Behind the Mask in Blackburn

Following on from our successful project work in Calderdale we were given the opportunity to bring this amazing and enriching well-being project to Blackburn with Darwen. Working with Wajid Bashir and our partners at BwD Community Restart, this project is about giving vulnerable local women from different communities in Blackburn an opportunity to come together to share experiences and learn from each other in a safe and empowering ‘space’.

A big part of the project is using creativity to empower the women with coping mechanisms and offers more holistic approaches to help them deal with adverse circumstances affecting their physical and emotional health.

As with our Calderdale work the project will explore how women must ‘present’ themselves to the world behind a variety of masks / guises / disguises. Are these expectations limitations? How can we change this to allow the ‘real me’ shine through?

It is very important for us to identify women most likely to benefit from this approach. Thanks to Wajid and his team, we are working with the following local support agencies, who provide us with a venue and encourage local women to take part:

Shama – our first group is supported by Shahaida Zulfiqar – this group is made up of women in their mid 40s to 70s. It is an emotional well being / mental health group. The women are all Muslim but have different ‘cultural’ backgrounds .. coming to the UK as young women from e.g. Pakistan, South India and parts of Africa.

The other group runs at the Wish Centre – this group has been recruited with support from Wish Centre staff and Wajid’s team. It is a wonderfully diverse group representing a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, age groups and life-experiences.

All of our women are living with depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Many find it almost impossible to leave the house. All of the women feel trapped by circumstance: by illness, poor mental well-being, physical conditions … societal pressures that often come from from family and/or partners. A number of the women have experienced domestic violence.

The weekly sessions have had a very positive effect on the group members. Here, some of the women talk about what coming to the groups means to them:

“The sessions mean to me having a way to express my emotions / feelings. I feel free when I talk. So much of a relief at being heard with no judgement and others also relate. Sharing and hearing is a way of letting go. It’s important because its therapeutic and I’m able to learn other ways of healing. It helps with ways of identifying ones inner strength that we don’t know we have and putting it into words. It’s about finding a way, even at the lowest moments when you want to give up, this group does uplift me.”

“We are a room full of different backgrounds/cultures but we have or are going through same emotions and one way or another we like to heal others too by encouraging with our words. Words that are within us but like to be expressed and all that’s needed is the promt. The group gives us that environment of being free!”

“These sessions are important to me. It’s the meeting of people who are struggling with the same issues and the understanding that we have between us. The compassion for each other and the caring for each other. It has helped with my confidence to be able to share our struggles. Every time I have been I have felt uplifted and encouraged to go on.”

“We all have different identities but we all come together as one. It is lovely, the friendships between people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. This group has helped me more than any Psychiatrist, CBT, CAT and everything else I have tried. It is also the first time I have felt any creativity in 3 years. It is the best medicine.”

As part of #IWD2018 – International Women’s Day 2018 our groups staged an Exhibition at BBC Radio Lancashire – Thursday 8th March.

This was a great opportunity for our women and all our partners to showcase the amazing work we have done together over the course of the project. The women spoke with clarity and emotion at the launch event, and sang and read some of the creative writing they have produced. We believe the women found great comfort and pride at how far they have come in a relatively short space of time and at what they have been able to achieve.

On 23rd April all the women from the two groups met at a creative retreat up at Whitestone Arts in Haworth, West Yorkshire. It was an amazing day, full of song, poetry, arts activities and a sharing of hope and promise. You can have a watch of the accompanying photo showreel to get an idea of how the day unfolded:

And here a sample of the artwork from the BBC Radio Lancashire exhibition:

#behindthemask is supported with funding from Big Lottery through Awards for All!

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