materials and equipment, here at The ToolPost, we are always interested to learn of the many applications of the practice and the contexts in which woodturned goods are made and sold. One story that certainly caught our eye over the Christmas break was one by business reporter Elizabeth Hotson on the BBC News website, entitled Chopping boards made behind bars.
The story centred on the perhaps unexpected setting in which some wonderful wooden products are being made in the UK today - namely HMP The Mount, a category C training prison in a modern redbrick building on the
outskirts of Bovingdon village, Hertfordshire. The piece paints a picture of prison labour in the early 21st century that may differ markedly from the tough, forbidding, Dickensian image that many of us may have of a
Various work and training schemes take place at the prison, including the manufacture of wooden chopping boards and kitchen display units for a local company, Rough Stuff Oak, its customers mostly
made up of catering companies and high street restaurants. Interviewed for the article was company co-founder Matt Cannon, who described his relationship with the prison as "pretty challenging."
continued: "If something happens in the prison, we can't be told for security reasons. So, for example, if there's a lockdown we won't be told when it's happening, why it's happening or when it'll end. There's
complete radio silence and when we call the prison they can't tell us anything." Production can stop for days or even weeks as a result of lockdowns and other incidents, although Cannon has described most customers
as "very understanding" of such delays.
Naturally, the prison environment means other differences from more traditional woodturning businesses. While the company has outgrown its existing workshop, for
instance, the matter of relocation is "even more complicated" than it would be in the normal world, Cannon observing: "What should have taken two weeks has taken over two months and we still don't have
phones or computers in the workshop."
However, there's no question of why this unique woodturning business exists. As Cannon puts it in the article, "There are lots of reasons. We want to do something good
and make a difference. Also, from a marketing perspective, the fact our products are made in prison does differentiate us." Such companies play a big role in the rehabilitation and management of the prison
population, benefitting the inmates themselves but also their family and the wider community.
It is certainly intriguing to read of ways - like this one - in which woodturning is being used for wider social good,
whatever your relationship with and/or attitudes towards the UK prison system. Here at The ToolPost, we hope that many ex-offenders will use the skills gained through their involvement in businesses like Rough Stuff for
a lifetime of fulfilling and productive woodturning.