Chicken and Daal with Watford Muslim Womens Group

Arriving at the Watford Multi Cultural Community Centre, I was amazed at the large number of Muslim ladies taking part in the exercise class. There were at least 20 ladies there. The playfulness and the camaraderie were immediately apparent. This was a place which felt friendly, safe and fun. It was apparent that it was a place where people came to meet and chat freely and easily with each other. Everyone who popped in was welcome to join the group.
After the session, they sat down to eat and generously invited me to join the group for food. We had chicken, daal and salad – it was delicious. I watched carefully how the others behaved and ate before I dared eat – not wanting to appear like the outsider.
After lunch, the ladies all helped to clear up and Sharifa, the chair, invited those that were interested in the project to join me at another table. I was so pleased to see that nearly all the ladies came to join me. We talked about their community, why they enjoy the Muslim Women’s Group, how funding has helped them, their sense of belonging, how they are perceived by others. Their willingness and openness to share and talk to me was amazing. These were educated, articulate ladies, who are not always perceived that way in the outside world. They talked about how if a muslim does something wrong, they tend to all be clumped together as ‘muslims’,  when really there are good and bad in all societies. They mentioned the various inter-faith activities they take part in, their fundraising activities and their wish to continue with the group and how it helps the whole community. It was a real privelege to have met these strong, passionate and articulate ladies who continue to do good in the community not only for themselves but for others too.

School and community

Our session on the Priory School, Hitchin was with the School Voice a group of representatives from all school years. They had many perspectives on community, what is means and how to make better places and neighbourhoods to live in.

Is School a community? I think people don’t really consider school as a community despite it being a community, because its drummed into your head that community is the word around you – its like where you live, its not focused in on your actually a community at school and you’re actually a community where you hang out , people dont see it as that.

What is a community do you have to have similar interests? No because you can have completley different people all linked in with one thing… it depends on whether your community is focused on a subject and that’s the only thing you share or if its a friend community where you have some things in common but you are also your own person at the same time.

Skates, bikes and boards

Off to Watford’s Derby Road Skate Park to chat informally with some of the skaters. Most of them were in the 17 – 20 age group, It was very relaxed and friendly. I spoke to several who said it was so important to them to have a place  that was open all the time, was free and unregulated where they could come to skate, learn new skills, exercise, chat to mates when not at college or work. Many said it was a saving grace in their lives to have the park and that the skate community was a strong one. It was so friendly in the park but it was interesting to note the sometimes suspicious looks on the faces of passers by.  The park is in what i thought might otherwise be an unused bit of brownfield land jutting out into a junction of major roads, these skaters really brought life to the area.

A diversity of voices, ages and cultures

Today we went back to a warm welcome at the Douglas Drive Senior Citizens Centre in Stevenage, the North Herts Multi Ethnic Forum in Hitchin and back to Stevenage for Chells Manor Community Centre youth group.

At the Douglas Day Centre we spent time with the Wednesday group to find out more about their communities – how they are now, what they used to be like and what makes their communities work or not.  For many people the pick up bus service is vital to their ability to get to the centre, withought this service there were many people who would not get to meet other people for days at a time. It raised all kinds of issues about how older people are valued in our society, and that many old people are forgotten but we were delighted to learn so much about peoples lives and their skills, one lady with frail, painful hands is still a great draftswoman and drew for us whilst we were there. It was a good reminder that all old people are more than just old people, that they had long rich lives and have much still to give and share that we can learn from.

We went on over to the North Herts Multi Ethnic Forum where we chatted to the staf and to the Italian ladies, men and a group of Sikh men. Many had lived in hitchen for a long time and were able to talk about the changes in the town how the community had grown and what connected it. They spoke about how the town is not what it used to be but how one strenght is the way diverse population get on.

The Forum stems back to 1975 when local Black and Minority Ethnic groups first began collectively campaigning for a Multi-Ethnic Community Resource Centre to serve their needs.  Member organisations include representation from African Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Polish, Pakistani, Sri-Lankan and people from other EU nations.

In the evening we headed back to Stevenage to the Chells Manor Community Centre  to run an evening activity with the fantastic and energetic youth group aged from 5 – 16.  Youth worker Mark Lee made a huge effort and got there despite a broken down car so that we could run the session.  We set out around the neighbouthood with the young people photographing their places, the spaces they use, placced they got to with friends. Using this walk as inspiration we made a large drawing of their area and discussed the community. It was interesting to think about what they see in their community – as compared with what an external perception of Chells Manor might be. The things they saw included:

i saw a fox

i saw the pub, shops, chip shop

i saw, a cat , a man smoking

i saw a tree and a road and an aeroplane

i saw a red flower, a broken glass

i saw myself

i saw a load of people at the youth club,

i saw my house

apparently we saw a train going up a tree

i never saw two men shooting each other

i saw darren

i saw houses, dogs,

i saw the green, football, cricket, cycling down fairlands

nothing else