What is the project?
The Firebrick Arts Women's Project is a new, user-led, innovative and forward-thinking project committed to enriching the lives of women in London in contact with or at risk of becoming in contact with the criminal justice system. We aim to change women’s lives by providing an opportunity to engage in jewellery-making and metalwork to create new focus, increase self-esteem and develop offending-free visions and goals. The project affords the women opportunities not ordinary open to them given the costs associated with creative courses; where fees are costly as are costs of tools and materials. We make an impact by providing women with real skills along their journey towards offending-free lives.
Why a women's service?
Many of the women referred to the project will have specific vulnerabilities such as poor physical and/or mental health; domestic and or sexual abuse, substance misuse; and other concerns linking directly or indirectly to their offending. The project recognises that the causes of crime committed by women differ from their male counterparts and as such learning is structured around the complex needs of female offenders.
Since the privatisation of Probation services, funding previously allocated, by the government, for the delivery of women's services has simply been absorbed into the budgets 'for-profit' companies, who are contractually under no obligation to provide or fund gender targeted interventions for women. A recent (2016) HMIP report cites a lack of funding as a serious threat to the provision of service for women who offend and thus in the current climate the needs of female offenders are being ignored. This is despite the fact that women are often primary care-givers and therefore the impact of reduced women's offending services in London and the UK as a whole has a direct impact on children. Women also pose a low risk of harm to the public relative to their male counterparts and as such the government recognises that such women do not belong in custody and that their needs are better catered for in the community; where they are being able to receive supervision, mentoring and exposed to opportunities for change.
The Firebrick Arts Women's Project exposes women to the possibility of reducing or stopping offending behaviour by arming them with a tangible skillset that they may take forward whether it be through further education; employment or self employment opportunities.
A large proportion of women serving sentences in custody or in the community are assessed as having needs relating to education, training or employment. Achieving stable and secure housing, and having the means to be self-reliant through employment, is thought to be important in helping women exit sex work. There is good evidence that addressing these factors should help to reduce rates of reoffending and promote desistance among women. Similarly, addressing general educational needs can reduce reconviction rates among women.
Social Impact, the Arts & Rehabilitation
Whilst engaging in art-based projects will not directly target specific needs relating to housing or domestic abuse; the focused work of the Firebrick Arts project aims to assist in developing the women’s sense of self-reliance; provide specific skills training; thus improving employability skills.
The effects of offending are far-reaching for both the perpetrators and the victims of crime. The ripple effect of women’s crime in particular has shown to have devastating consequences on communities and children, particularly when women are given custodial sentences for relatively low level crime. The criminal justice system more recently, however, recognises the societal benefit of rehabilitating women in the community as opposed to delivering custodial sentences for low level offences. Given that women are far more likely to be primary care-givers, the harm caused by systematic incarceration is most felt by their children. This position is particularly egregious given that the vast majority of crimes committed by women are acquisitive in nature as opposed to violent; therefore, women offenders present a relatively low risk of physical harm to the public.
There is growing evidence supporting the use of arts-based interventions in the rehabilitation of offenders. The evidence supports the notion of an increase in positive self-image and narrative for participants engaged in arts-based activities. The evidence points towards benefit gained through the support of secondary desistence via arts-based projects. The National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance has been particularly active in this area of research. Case studies and research findings can be found here: National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance Case Studies.
The concept of using the arts as a rehabilitative tool, whilst not widely acknowledged is not a newly conceived approach. Organisations such as The Koestler Trust (art) and Clean Break (theatre) have been delivering arts-based interventions to offenders for several years with successful tangible and non-tangible outcomes.
Over a 12-week period the women will learn jewellery-making and metalwork technques such as:
- Annealing metal
- Soldering together metal components
- Piercing and filing
- Metal forming
- Metal texturing
- Stone Setting
- Wire drawing
- Wire work
Workshop sessions will be delivered two days a week; taking a maximum of 6 participants per session for a total of 12 weeks. We will deliver 4 of these projects over the course of one year. All tools, metals and consumables will be provided for the women, who will work towards an exhibition of their work at the end of their 12-week period to showcase their newly acquired skills. We aim to commence workshop session delivery in July 2017.
Attached videos demonstrate some of the skills the women will acquire during their with us.
What we plan to do with raised funds
We are aiming to raise £40,000 to fund the project for one year. We plan to rent a small workshop space in London and equip it with basic jewellery/metal related tools and equipment. Nothing fancy, just enough to get us started and keep us going for a year.
- Salaries – 13,510
- Rent – 12,000
- Business charges, deposits & utilities 3,000
- Tools, machinery & consumables – 5,050
- Semi-precious stones - 200
- Metal casting services - 600
- Metal (copper, brass, silver sheet & wire) - 1000
- Governance – 35
- Insurance & legal – 500
- Sofa – 150
- Kettle - 20
- Microwave – 60
- Petty cash/unexpected costs– 3,875
We will begin by acquiring premises and equipping the workshop so that we are ready to deliver. During this process we will also be engaging with the National Probation Services/London CRC, and other London services to promote the project and get women on board.
We are currently in the process of setting up the project as a London-based Community Interest Company. We are two women who jointly have 28 years of direct offender-facing experience working in probation services and within that several years working directly with female offenders. We also have expertise delivering services to women who have been affected by domestic violence; mental health issues and issues of self-esteem; thus we are experienced in engaging vulnerable women adopting a motivational approach. One of us in an award-winning jewellery designer/maker; having been involved in jewellery-making and metal work for the last 7 years. It is this combination of skills that we feel gives us the edge to deliver such an innovative service to women in London.
With the lack of available government funding we are starting off small but have big dreams. We aim to grow over the next few years so that we can offer women further opportunities by way of a larger selection of training and workshops; larger premises; a lunch, travel and childcare provision and tools bursaries. We aim to continue building so that we can offer even more women opportunities for personal and economic growth. As the project grows the women will have opportunities to become involved in the running of the project; offering them hands-on employment-related experience; it is important to us that our service users lead the direction the project. So whilst we are starting off small we have big dreams and invite you to become a part of it by donating what you can to support the project and support women be the best that they can be for themselves, their children and importantly for society.