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Peer support that empowers women

Monday, 22 January 2018 Rabia

Rabia’s feelings of loneliness and isolation inspired her and a friend to start their own award-winning women’s group. The Kiran Women’s Group is a peer support group for women from black and minority ethnic communities who are over the age of 50. It was awarded the Marsh Award for Mental Health Peer Support in 2017. Rabia tells us how it started.

I first started feeling lonely and isolated when my children started having their own lives and families. I didn’t feel like there was anything for me to be part of.  I was in pain all the time because of my arthritis and I would just spend days and weeks indoors. I wouldn’t do anything except watch TV, sit staring at the walls or wait for my children and grandchildren to walk through the door. I'd put on a brave face and pretend that I was having a great day.

"It felt wonderful just to be in the company of other people and talking again."

One day I ran into an old friend. We got talking and began to realise that we were in similar situations. This led us to think that we weren’t alone; there had to be other ladies out there feeling like we did. So we decided to do something about it.  We got in contact with friends and people we knew to see if there were others in the same situation and we couldn’t believe the response.

We started by meeting in each other’s houses for coffee and tea, snacks and biscuits. It felt wonderful just to be in the company of other people and talking again. However, the group was getting bigger and we wanted to do other things besides just sitting and talking. We wanted to exercise, get healthy, meet new people and work with other community groups and services. 

Eventually we started to meet at the local Community Centre. Our first meeting had over 40 women present! It was really exciting. We all had things that we could share with each other: cooking, friendship, laughter, prayer and fitness. Together we would do Tai Chi, swimming, hold parties, share friendly advice, and so much more. We found services who wanted to work with us to teach us about topics like healthy eating, staying safe and learning how to use the internet. It was all very new, but it was also challenging to move the group forward and give it meaning beyond being just a way of spending a few hours a week in the afternoon. 

"Never in a million years did we think that we’d win and become an example to other women and community groups."

Then we met started getting support from Community Restart in Blackburn with Darwen.  Soon we had a constitution, a bank account and some ideas of how we could meaningfully work with the community to really make a difference.  We started to have a goal to work towards. Community Restart really encouraged us, but it was still a shock when they told us we were nominated for a Marsh Award for Mental Health Peer Support.  

We were full of nerves as we travelled down to PeerFest in Bristol for the awards and totally excited that we’d been shortlisted for the award. We never ever expected it, but our Restart partners reassured us and told us just to tell our story as we saw it. Never in a million years did we think that we’d win and become an example to other women and community groups. We were so humbled that other people thought we deserved the award and we came back shining and full of confidence.

Update from Rabia
"Since winning the 2017 Marsh Awards, our group has become so well known. We’ve been able to meet and try lots of new things with other groups, which has been a really good thing.
Winning the award was so exciting for the whole group, and we used the prize money to create an event – something we’ve wanted to do for a really long time. We organised The Great Family Get Together at the end of June, in memory of Jo Cox. It was a day to really bring communities together to end social isolation, which is such a huge problem in our local area of Blackburn. And it’s not just a one-off, this is the start of something that as a group we’re really committed to doing regularly."

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