Women’s Advisory – touching lives of local women

Zarina’s Women’s Advisory – Helping the Community Of Aston, Lozelles and Handsworth. This group was set up by Zarina with the aim to build the confidence of women, children and the elderly.

History of your group – when did you set it up?

It all started roughly 20 years ago. The project was not intentionally created. I worked as a Sessional ESOL Tutor, with Birmingham City Council. I had a good rapport with the ladies I worked with. They trusted me.

At the end of the lesson, they would hang around. They would tell me about their problems and I would give advice if I could. Occasionally, if I was able to, I would go with them to the Job Centre or other such places. This was especially so for those ladies whose husband had left them. They couldn’t speak English or didn’t know what their benefit entitlement was, so they needed someone to go with them.

Soon the word got out and more and more ladies began to approach me for help. I helped extended family members as well as those in the wider community. It included the elderly and those accessing Disability Living Allowance.

The more I helped the ladies the better my skills became. Many cases I took on had a successful outcome.

Initially, I operated from my home. But as the numbers grew we knew we needed a separate base.

Azra has been coming for reassurance and advice since 2015. She has benefitted 100% from the centre and its services. She used to live in an abusive situation.  Now she has a very good place in Aston Lane, supported as a person with learning difficulties. She helps at the drop-in centre, making tea, welcoming people and tidying up, whatever may be needed. This is typical of the kind of help and empowerment that Zarina offers to the visiting ladies most of whom find their confidence returning after times of depression and feelings of worthlessness.

Why did you decide to set up the group?

In much of my work, my father was my role model. He devoted much of his energy to helping the community with their needs. He was a founder member of the Albert Road Mosque. It had been a factory which was bought and converted into a mosque.

In my view, there is a lot of stress facing people especially the ladies. There is poverty and isolation. So, I decided to dedicate my free time for such public service. It meant my knowledge and skills would not go to waste. I also felt my skills would develop even further. I aimed to help as many people in need as I could. I thought this would be my legacy before I pass away.

Zarina has a dedicated and committed helper with her sister Jabin. Sometimes if she herself cannot do outreach work Jabin helps out such as by going with the ladies to the Job Centre. This is especially necessary for those ladies who may have learning difficulties or other barriers. She has also been with a few ladies for their medical assessments. In addition, there are a number of other volunteers involved in the project.

I decided to set up the group to be a voice for these ladies as they were unable to articulate their needs. We felt they needed a place where they could gather with others in a similar situation. Sometimes they just needed to have a chat about things going on in their lives.

Jamila has physical disabilities and Zarina has helped her by providing a safe place where she is listened to, her benefits arranged and her diet monitored.

Who is your target community?

My target is the wider community. While we know that most of the women would be Asian, we are there to respond to the needs of women of any background. While our focus in the main are women, we help men too who may have difficulties with the welfare system, such as the PIP forms. When we can we undertake outreach work, to reach out to the elderly or others who may be housebound.

Nobody feels excluded in the centre.  There is so much to keeping the centre open and organised and Zarina does support worker duties for the many ladies who have been coming during the last few years. Visitors are assessed and forms filled in for their benefits, passports and other necessities. PIP forms have to be regularly filled in.   There is often interpreting work to be done. Local supermarkets have been contacted so that there is often good food given out free at the centre.

What activities have you undertaken?

Our activities have been wide-ranging. We have a partnership with Trussell Trust who provide food bank for vouchers for ladies whose benefits may have stopped. We have coffee afternoons where we sit and have a chat; about any topics of interest and talk about any issues they may be facing.

We run Empowering Women workshops through PREVENT from Odara. We have English Speaking Skills sessions two days each week

We also do knitting and colouring and painting crafts for ladies. We often have to pay for the materials ourselves that is why we need funding.

With funding, we could also organise outings for the ladies and eat out. This would make a massive difference for the ladies as many do not have such opportunities otherwise.

Do you receive any support from local businesses and organisations in any way?

We are linked to Fairshare. They help to redistribute surplus food to charities like us that turn it into meals. They have put us in touch with the local Tesco who donate doughnuts, bread and buns every week for our coffee afternoons. This really helps the ladies as many are poverty ridden and they are struggling to make ends meet. This makes a real difference. Fairshare visited us to do a health and safety check.

What are your plans for the future?

Future plans would be to have a sustainable income and create jobs for local ladies. We would like to keep Zarina’s Women’s Advisory Services, as we are known, open for as long as we can.

Article by Zarina’s Women’s Advisory Services