Marie* has been attending U-Turn Project in Tower Hamlets for three years. U-Turn is a charity that works with vulnerable and hard to reach women of all ages who have been trapped in cycles of prostitution, drug addiction, physical abuse and homelessness from a young age.
One of three daughters, Marie was chosen by her mother to be sold to men from an early age. After revealing that she liked women, she was forced into a physically and emotionally abusive marriage by her family to ‘cure’ her of being a lesbian. When her husband abandoned her and her daughter, Marie became a sex worker. Her daughter and second child were taken away from her by her family. Marie is now addicted to gambling.
Here, she talks about her experience of taking part in Create’s creative:u~turn project, which is taking jewellery making, art, creative writing and music workshops to U-Turn on Mondays between September 2010 and April 2011.
“I come to the U-Turn Project up to four days a week. It’s a lovely centre, and keeps me occupied and from going to certain places I really shouldn’t go. I’ve made friends here and Rio [the manager] helps us a lot. She was the one who told me about the Create project. At first I didn’t think it would be interesting for me, but Rio told me to try it – if I don’t like it, I don’t have to carry on. I’ve never done any art or jewellery before, nothing. But it sounded good. The jewellery was a bit hard because of my hands [Marie has arthritis], and I couldn’t do it on my own, but in the end I made loads of pairs of earrings. It made me move my hands and all that, it was a nice feeling.
During the art, I made a sign for the U-Turn Project, telling the women when they come that it’s just for women. That’s why I made it, to make them comfortable and easy to come in, because it just says ‘women’ on there. It’s the first thing I’ve made for years.
I’ve come to as many [Create] sessions as I could, both for art and jewellery. And we’re doing a new one soon, we’re going to do singing. I’m not sure about the creative writing yet, I can’t write.
So far I have liked the art the best, the painting and the drawing with stencils. It was also easier for my hands because I could hold it with one hand and paint with the other. We did a banner for the centre and I painted on the opening times.
I liked working with Daniel and Hayley [Create’s artists], everyone was really nice. I liked Daniel, he made us laugh, he was funny. Without the artists, we wouldn’t have known what to do. When we’re doing something they don’t rush us; they tell us to take our time, if it’s wrong, start again; don’t start screaming or panicking. If you want to say something, they’ll listen to you.
It was alright, in the end, to have Daniel around. The first time I saw him I thought “oh, a man”, but he takes our jokes, and he mingles with us. He says he loves coming on Mondays because then he gets his soup and we all sit down at the table, we’re all communicating together, eating bread and soup and talking. He’s a lovely person.
The Reed Smith volunteers are nice. They come for lunch on Mondays, too, and they all talk about different things. It’s nice to hear about different things, because we need to know each other. You get to know them, they get to know you – I’ve invited them to our Christmas Dinner! I didn’t even ask Rio first! If I didn’t like them, I wouldn’t have invited them.
I’d be bored if the Create workshops weren’t on Monday. They help us do things so we don’t get lazy. Last Monday I was looking forward to coming because I said “oh, I’m going to finish my picture, I’m going to varnish it!” And I was really looking forward to it! When Monday’s over I think “rubbish, I have to wait another week to get excited!” Because I like it! I think art has changed me to be better. To want to come and do more – I won’t be scared to do art next time.”
* Name changed to protect anonymity. The photo in this blog is not of the participant.