TimeBank's Futures Together project in Birmingham supported older Muslim women to increase their English and computer skills. As it draws to an end, project co-ordinator Shaida Riaz assesses its impact.
Our Futures Together project in Birmingham has been lucky enough to build a great partnership with Bordesley Green Girls School; a beacon of success in the local community. With this work coming to a close I’d like to share the project’s story…
The school provides excellent services for the local community and working with the Community Support Officer, Michelle Hughes, we were able to use their fantastic computer suites in the newly built state of the art sixth form, to offer our basic IT workshops. We started off with one session a week but later introduced another session which enabled more beneficiaries to attend.
With the school having a great standing in the community and being a female environment it was certainly easier to recruit beneficiaries. However, I soon found out that being interested and confirming attendance and actually turning up were two very different things! Many of the women who we were keen to attend had family or childcare commitments which meant that a lot of my time was spent working around these and persuading the women to make time for themselves even if it was just for one session. It was a bit of a struggle to get the women to actually attend, but this is a common problem engaging with the older Muslim women’s community in the area, and one I knew I would come up against. However, the sessions themselves were so engaging that once the women attended one session they often returned for another couple of sessions, sometimes bringing a neighbour along too.
It was important to incorporate English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) into the computer sessions as many of the beneficiaries either had no English speaking and writing skills, and some were attending ESOL lessons at other times. This meant many of the ladies learnt to spell their names and addresses for the first time in our sessions, which was an amazing accomplishment, especially for women who have been in the country for many years.
The sessions utilised the skills and enthusiasm of local volunteers, and used TimeBank’s tailored computer toolkits, and there was often a real sense of pride from the women once a section was completed.
The volunteers were great and found the sessions extremely inspiring; I think this quote from a volunteer says it all... “I really feel that I am giving something back to the community and it only takes a few hours a week! I think doing something like this will give these women a sense of pride and a lot of confidence, and the best thing of all is that I have learnt so much from the women too. I have heard stories about the struggles they faced and how they overcame being illiterate, something as simple as going to the doctor’s surgery was a big issue for many of these women, something we take for granted today. When I spoke to one of the ladies I realised that although they have become accustomed to life in England now, learning to use a computer is even more important for them as they realise how it has become a big part of society and they don’t want to be left behind. I have heard some amusing stories too and have learnt new phrases which I will be taking away with me, it’s just a great way to spend my time and I am glad I was a part of this great project, thank you TimeBank.” (Sofia Ali – Futures Together Volunteer)
The Futures Together project has been a great success here in Birmingham, short but inspiring for many. With more time dedicated to outreach work and working with key players in the Muslim community such as Mosques and local community centres, I really believe the Futures Together project could be a great permanent fixture in these local communities and that there are many women in need of such a great and worthwhile project.