“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

The Inspire Women Centre, Oldham

March 2020 was the start of something nobody could have predicted a terrible virus was attacking not only our country but the world as well.

I want to tell you about a group of extraordinary women, and how they proactively decided to stay connected. These women, were coming together at the Inspire Women Centre Oldham, twice a week, a space where women could find themselves, discover hidden talents and feel free to share their voices. They were able to connect with each other and share their unique gifts.

Our centre is very important to each of the women, it is a beautiful safe place, decorated by the women and their art work is displayed around the walls of the centre. Everyone says the centre is calming and welcoming, we are all very proud to have the centre as our home. However, everybody's lives were turned upside down by the virus and we had to make the decision to shut the centre due to being in lock down.

As you can imagine in this very worrying time for the country, and in particular our ladies were concerned they would lose the very important connections they had made in the centre.

So "Operation Inspire" was born.  We decided that if the women couldn't get to Inspire then Inspire was going to reach them. Sally Bonnie, our founder, created a closed Facebook page for all the women who attended the centre to use, it meant that the women could stay connected with us and each other. Soon we had 58 women joining the page, we also invited past members of Inspire to see if they too wanted to join.

By taking Inspire online we were able to be in contact with each of the women, then the next phase was to get them all using Zoom so we could have face to face conversations. This did not come easy to some of the women but with coaching and help from others soon everyone became involved. We held a disco night on a Friday evening in March, where all the women could request a song to be played, Sally became a DJ for the evening. What a huge success it was! The women were singing, dancing and laughing, forgetting about their troubles for a while, having the social connection with each other proved to be a great tonic.

Next Sally held a Zoom meeting to help and guide anyone who still wasn't comfortable with the technology. We also had a Meditation Zoom which was amazing the women could relax and forget about what was going on in the world for an hour just focusing on themselves, helping them to be able to sleep peacefully.

The Facebook page was proving to be popular, the women were posting pictures of their gardens and crafts they had made. If anyone was feeling a bit down the rest of the group offered support and were always on hand to cheer each other up. They posted positive quotes and pictures. Group chats where they could see each other were held, it made the women feel less isolated as they could see a familiar friendly face.

What had started off as a horrible situation for our ladies, who often felt isolated at home, some of whom had no other form of support has actually turned out to be a positive, we are connecting in new ways and have been able to keep the conversations and support alive for so many women. It is a testament as to how well the centre was run, by women for women, that has made our online community strong and positive.

Each woman doesn't have to feel isolated and alone in this situation she has the support and care of many other women.

We don't know how long our centre will have to be closed for but what we do know is that none of our ladies are facing it alone. Our ladies are very important to us and so is their well-being so having the ability to stay connected is wonderful for them and for us. As we enter into another week of lock down one of our ladies is preparing to do a Zoom from her allotment, again it's keeping Inspire Women connected. Who knows what will happen next but one thing is for sure we will get through it together, because together we are strong.

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