MakeRight bags – changing lives by design
MakeRight is a collection of anti-theft bags designed by participants of a project at HMP Thameside, London and HMP Kilmarnock, near Glasgow. The collection takes its name from the MakeRight Design Academy, a design education initiative led by the Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Starting as a collaboration with Unbox India – who have run similar projects designed to turn prisons into ‘creative hubs’ – the ambition of the project was to work with prisons in the UK and India to provide “purposeful learning activity” that fosters creativity and wellbeing for prisoners.
MakeRight wants to develop the skills of participants as well as creating a range of bags designed to prevent crime. We wrote a little about them back in 2016, just as the first range of bags were launched.
The aim behind the project is to develop resilience and empathy among prisoners and create a collection of planet-friendly bags that can raise money for charity in the process. Putting the participants’ knowledge of crime to good use, they have designed the bags with ‘anti-theft’ features. As part of the course, they develop the persona of the person they think would carry the bag, teaching empathy and encouraging thoughtful creativity.
It is also a chance for participants to gain social skills through interacting with other prisoners and teachers in the workshop, an environment far more encouraging than prison. It gives them the opportunity to reflect on life as a member of society rather than simply a prisoner; one man designed a bag based on his daughter’s style, and worked with a female prison officer to consider how to make a feminine and functional evening bag.
This course is giving me a bit of a problem really. Before I was just existing out there, so I didn’t care, now I know I can do something else with life and I need to figure out what it is. I can’t go out there to do nothing and come back any longer. People show one another more respect. The atmosphere is completely different to any other part of the prison.
Sam – participant.
We recently caught up with MakeRight and have received a few bags from the collection to review.
The bags themselves are all made from recycled tarpaulins from the grocers Abel & Cole. These make for surprisingly attractive bags in a variety of colours that are eco-friendly. Each one is unique and there are a range of styles from shoulder bags to rucksacks. The first bag we looked at is designed to hold a laptop or tablet, but could easily be used for other items such as paperwork or even vegetables! We had a quick game of ‘what is it for?’ in the office, and have decided it is fairly multi-functional – it could even be a large make-up carrier. The only suggestion we would make is that if used for a laptop or tablet a bit more padding might be useful to help protect the contents.
The anti-theft system on this is an internal strap that double loops so once the flap is closed it is not easy to access or ‘dip’ into.
The bag has a carefully attached lining, so alongside keeping contents lightly cushioned, if the bag is cut it is harder for thieves to access the inside. The fabric feels sturdy and the stitching is neat and solid. Although I would personally go for something in a green or purple, the brown pattern looks professional but still catches the eye. It is also water resistant, handy if you are carrying your electricals in the unpredictable British weather.
The shoulder bag we reviewed (above) was a vibrant yellow and black, like a handy bumblebee, with a locking arm strap that wedges on your shoulder, and an inner facing zip to reduce snatching and dipping. The shoulder hoop is a little awkward to get on but would therefore be hard to get off as well. A little padding under the shoulder might help comfort.
The messenger bags are particularly interesting as they have a hidden zip pocket for valuables, meaning if the main pocket is accessed – which is already hard for a would-be thief as the top of the bag folds over to hide the main zip – your phone/keys etc are safe. MakeRight have taken feedback from their first design (the blue bag above) and reduced the depth, so it is possible to reach your belongings when the bag is unfolded. These are in bright and lovely colours, and are large enough for files, folders and textbooks. So as well as being pleasing and useful for grown-ups, students and teenagers might enjoy them.
Other bags from the collection include a shopping bag that folds over on itself, rucksacks with ‘anti-slash’ pockets, and more shoulder bags with hidden zip pockets for valuables.
The small cross-body bag below, in attractive greens and blues is a personal favourite – the perfect size for wallet, phone, keys (and most importantly, a book!), whilst feeling sturdy and difficult to snatch. The simple shopping bag (also below) has an ingenious roll-over top, so there is no access while the bag is in use. The way the fabric has been cut for the bag’s pattern looks great, with the fruit and veg design creeping in over the edges of the yellow pattern.
The fabrics of all the bags are what was most admired. Whilst the anti-theft properties are smart and useful, it was the combination of attractiveness and practicality that appealed the most to our team here. Every bag has been created for a particular purpose, and the participants’ technique of thinking out a character behind each design has really helped give the bags personality.
It is a hugely positive thing to see a course useful to a prisoner’s personal growth that also produces something practical, sustainable and unique. It will be interesting to see how the design grows and changes as each bag is sold and receives feedback. And even more interesting to see how the creators will use their skills in the outside world.
Yes, you are making an anti-theft bag but you are learning a lot of skills… and you are learning a lot of patience. Yes, a lot of patience… it’s changed a lot of things, it’s given me another tool that I can use to try get employment, and I know employment is going to be very hard for me to do so I may become self-employed.
Takka – participant
‘Make it Right’, a short and moving film by Lotje Sodderland, documenting the MakeRight initiative and its impact on participants, has been shortlisted in the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s 2017 Research in Film Awards. Watch the video here and follow #RIFA2017 on 9 November to see how it gets on.
The bags are available at Sue Ryder Camden and will be available to purchase from the Abel & Cole website from spring 2018.