After a fantastic first Better Lives lecture on Social Innovation two weeks ago, the discussion continued last week with the second instalment of the Better Lives series focusing on the topic of Women.

The evening lecture, hosted by the LCF Social Responsibility team, began with a performance and workshop from theatre company Clean Break. The lecture also included speakers Shirley Boslem and Carolyn Somerfield, LCF Staff at HMP Holloway, and Jocelyn Hillman – Founder and Chief Executive of Working Chance.

Better lives, women clean brk

The theatre performance, written by Katherine Chandler and directed by Imogen Ashby was entitled ‘Spent’ and followed the story of three women trying to make ends meet whilst dealing with difficult relationships. The play raised issues such as mental health, debt, powerlessness and vulnerability. After the play, Clean Break hosted a workshop where the audience were invited to ask the characters questions about their lives, creating a lively discussion amongst the crowd.

Powerful stuff from @CleanBrk theatre @LCFLondon #betterlives event. Exploring women’s everyday experience with poverty and relationships – @blossomyoung

Also in attendance at the event was Jocelyn Hillman, Founder and Chief Executive of Working Chance, an award-winning UK charity that helps women with criminal convictions find work with mainstream employers.

At working chance, we believe that women coming out of prison have a right to work – Jocelyn Hillman

Jocelyn explained that upon release from prison, women are less likely than men to find quality employment, with only a quarter finding jobs in 2014.

She said that one of the reasons for this is that women face a unique stigma when they leave prison. Working Chance don’t only provide a recruitment service, they also work on re-framing the attitudes that some employers, the media and society have about the recruitment of ex-offenders.

The charity also supports women in a number of other ways, such as offering housing advice, child support and legal help:

We are on a mission to ensure women ex-offenders are able to find work and support their children. We are successful because we offer a first-class service to women who are used to being treated as second-class citizens – Working chance website

LCF staff Shirley Boslem and Carolyn Somerfield, rounded off the talks with their presentation on LCF’s collaboration with HMP Holloway, which was created to rehabilitate female offenders by teaching them design and manufacturing skills. They spoke about how the initiative has helped to change the lives of many of the women involved, empowering them and giving them the freedom to learn whilst in prison.

The women may lose their freedom, their children, their homes, their jobs, their family…but the skills that they learn can never be taken away from them.

Since 2014, over 50 women have engaged with the workshop, 8 of them have achieved a Level 1 ABC award, 4 of the women have left Holloway and 2 of them are working in the manufacturing industry.

The training in the Manufacturing workshop can have an important and powerful effect on the re-creating and transformation of women’s lives within the prison system – Shirley Boslem and Carolyn Somerfield

Examples of the type of product produced at the workshops

Examples of the type of product produced at the workshops

Shirley and Carolyn explained that the workshops are very popular and they train the women to an exceptionally high level meaning that they are able to work with the likes of Ally Capellino, Religion, Ragged Priest (Top Shop), Urban Outfitters, Gail Bryson, Jessica Russell-Flint (Harrods).

When you come into prison it doesn’t make you think you have anything good to look forward to when you get out but when you have something like this it makes you think there are other possibilities to change your future – HMP Holloway prisoner

The evening concluded with a Q&A where all the speakers agreed that the biggest barrier for a lot of women coming out of the criminal justice system is prejudice and misconception. The speakers also agreed that there needs to be a move forward in thinking in order to create a positive change.

The Better Lives lecture series for 2016 is presented in collaboration with the LCF Social Responsibility team, MA Fashion Futures and MA Fashion Media Practice and Criticism.