Salvation Army's prison partnership has bags of opportunity

published on 11 May 2023

A scheme run by The Salvation Army and a prison based in the East Midlands gives old clothes and furniture donated to the charity a new lease of life, while helping inmates on their journey towards rehabilitation. 

Thanks to a partnership between the Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL) and HMP Five Wells in Northamptonshire, which began last July, inmates create upcycled tote bags from old denim jeans that have been donated to clothing banks and upcycle second-hand furniture. These items are then resold in some Salvation Army shops operated by SATCoL, with the profits raised going to The Salvation Army.

Denim bags made by inmates in HMP Five Wells. Image shows one bag made of light blue denim and one of dark blue denim
Denim bags made by inmates in HMP Five Wells

HMP Five Wells is an adult male Category C resettlement prison, specifically designed to enhance rehabilitation. The prison has a number of industry units, including carpentry and mechanical engineering, textiles, and upcycling and recycling activities, all with the aim of providing opportunities for work. 

The tote bags are made from jeans which are in too poor condition to resell. The inmates create cuts of fabric to make the bags, meaning no two bags are the same. The first batch of bags, which retail at £5 each, were sent to 22 Salvation Army charity shops across Scotland and will be rolled out to other stores across the UK. The bags have proved to be popular as more than 1,500 have been sold since the partnership began. 

The furniture that the inmates upcycle depends on what has been donated but it can range from chairs to side tables and small desk bureaus to large French dressers. The furniture items are priced individually and in line with market prices and sold in larger Salvation Army stores run by SATCoL in the Northampton area.

Bernie Thomas, Circular Economy, and Sustainability Manager, SATCoL, who was instrumental in setting up the scheme with HMP Five Wells, said: “It has been great to work with HMP Five Wells and we look forward to seeing how our partnership develops. The profit made from the sale of the bags and furniture supports the Salvation Army’s work to help vulnerable people in communities across the UK. 

“Items that are written off and would otherwise be disposed of are being reclaimed and lovingly restored into new and appealing products. This is a regenerative business; we’re helping people gain new skills and are also helping to protect the planet.”

Business Enterprise & Community Manager at HMP Five Wells, Paul Cunningham, added: “We are committed to helping the Men in our care to be work ready when they are released from Custody. Working with the Salvation Army helps the Men learn new skills whilst also helping repurpose items.”


Salvation Army Officer Cadet comforts woman

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