How community group has helped Sunderland's women fight pandemic isolation with arts and crafts

A leading women’s group has been reaching out to women who’ve felt isolated and depressed due to the pandemic.

Friday, 19th February 2021, 7:00 am

Sangini (a friend in Hindi) is helping women from Black Asian Minority Ethnic groups (BAME) in Sunderland and beyond who’ve found the pandemic psychologically and physically challenging.

Knock Knock, a well-being project, was established during the lockdown in 2020, after an outcry of BAME local women feeling helpless and struggling with mental health issues.

The project was designed to reach out and support BAME women through creativity, with the help of artists to express their emotions.

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Women have been expressing themselves through art

Advisory and meditation sessions are amongst a few that the project offers which is supported by specialists and medical professionals.

The six-month project funded by the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, County Durham Community Foundation and Voice4Change was rolled out with Zoom sessions in which the women could discuss issues such as health inequalities, employment, finance and housing.

Craft packs were delivered to over 50 women from two women’s groups – Sunderland Women’s Art Group and Srijoni Women’s Group delivering nearly 100 workshops so far.

Through calligraphy, felting and creative workshops, delivered by local artists Roohia Syed Ahmed, Parvin Abdur and Lena Archbold, the women express their emotions and share personal experiences of survival.

Shelina Begum, Participant

Asma Begum, Engagement Officer, said: “The project has proved to me that ‘mental health’ and depression still remains a taboo subject in the Asian community and we need to tackle it. We invited healthcare professionals to join us in the sessions which was a huge success and we now have separate sessions mainly focusing on health issues.”

Research has shown that lockdown has had a significant impact across the board but especially for the BAME community in comparison to other ethnic groups.

Participant Shakira Khatun said: “Free time is a time when people feel down and miserable. Engaging in these sessions has helped reduce stress levels and has given a sense of positive mental energy. The sessions are structured, and we learn new things each time despite our differences and are now like a family.”

Padma Rao, Project Manager at Sangini, said: “Knock Knock has given the women a sense of identity, well-being and pride.

Some of the artworks created in Lockdown

“Our aim was to help marginalised women experiencing isolation and depression from the BME community through arts and crafts. Five months on it has been a collective journey and this idea, that we are all in this together, has given everyone strength and hope. We learn, encourage, motivate and support each other.”

All women, but especially from the BAME community, are welcome to join the project. The sessions are held weekly online via zoom on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays.

Funding from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund, has also helped to support women in Sunderland and South Shields through Knock Knock.

Sangini has been supporting BME women in the Tyne and Wear region for 17 years with their arts led projects. Women are encouraged from different communities to engage and interact with educational and creative activities to reach their full potential and overcome barriers in order to achieve a better quality of life and cultivate new skills.

Asma Begum, engagement worker

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Artworks were created after Zoom sessions
The artworks are a way for women who feel isolated to express themselves
Lijie Zhang, participant
Women were sent art packs and could take part at home