beautiful silver-tongued man, and for managing to get elected in a country which has thrown up the awful Donald Trump. Lady Anne Tree for dreaming up Fine cell Work, for having a wonderful sense of humour and appreciation of life, and for being the best mentor I could have had. Shakespeare for being Shakespeare, and the definition of genius.


Shop our Fine Cell Work products here!

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