Independent Age
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Independent Age

Grants Fund: How a Bradford women’s charity survived the pandemic

“We have seen positive signs for the future, but significant challenges remain”

In this guest blog, Rubina Khalid, Co-CEO of WomenZone, talks about how the charity and Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) has supported older women suffering with isolation and loneliness during lockdown.

“WomenZone is a charity and CIO based in Bradford East, West Yorkshire. We work with women and their families, including isolated older women from across the Bradford district.

“Our work sets out to empower women experiencing deprivation to live happier, healthier lives, using a family, religious, and culturally appropriate approach. Through health and wellbeing activities for the young people, families, and the elderly, education, sports, our women’s only gym Her Gym, The Play Gym and healthy café, Hubert Street Kitchen, for parents, carers and under 3-year olds.

“Before the pandemic we were able to offer a highly varied range of projects. We established programmes like Active Families, in partnership with Sport England, which provides families who are inactive to exercise together in a fun way, our ESOL English for Everyone courses in partnership with Shipley College, which empowers predominantly South Asian women, to build their skills and confidence using the English language, plus lots more. The collaborative approach we take with our stakeholders, and working on an equal footing with our service users, makes for an empowering community-centred buzz-like atmosphere at WomenZone.

“Throughout the lockdowns we remained in contact with all of our service users via telephone/zoom as well as delivering activity and wellness packs. All of our staff and volunteers are bilingual and able to converse with service users in their preferred community language. Whilst this return to face-to-face services has been welcomed, we still have some women who prefer not to attend services in person and access support via online sessions, particularly our ‘Chai and Chat’ sessions, led by our digitally trained staff and volunteers.

Rubina Khalid, Co-CEO of WomenZone

COVID-19 emergency response funds allowed us to acquire resources to deliver digital one-to one, group, self-help and interactive programmes, whilst adhering to social distancing, and stay at home guidelines. We offered hot meals, culturally appropriate food parcels, clothing, hygiene, and activity packs to vulnerable older women. Post-lockdown it has been imperative to provide individuals with relevant and up-to-date advice and information to ensure their transition back to face-to-face services is smooth, but gaps in services still exist. We have been very active on social media to promote our services, and have been working with the local community to support older women with issues like housing, domestic abuse and health inequalities.

“I found WomenZone’s COVID response project very helpful and have recommended to a few neighbourhood families and friends who have also been struggling. I am very thankful for the support I have been receiving from WomenZone,” says a service user.

“In August 2021, over 100 BAME older women from south Asian backgrounds were regularly accessing our weekly older women’s provision online. But in September we opened our weekly face to face services alongside our online services. Since then, we have been providing a range of wellbeing activities — gentle exercise, community luncheon, peer support, coffee mornings, music therapy, arts & crafts all chosen by the participants of the group.

“As life has begun to return to the ‘new normal’, the support structures that people had built into their lives have started to crumble. The community contacts have been reduced as people are more focused on overcoming their individual ongoing problems they have incurred during the lockdown and older people living alone are still vulnerable and have been overlooked. Information, advice and support is mainly online and predominately provided in English with little recognition to the thousands in Bradford with no access to the internet and/or with limited IT skills, and those with little or no English. We have trained some younger women to communicate with BAME older women in their spoken languages and teach them how to use digital media for information.

“Examples of our current trial activities, already proving popular and successful with participants, which we plan to develop with further funding, include but are not limited to:

  • Music Therapy sessions
    “I enjoyed history of music, it was something new for me to know how human bones were used to make music instruments,” says a service user.
  • Life, Loss, Learning, and Legacy: Video Storytelling Project with Lippy People (also supported by Independent Age)
  • Intergenerational projects
  • Theatre performances

“Access to funds to help us build on our work with older BAME women during the pandemic has been crucial. But ongoing funding is a challenge. We are looking for funders to support us to provide person-centred, holistic activities, focused upon all aspects of wellness and the broader determinants of a person’s quality of life, as overcoming the impact of lockdowns on more vulnerable older women will not be a short-term piece of work.”

Mark Hayward, Head of Grants at Independent Age notes, “We are incredibly proud to work with and fund some of the vital work WomenZone has been doing during the pandemic. COVID-19 has changed life for everyone in the UK, but older people are amongst the hardest hit. Despite the challenges they are facing, organisations like WomenZone working with older people have been keeping vital services running, providing advice, support, opportunities, and practical help.

“Everything WomenZone does is led and developed by and with the women engaged by the organisation. Their work during the pandemic has been exemplary, but as Rubina has noted, the pandemic has taken a toll on communities, particularly those in Bradford, that won’t be easily ‘fixed’. But the innovative partnership working with other organisations, such as the ‘Life, loss, learning and legacy’ work with Lippy People, means WomenZone are well placed to facilitate this ongoing work in Bradford.

“We’re excited to see what they continue to achieve going forwards.”

To find out more about the Independent Age Grants Fund, see IA Grants Fund: Home | Independent Age

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