Homewares with Heart

Fine Cell Work cushions used as featured image

In a recent edition of our weekly newsletter, The Thread, we featured RAW Workshop, an Oxfordshire-based initiative that provides employment and support for individuals who face prejudice and barriers to work – their slogan is “doing good with wood.”

Having discovered RAW Workshop, I wondered if there were other organisations aiming to bring about positive change for those in need of help and similarly focused on producing homewares.

My research led me to four other UK-based enterprises working with adults who, for differing reasons, face challenges in their lives. These organisations provide the training and resources necessary to enable the people they support create unique products; these are then sold through online shops or more traditional retail outlets, with the profits from sales helping the projects to continue in their work. A common thread running through all these initiatives is the desire to foster a sense of belonging, along with the increased self-esteem that often comes from feeling part of something successful.

On looking at the products created by those involved in these enterprises, I was struck by the extraordinary quality of the workmanship, which reinforced for me the notion that, with the right support and resources, people who would otherwise not have been given a chance, can achieve the most amazing things. The future for these talented individuals really must seem brighter when they realise what they are able to accomplish with their newly acquired skills.

With the somewhat challenging period that the world is going through at the moment, it feels inspiring and uplifting to hear about the positive difference these kinds of initiatives bring to our society.

RAW Workshop
RAW Workshop collage

The original inspiration for this whole feature, RAW Workshop is an enterprise with a mission: “to help people become Exceptional rather than being the Exception and to build a social business that thrives on merit, not sympathy.” From their large workshop in Oxford, RAW offer employment, training and support for individuals faced with issues such as physical or learning difficulties, mental health illness, recovery from addiction and criminal histories. They produce a wide range of products for retail spaces, gardens and offices and have recently collaborated with Garden Trading to develop a small range of homewares products; I particularly like their RAW bookcase which has loads of rustic charm. To find out more visit the RAW Workshop website.
To purchase the shelves shown in the top two images visit Garden Trading online.

Every month we create over 1,400 hours of human social impact. That includes skills, training, employment, positive activity and life-skills. This reduces isolation, raises self-esteem, lowers the call on blue-light and NHS services, combats depression/ mental health illness and gives people somewhere of which they are proud to be a part.
Fine Cell Work
Fine Cell Work collage

Since it was founded twenty-one years ago, Fine Cell Work has been helping to rehabilitate prisoners by providing them with the skills, self-esteem and the hope needed to rebuild their lives. They currently work in over thirty prisons helping more than five hundred prisoners each year. The projects they run are supported by a team of volunteers, along with esteemed artists and designers, such as Pentreath & Hall, Kit Kemp and Ai Weiwei. When a prisoner is released, Fine Cell Work continue to offer support and further training, with the Fine Works Hub in London and the Clothworkers Studio offering qualifications and mentoring services. Rather impressively, the organisation boasts the largest workforce of hand-stitchers in Europe (290 at any one time) and last year 4,870 products were made in prisons across the UK.

The quality of work is absolutely exquisite and I love seeing new life being breathed into old textile techniques which, in the age of mass production, are no longer common-place. To find out more visit the Fine Cell Work website.

Fine Cell Work enables prisoners to build fulfilling and crime-free lives by training them to do high-quality, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem. They can also learn sewing machine and textile production skills in our prison based workshops. Our aim is to allow them to finish their sentences with work skills, money earned and saved, and the self-belief to not re-offend.
JOLT collage

Striking designs in gorgeous colour combinations; an experimental approach to mark-making; a stylishly designed online shop: these were some of my initial thoughts when I came across this Shropshire-based initiative. JOLT is a design brand and working studio that was set up by Designs in Mind, an organisation which challenges mental health stigma and helps people suffering with mental health difficulties. They do this by providing a warm, supportive environment in which people facing difficult times can come together and work on the production of homewares.

As well as selling their products online and through stockists around the UK, JOLT have a shop in Oswestry, which they opened at the end of last year; their hope is that this retail space further breaks down the stigma of mental health, whilst enabling the makers to gain self-esteem as they see their work being sold. What’s more, 100% of the sales revenue goes into sustaining and developing the amazing work done by Designs in Mind. To find out more visit the JOLT website.
JOLT, 15 Cross Street, Oswestry, Shropshire; the shop opens Tuesday-Saturday 10-4pm

Working together we make it possible to live life and through our work challenge the predominant culture of low expectation that surrounds the makers.
Aerende collage

When it came to choosing a name for her online homewares business, former travel-journalist, Emily Mathieson, settled on Aerende, a word which means ‘care’ in Olde English. Emily’s idea was to fuse her love of homewares with a desire to help vulnerable people throughout the country who are facing social challenges and may have difficulties in finding, or maintaining, conventional employment. From her kitchen table in Herefordshire, Emily operates her business as a social enterprise, where the makers and the organisations that represent them all work in partnership.

Take a look at the website to see a beautiful selection of products which have been crafted by hand using heritage skills and environmentally sustainable materials; to me, the products have a timeless appeal and will continue to gather charm and character as the years pass. Each sale directly supports and provides further opportunities for each maker. To find out more visit the Aerende website.

Our tagline of ‘life-improving homewares’ reflects our commitment to sourcing and designing unique, limited-edition products that will bring joy, beauty and utility to our customers, as well as a sense of purpose, pride and revenue to our makers, via the charities and social enterprises that support them.
ARTHOUSE Meath collage

ARTHOUSE Meath is a collective of artists living with complex epilepsy and learning disabilities. With the support of tutors, the artists create pieces of art which are then incorporated into the design of homewares that go on to be sold in ARTHOUSE Meath’s Godalming store, through their online shop, and by various retailers around the country.

Take a look at their website where, as well as original artwork for sale, you will find an impressive range of products, from confectionery to candles, all in eye-catching packaging designed by the artists themselves. You only have to read some of the stories on the page about the artists to understand the extraordinary impact that Arthouse Meath has on their lives.

All revenue is put back into the enterprise to keep it running; the hope is that, as they grow, they will be able offer more opportunities to other people in towns across the UK. To find out more visit the ARTHOUSE Meath website

Offering a sense of purpose lies at the heart of ARTHOUSE Meath’s philosophy, in line with our belief that feeling truly respected improves health and well-being. We strive to challenge perceptions and to create better acceptance and inclusion for all people living with disabilities.

The Home Relish team have really enjoyed putting this feature together. Discovering the amazing work done by these enterprises has been inspiring, and the achievements of those involved has stayed in our minds. We have been impressed by the high quality and creative design of the products offered and would like to think that the individual artists, makers and crafters feel proud of their work and newly acquired skills. We look forward to following the progress of these initiatives over the coming years.

With thanks to Fine Cell Work for kindly allowing us to use their photograph as the lead image.