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Makeright Exhibition: Design Against Crime in Prison


On Thursday 24 November, two of AHRC’s Communicatons Team attended the Makeright exhibition preview at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Thameside.

Hosted by HMP Thameside, led by the Design Against Crime Research Centre based at Central St Martin’s, and co-funded by the AHRC, the Makeright Exhibition showcased bags of all shapes, sizes, and uses, designed and made by a selection of Thameside’s inmates.

Anti-theft design

The design brief was to make bags that would be difficult to ‘dip’ into, slash, or thieve. Many of the bags were quirky and unusual, with a very different kind of functionality at the forefront of their design.

In partnership with Sabarmati Central Prison in Ahmedabad, India, the Makeright project invited inmates to attend an 8-week course in learning to think through the design and manufacturing process of making bags. Sabarmati Central Prison manufactured many of the fabrics used by the Thameside designers.

Inclusion is Key

As part of Design Against Crime, the Makeright project seeks to equip inmates with skills, experience, and confidence to assist in their rehabilitation and transition into life outside of prison.

The exhibition welcomed a range of guests, from leading design academics, to non-profit organisation representatives.

One guest was prisoner-turned-playwright, Dean Stalham.

‘The way to a prisoner’s heart is inclusion’, Dean said, ‘and this project does just that’.

Dean has experienced first-hand the rehabilitative impact of inclusive education and arts in prison. After serving his six-year sentence, Dean left HMP Wandsworth with an A-Level in Art, a B-Tec in Radio Production, and three National Union of Journalism awards. Dean has also gone on to write a play to be performed at Leeds Beckett University.

The difficulty of choice

Amidst the numerous guests and prison officers, the prisoners involved in the project were at hand to tell us more about their creations.

One inmate designed and made a clutch bag inspired by his daughter’s style. He also worked closely with a female prison officer to think through the practicalities of a woman’s evening bag. Clearly the project showed collaboration not just with the world outside of prison, but the community inside the prison.

Once released, former prisoners are faced with a plethora of decisions to make in an environment that can often feel unfamiliar. Simple daily tasks like buying food and eating, to finding work, and sometimes seeking accommodation can be overwhelming.

An inmate described to me how the project had enabled him to make decisions.

‘We don’t have any choice in here’, he said, ‘so having all this choice in design was hard but amazing’.

Socially responsive + cutting-edge research

As AHRC fund the academic excellence and leading research, the role of Central St Martin’s art college is central to Makeright. Spearheaded by Prof. Lorraine Gamman, founder and director of Design Against Crime, not only does Makeright offer a socially responsive design project, but implements cutting-edge research. Prof. Gamman told us that,

‘teaching design thinking in such a way as to enable inmates to understand and engage with design has been fundamental to Makeright. The team constantly refined our proposed teaching resources, utilising action research techniques, to reiterate material and ensure it was 'fit for purpose'. We also made time to figure out how to address the 'hooks for change’ that lead to desistance from crime. AHRC funding was crucial in making this research possible - without it we would never have been able to experiment at HMP Thameside or deliver the positive results inmates achieve.’

Makeright also reflects the results of the Coates Review. Commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and conducted in May 2016, the Coates Review assessed the role of education in prisons, and recommended that education in prisons ‘should give individuals the skills they need to unlock their potential, gain employment, and become assets to their communities’. (p.3, Coates Review, May 2016.)

The project will be expanding offering courses to inmates at other prisons in the UK. They also aim to create an online store in partnership with the Sue Ryder charity.

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