Women’s History Month: Five years of creative:u~turn

To celebrate Women’s History Month this March, we’re remembering some of the achievements that the women who have taken part in our creative:u~turn project have attained over the last five years.  
Since 2010, with funding and volunteer support from Reed Smith LLP, we have run creative:u~turn at Bethnal Green’s U-Turn Women’s Centre, which supports women who have been trapped in cycles of prostitution, drug addiction, physical abuse and homelessness from an early age. The drop-in centre provides the women with access to support workers, counselling, and kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Through creative:u~turn, our artists have enabled the women to explore their creativity and express their thoughts and feelings without fear, encouraging each to accomplish the sense of personal triumph that taking part in Create’s projects evokes. They have produced some extraordinary work, ranging from strikingly beautiful pieces of art and deeply personal musical compositions to uproariously funny dramatic productions.

Since July last year, the women at U-Turn have been working on one extended project, delving into multiple forms of artistic expression through a series of engaging workshops. Beginning with photography sessions, during which the participants learned a variety of new photographic techniques, they went on to use their photographs as the basis of a story, written together as part of weekly drama sessions. In the following months, they turned their attention to music, channelling their stories into original compositions. Since then, they have created props and a set for their upcoming drama performance which will incorporate each of the art forms that they have explored. Emily The value and importance of these workshops becomes apparent when you chat to some of the women who have taken part in creative:u~turn. Marie* has regularly attended the project over the last few years. Forced into prostitution from a very young age, Marie was made to enter into an emotionally abusive marriage by her family to ‘cure’ her of being a lesbian. When her husband abandoned her and her daughter, she became a sex worker. Since then she has struggled with addiction problems and comes to the centre up to four times a week, which keeps her “occupied and from going to certain places I really shouldn’t go.”

“I’d be bored if the Create workshops didn’t happen,” she says. “Last week 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 the day is over I think, “Rubbish, I have to wait another week to get excited!” I think art has changed me for the better. I definitely want to come and do more – I won’t be scared to do art next time.” IMG_2130 As well as the feelings of empowerment and accomplishment that creative:u~turn aims to inspire, its other main goal is to give the vulnerable women who attend the workshops the opportunity to collaborate with and support each another. Many of them experience social isolation and creating an environment that maintains a sense of safety, community and mutual support is vital in helping them to develop trust and foster strong friendships.

Participant Margaret* explained, “You learn so much by communicating with other people who you’ve never met before. I never used to let my guard down like that. When I started taking part in Create’s workshops my confidence was really low. It had been drawn out over the years and I was close to rock bottom. I have just started feeling like myself again, discovering that I can achieve things I never thought were possible.”

According to a report from the Home Office, long-term effects of recent and historic sexual abuse can include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, social phobia, substance misuse and self-harm. Vulnerable women are encouraged to join in with creative:u~turn and express themselves without fear. Participating in Create’s workshops provides them with validation, company, support and the opportunity to narrate their experiences in a more visceral way than through speech alone.

Each piece of music, drama, art, photography, performance and creative writing that this group has created in these sessions represents the personal triumph of one of London’s underprivileged women. Our plan is to build on these five years of creative:u~turn and keep the triumphs coming for many years to come. IMG_3277 We are grateful to Reed Smith for supporting creative:u~turn and are delighted that they won the prestigious Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award for Social Inclusion in recognition of this in 2012. *names changed to protect identity