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Shop finds ready market for goods from behind bars

IT HAS, the inmates say, opened in the nick of time to catch the new year sales rush. Britain's first retail store solely supplied by workers who are in prison has been doing a roaring trade in York in its first days of opening.

The idea that prisoners spend their days sewing mail bags ought by now to have been laid to rest. However, customers calling in on Time, in High Petergate, are still surprised at the range and quality of its goods.

For the first time it has been decided to harness inmates' talents and sell their products on the open market. The shop is managed by Trevor Gadd, former governor of Wakefield jail, with help from women on day-release from Askham Grange open prison, five miles outside York.

Despite the recession, customers have been buying a healthy supply of paintings, ceramics, toys, plaster work, pottery and clothes for between 99p and pounds 200.

To those in prison that means more work and a ready market. Some 118 prisons are supplying the store. It does not, however, mean money in the bank for the inmates. Profits go to selected charities.

The Koestler Award Trust, long associated with prisoners' work, initiated a feasibility study to look into the idea of supplying shops outside prison. This led to the setting up of the Prison Charity Shops Trust to supervise the scheme.

The long-term aim is to open a chain of high-quality shops, assuming the prisoners can make enough goods. A computer-based stock-control programme is being set up to identify in which prison the goods are made, but not the individual prisoner responsible for the work. There will also be a direct mail order catalogue.

The shop is well placed, near to York Minster, providing a steady stream of passing trade.

Mr Gadd said: 'Normally prisoners may not generate money whilst they are serving a prison sentence.

'But it has been demonstrated quite clearly that there is a wealth of talent in prison which has gone unrecognised. So it was felt this might produce an opportunity of opening one and possibly a chain of stores to sell all these articles. What is equally important is that this scheme can help promote a positive image of the prison service.'

(Photograph omitted)