HMP Holloway's Women's Institute

As 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Women's Institute (WI) Mirriam, a member at HMP Holloway, writes about the importance of the network and the skills she has been learning at recent meetings.

“Members of the Women’s Institute around the country made their way to the Royal Albert Hall to join the Queen in the celebrations of its 100 years anniversary, turning up in their best frocks and hats – no doubt to impress the monarch! Alas, here at Holloway, we laboured towards keeping matters reasonably sedate at our monthly Friday afternoon WI meeting, held in the Resettlement Area of the prison.

Following on from the previous month’s theme, which had been presented by the wonderful lady who Heads the Fashion Workshop, we learned that one can make something out of anything… literally!

We were shown some exquisitely crafted bracelets and chokers made out of brightly coloured leather. They were all beautiful. And after our tea, we were ushered into the workshop to have some hands on experience and we produced a mixture of quirky and elaborate pieces.

At this month’s meeting, one of the inmates who works in the Fashion Workshop took to the stage and gave us a quick demo of how to make flowers out of fabric. This can then be used to decorate otherwise drab looking head bands, corsages, broaches and most of the items we make can be sent out to our families as gifts. Again we were given the opportunity to have a go among friendly and relaxed company. One could almost forget that we were women in prison.

The impact of WI in a place like Holloway is truly profound. Practical skills as those I describe above are being imparted within the confines of a happy and non-judgemental atmosphere. The difference that this makes is incalculable. Long live WI….”

In addition to learning skills such as fashion, crafts, and card-making the WI at Holloway is often addressed by inspirational speakers, such as author Ben Aaronovitch, who alongside PET's Nina Champion, who blogged about the visit to launch April's City Read.

Mirriam describes some of the other people who have spoken at meetings: "Significantly, our guest motivational speakers have experienced terrible setbacks in their lives but have somehow managed to overcome them. We've had Tracy Edwards, the Yachtswoman, who I understand went through bankruptcy after her initial success of skippering the first women crew around the world. We've also had the journalist who started writing columns for the Guardian Newspaper whilst in prison serving a  life sentence for murder, come in and to speak to us. He finally got paroled and is now a freelance writer. His name is Erwin James. I found his story particularly inspiring!"