THE boss of a charity which operated a project working with some of the country’s most damaged and vulnerable female prisoners has described its closure as a “great shame”.

The Learning Shop, based at HMP Low Newton, near Durham City, whose inmates include the likes of serial killer Rose West, required less than £70,000 a year so staff could carry on their work.

But despite extensive efforts by the charity New Bridge to secure funding so it could continue to operate on a full-time basis, it recently closed after effectively running out of cash.

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David Graham, chairman of New Bridge, said: “All attempts to obtain any funding failed, both from the public sector and education providers along with voluntary funders and charitable organisations.

“It is a great shame that this has been lost especially when there is supposed to be this focus on resettlement of prisoners and reducing re-offending.

“We are in very difficult times, everything is being cut back and prison governors are looking at every penny they spend.”

Mr Graham said that as a small national charity it was not in a position to fund the initiative itself, which provided a safe environment for women at risk of being bullied and ostracised by other prisoners in order to develop their life skills.

It had previously been supported by funding from the European Social Fund.

A briefing document published by the charity said the Learning Shop was a “unique and highly regarded service which reaches some of the most vulnerable women in the prison system with whom other programmes do not connect”.

It added: “The Learning Shop model has the potential to be developed elsewhere in the prison system, but instead of being replicated the one and only successful site will close with the loss of vital skills and experience.”

Two full-time staff, employed by New Bridge, lost their jobs after the project shut.

Leading criminologist and former prison governor Professor David Wilson said it was “tragic” that that the prison authorities had allowed the Learning Shop to close for lack of funds, describing it as one of only a few initiatives across the country helping self-harming women.

Durham City MP Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods said she had received assurances that work to turn the lives of female prisoners around at Low Newton would continue.

However she said: “I hold regular meetings with the prison and plan to raise this issue again in order to seek more clarification.”