“My English and also my confidence have improved since I joined the centre. I can talk easily now and I don’t feel shy as before… It’s good to push yourself, the centre has made me realise I can do anything.”
“The Somali Women’s Association helps a lot of people in the Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Often these people don’t know where to start from… The centre is a place not only for the Somali community, people from all cultures come to share their problems here.”
“I think the best aspect of the Women’s Association is the moments of eating and talking together with the families, who often have difficult situations at home.”
“There is no other place like this; people come here to speak, to get advice, for a tea…”
“The Association makes it easier to communicate because they are able to recognise the problems of the different communities who come here.”
“I volunteer and meet friends at the centre; it’s a place where community links together.”
In just two decades over 10,000 women have passed through their ‘open doors’ to receive urgently-needed information, support and advice with regard to health, well-being, welfare rights and housing. Women study and train at the centre, improving their language skills, confidence and self-esteem, and develop a portfolio of skills helping them get jobs.
Operating in several languages, the BDSWA caters for women and their families from all communities. In January 2017 BDSWA received a Big Lottery grant award of £195,000 spread over three years to develop services, and pay for the part-time salaries of the Director, Advice worker and Health & Wellbeing worker. The new project is called: EAST LONDON ETHNIC MINORITY WOMEN'S HEALTH & WELLBEING PROJECT
BDSWA operate in a very challenging environment, with the LB Barking & Dagenham now the 9th poorest borough in England (the 2nd poorest borough in London). The borough has seen unprecedented change in recent years with a significant overall population increase. It has the highest percentage of lone parent households in England at 14.3%.
The borough is more ethnically diverse than it has ever been. Whilst since 2001, there has been just over a 30% decrease in the borough’s White British population, the Black African population has grown by over 20,000, which is the largest increase of the Black African population in London (from 4% to 16% in the borough). The White Other population has also continued to grow from 4,348 in 2001 to 14,525 in 2011.
Increasing diversity offers considerable opportunities, but the pace of change poses a number of real challenges for community cohesion.