Upper Holloway charity works to empower women
14:50 09 July 2014
In a modest building tucked behind bustling Islington streets a charity is empowering and supporting women.
Creative and Supportive Trust (CAST) in Lysander Mews, Upper Holloway provides a safe space for vulnerable women to enrich their lives by running free personal development and educational classes.
Within the centre women wander in and out of the office appearing relaxed and chatting freely to staff members. Two women stand comparing the clay sculptures they made earlier in a craft class. A small notice board propped up on the floor by a chair is filled with various reminders and details of upcoming events. One note reads “knitting is back by popular demand”.
The easy-going and open atmosphere seems to be the main draw of the centre, as one woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome explains: “You don’t have to perform at a certain level and you are allowed to have a bad day. The staff are actually positive that you have just made the effort to come in”.
A young woman diagnosed with bipolar who attends CAST regularly values the sensitivity of staff members. “I feel like I can talk about anything to the staff and no-one will judge me. If I said something in the big wide world they would judge me, but here they accept me for who I am”, she says.
CAST prides itself on specialising in helping women with a history of offending and those experiencing difficulties related to mental illness or substance misuse. The women’s only charity was established in 1982 by Lennie Speer, an ex-offender and members of Holloway prison’s education department, Jenny Cole and Richard Brown.
Women can be referred to the charity in a number of ways, including by a doctor, care-coordinator or support worker. It functions like a small scale college complete with an annual prospectus and offering up to 40 courses taught by professional tutors. Once service users arrive they can take classes within six core areas: health and wellbeing, personal development, creative arts, life skills, IT and moving on.
Life coach Natalie Dee teaches groups as part of the centre’s six week managing relationships course which aims to “explore practical ways in which to build and maintain the trust in relationships”.
Ms Dee, a master practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), said: “It is all about you taking care of yourself,” she said. “The more you put yourself first the better you will manage relationships, the more confident you will be and almost everybody wants to be more confident. Then everything you do from that point forward will be a little bit easier. This is what it means to be assertive, it is about being clear. Who am I, what do I want and how do I put that across to another person? ”
Women come from all over London to attend CAST which is a five minute walk from Archway underground station. Classes are full and the centre is busy but the future of the charity is uncertain after this summer and additional funding is needed to sustain operations.
Jasmine Aktar, the director of CAST, believes that the charity is essential as it works to raise awareness and assist women who may not necessarily appear vulnerable. With CAST, such women are helped to transform their lives and are eventually helped to find voluntary work or paid employment.
“I feel very humbled by the impact of the work this fantastic charity delivers and by the dedication and commitment of the wonderful team, volunteers and trustees. Helping ex-offenders is not always a popular cause, which is why we need the help of very special people who look beyond the stereotypes to see the common humanity we all share.”
For more information visit www.castwomen.org.uk.