“The project has been integral in inspiring purpose and self-worth: The women give each other confidence"
In this piece, we meet some of the women involved with funded project, Our Place. It's an inspiring story of female self-determination on the New Kingshold Estate in East London.
“There are so many networks out there for successful women but hardly any for vulnerable women,” explained Hackney mum Salome Rodrigues.
25 year-old Salome had a difficult childhood, the effects of which had crept into her adult life. Then, a few years ago, she completed a course in psychological self-development, which taught her how to deal with issues around anxiety, trauma and domestic violence. It changed her life, but even more impressively, she’s now using it to begin to change the lives of other women, thanks to a project called Our Place.
Based on the New Kingshold Estate, Our Place is run - or rather “co-produced” - by residents with the support of Volunteer Centre Hackney (VCH), a small charity that has been working with the Council’s Public Health team, estate landlord Southern Housing Group, and other local partners to, in the words of VCH’s Chief Executive, Lauren Tobias, “get residents and local people to do stuff for themselves”.
The charity encouraged Salome to share what she’d learned with the women of New Kingshold.
The women liked what they heard and wanted more, so the talk morphed into workshops, then weekly meetings, and finally the ‘Brave Women’s Network’ was born. It’s a support group that hosts workshops and coffee mornings out of a residential flat on the estate donated to Our Place by Southern Housing.
Salome’s incredible story is just one in Our Place’s umbrella project, developed three years ago by VCH and currently funded by People’s Health Trust.
The project began with a series of weekly coffee mornings, mainly attended by women taking their kids to their school and by older people from the estate. The coffee mornings aimed to bring people together, find out what skills they had, and whether residents would be able – and willing – to share those with their neighbours.
Gradually, initial suspicion and scepticism u-turned into momentum and success, and the project has now gained a life of its own: poetry sessions, gardening clubs, craft classes, community parties - all run by residents.
One mum, a long-term resident of the estate, inspired by what she had experienced as a child, initiated a ‘play flat’ in the charity’s base: an after-school activity group, where children can play safely while parents socialise or rest.
Another set up ‘Postcode Parents’ to help mums and dads spot signs that their youngsters may be involved in gangs. She’s also been in talks with schools to set up a ‘penpal’ service to get pupils in rival gang areas writing with each other - and to help them to understand each other better.
Polly Mann, Community Development Manager for the project, said: “One woman, who had previously felt isolated, wanted to set up bingo, but she wanted it to be totally free. So she took a shopping trolley and visited every business in Well Street for donations towards the prizes.”
Our Place is open to everyone on the New Kingshold estate but the overwhelming majority of people accessing the free service are single mums with difficult pasts, and presents: domestic violence, low incomes, mental health issues are all are recurring themes. The project has become inextricably bound to the narrative of these mothers, daughter, sisters and grandmothers, often because they are as the sole carers in their household, and the sole burden-carriers.
Lauren Tobias, Chief Executive of Volunteer Centre Hackney, said: “It’s not just a coffee morning, it’s bringing a lot of people out of their houses; people who had said they felt isolated. It’s all about reciprocity: it’s about receiving and giving.”
“The project has been integral in inspiring purpose and self-worth: The women give each other confidence to get through the day,” she said. “People can talk about their issues - we’ve seen improvements to mental health – and people are recognising and unearthing skills they never knew they had. People are inspired by each other - it’s made people feel happy and more confident.”
She added: “Now everyone wants to set up a project.”
Volunteer Centre Hackney received investment from People's Health Trust for its Our Place project - using money raised by HealthPromote through The Health Lottery.
To see more pictures from this project, click here.
To read about more great projects funded by the Trust, click here.
To read more news from the Trust, click here.