Women’s Voices is not just another women’s group. It brings women together and encourages peer support. It teaches us all the power of our voices and own stories. It builds understanding and respect between women, staff and services. Ultimately it is about system and service change through empowering people. And part of its success is owed to the many years of work put into bringing women together, research and women’s voices that started with the first group of women in 2015.
The original Women’s Voices group is still meeting now, more as a social group but with a proud history of influencing and involvement work. So with some of the women involved in this group, and many more women across Manchester, keen to do some influencing work and take that next step on their journey to try to make services and the system better for other women, another group was established.
This new Women’s Voices influencing group only started meeting in September 2019. Before the lockdown we were meeting monthly and starting to build up some momentum after about 6 months of meeting, building membership and relationships with strategic decision makers and service leads and discussing interests and priorities we wanted to work on over the next 6-12 months.
Basically, we had a lot planned in. Starting in April most of our members were going to attend 9 sessions of community reporting training with People’s Voice Media to train the women in methods of community reporting and the power of storytelling. Simply this is people telling their experiences to peers in their own words via the wonders of technology… so using video, audio, photo… and often very little written content! Once trained our community reporters would have done a peer research project around women-centred approaches, visiting groups and services to speak to staff and women about this, and presenting their findings at an event in July bringing everyone together… community reporters, group members, storytellers, services and others. However, with social distancing and then the lockdown in March these plans and work had to be postponed.
To retain interest and let women tell their own stories about their experiences of what’s been happening we have arranged with People’s Voice Media to run a storytelling taster session in May/June. We hope this will keep interest peaked as well as allowing the women to experience community reporting from the storyteller’s perspective.
But that’s not all we did…
Our Women’s Voices influencing group has been meeting virtually since Thursday 26 March for a Weekly Meet up! using the Zoom online video platform.
At our weekly meet ups! We always start with how we are and then a game called ‘treasure hunt’, we have some announcements and learn about a new inspirational woman each week, hold group discussions, do some influencing activity, suggest things we can do in our own time and much more…
As well as having some structure, social and set things we do each week we also try and introduce something new… the last couple of weeks we have had a virtual recommendation room and an Open Mic mini-show, so 10 minutes or less! Coming up we will have some bite-sized learning videos, Pictionary, and a new competition.
Because not everyone is confident with technology or has access to the internet, between them the Women’s Voices leads for the two groups, Safi, Amanda and Abbie, keep in touch with women through weekly phone calls, a WhatsApp group and Facebook group. Everyone gets a call, even if we’ve seen their faces or heard their voices at the Weekly Meet Ups! Because it is important women still get 1-2-1 social time and support.
Alongside regular contact, we have been working on activities women can be doing in their own time at home. Weekly emails are sent summing up what’s been going on and what women can get involved with. An activity and wellbeing shared resource pack has been created with links, wellbeing resources and activities to complete at home. Any suggestions or reviews for activities are encouraged to allow women to actively participate and try something new.
Women’s Voices First Virtual Social Quiz, 17 April
On the 17 April, we hosted our first Women’s Voices Virtual Social Quiz. This social brought together members from across both Women’s Voices groups, with 10 women competing for a chance to be crowned Quiz Queen and win a prize which would be posted directly to their door!
The common quiz hiccups were present with multiple women accidentally giving away the answer (including one instance of the quiz master herself accidentally giving one away!). The music round was particularly comical as attendees began singing the songs to help those who were struggling.
The first virtual social was deemed a success and it was agreed that these would continue to be held fortnightly during the lockdown period. In order to be as inclusive as possible, two quizzes will take place. One will take place on Zoom where visual aids can be included. The second will be a group telephone call so any women without internet access can be involved and without needing to use their own phone credit.
Photo Competition 26 March to 14 April
We hosted our first photo competition at the end of the March. We asked women to take a photo from their window or garden and these photos were judged across three categories: beautiful landscape/ nature, funniest photo and interesting art/ interesting view.
This photo competition ran across both Women’s Voices groups and 7 women entered. After a tough deliberation by the judges, 3 winners were chosen with prizes being delivered directly to their door.
The competition was a success and it was agreed that different competitions would continue to take place over the next weeks and months, even after the lockdown ends.
Runners up in this photo competition:
Opportunities for Influence:
Countering social isolation was deemed a priority in the early weeks of lockdown and this remained at the forefront of the Women’s Voices work. However, once various methods of communication were established and women were regularly engaging, the influencing work was picked up again within a couple of weeks of this new way of working.
Although some opportunities for influence were paused, new ones emerged. The group is working on a visual guide about standards for working with women for staff working in mixed gender services, and linking into another group’s development of their political asks around accommodation for women experiencing homelessness through responding to some questions about ideal supported accommodation and what changes they would like to see for women. Some women will also be inputting and sharing their thoughts via video, audio or quoted text about supporting women well and what accommodation should feel and look like for women. This is for a training module that is being developed around gendered practices for redeployed staff working in emergency accommodation during this crisis.
Wherever possible involvement and engagement activities are run across the two women’s voices groups, almost operating as one ‘Women’s Voices’ with the social group and influencing group coming together as one. It has enabled us to think differently about how we communicate and many of the new communication channels will be taken forward even once life resumes to face-to-face meet ups and office-based working again.
Adapting to virtual working and creating new ways to involve and engage was initially a challenge. However, it has forced us to diversify our methods of working, think more creatively and has developed new opportunities to collaborate with others.
Whatever our level of involvement, contribution or general knowledge… we’ve managed to stay together, enjoy what we do, influence change and above all get something out of doing what we do week after week. Having this positive contact and a shared purpose to make things better for other women now, and once we come out of this, has given us structure, focus and something positive to hold onto. What better way to try and change the world then through laughter, misadventure, self-acceptance and above all female solidarity?
For more information about the influencing group and its work, please contact the group’s facilitator and lead, Safia Griffin.
For more information about the social group and the ‘Chill Out’ sessions, please contact the group’s facilitator and lead, Amanda Yates.