Kheira Mohammed from the Eat Well Together Club explains how a group of women came together over coffee mornings and a cooking club, funded by the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme.
Kheira works as an events officer for ISRA UK. A few years ago, she was managing the charity shops and by speaking with customers she came to realise that the women in the local community needed a safe space to meet. It was clear they wanted to have a chat many were feeling bored, lonely and didn't have many people to speak to.
Location was key
When Kheira started to get to know the women she would ask them what they would like to do, and they had a few suggestions for activities. To get the ball rolling, and give the women a chance to get to know each other, a coffee morning seemed to be a good start.
Kheira started looking for a room where the women could meet. It needed to be local, close to the shop and a space where the women would feel safe and encouraged to spend time with other women who lived locally.
Kheira explains: "The location was key to the success of the group. It was actually an underused training space above one of ISRA UK's shops, perfectly situated on the local high street. Because we were offered to use it for free and the women were already familiar with the shop, it was easy to set up and manage coffee mornings just above it too."
The women-only coffee mornings attracted women from all kinds of backgrounds; Asian, Arab, African-Caribbean, English and Eastern-European. Here they met women they could relate to, share life events and stories with, and find someone who would listen to them.
Getting more women involved
To encourage more women to attend, the group applied for funding from the local council and from Ageing Better in Birmingham's Ageing Better Fund. It was through these micro funds the group was able to set up creative classes and yoga, Pilates, and dance sessions. They also had links with the police, mental health charities and could signpost attendees to support elsewhere in the community.
The women grew confident and more resilient. Kheira noticed a difference in their mental wellbeing, seeing how laughing and getting together gave them a boost of happiness.
A WhatsApp group was created, which meant that the women were connecting with each other outside of the coffee mornings and activity sessions. This proved useful when the pandemic meant they could no longer meet in their new community space. By sending each other links, motivational quotes and recipes on WhatsApp, they could keep connecting even if the first few months in lockdown were hard.
The cooking club
They started a cooking club via video calls which would take place while members were cooking, and through zoom so that people could watch a recording of the call later. By September, the group was able to meet in person in the community venue again, and twelve women got together for regular cooking sessions. Each time, one of them would take the lead and share their own recipe.
Kheira said: "The women, they have lots of skills and lots to give.
"One thing I have learnt during the last year or so is that we may not associate play with adults, but as adults we also need play in our lives. Like cooking, or dancing. It makes us feel good, to feel worthy."
October's lockdown and onwards has meant more disruptions to the group's activities but the women are continuing to connect on WhatsApp, by video calling and they are currently planning for when they can get together in larger groups again.