My Story - Herts Libraries
Stevenage World Forum have had the pleasure to work with Hertfordshire Libraries and Nysa Projects to pull together a programme of events and activities in libraries across Hertfordshire – including digital engagements, arts adminstration and creative content creation. This project allowed opportunities for people (16+) to work alongside professional artists and build a portfolio in the arts sector. These sessions have been open to all but particularly aimed at young emerging artists who are interested in developing their practice and keen to participate in a community project.
We recently featured in The Comet! Our Naz (Community Connector) was featured in their August edition to talk about the work SWF has been involved in with the aim of improving of quality of life, education, social, economic and cultural life of the Borough.
International Women's Day
International Youth Day is a global day to celebrate the social, economic and cultural achievements of women.
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day was “Women in leadership” and we chose to celebrate this by hosting a virtual show on SG1 Radio to talk about the tremendous efforts being made by women and girls around the world to tackle climate change. Our guest speakers consisted of:
- Nazmin Chowdhury (Trainee Solicitor and Radio Presenter);
- Alissa Crew (Youth Mayor – Stevenage Youth Council and Stevenage Borough Council);
- Charanjit Kang (Trustee and Secretary of Stevenage World Forum);
- Kate Belinis (Trustee and Chair of Stevenage World Forum);
- Jill Goldsmith (Member of the Climate Change Group, Bishop’s Stortford);
- Dr Louernie De Sales (Health, Environment, Safety and Quality (HSEQ) Director of Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC);
- Katy Manning (Health and Sustainability Journalist);
- Brenda Lowe (District Chairman at Innerwheel);
- Farhat Zia (Co-Founder and Executive Member of Hertfordshire Asian Women’s Association (HAWA));
- Rushna Miah (Co-Founder and Chair of Hertfordshire Asian Women’s Association (HAWA)).
International Youth Day
International Youth Day is a brilliant way to promote rational thinking among the youth, who are the future of this town. This is a day to celebrate the youth with their values, principles and beliefs.
This year’s event was held virtually in conjunction with SG1 Radio. A Zoom marathon was conducted and streamed live on Social Media. We spoke with various young people of Stevenage from different communities (White, Bangladeshi, Black & Filipino), from the comfort of their homes and to comply with social distancing guidelines arising out of Covid-19. Participants shared their personal experiences of the year 2020, the effects of lockdown, home education, work life, holiday cancellations, stigma on BAME communities and concerns regarding their future. This event allowed young participants a platform to share their stories with a wider range of audience on Social Media.
International Women's Day
International Women’s Day is not simply a day of celebration, but a call for action to continue to press for complete gender equality. Stevenage World Forum joined along with other organisations from countries around the world, marking International Women’s Day as a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. International Women’s Day is also a chance for us to connect with women’s struggles in the UK and across the world.
This year’s event invited women to chat about “who gives a crap…!” Yes, that’s right! To celebrate International Women’s Day, we held table discussions to talk about toilets and problems faced by females. Recycled toilet rolls went up for sale for the benefit of 40% of the world’s population who don’t have access to toilets. In addition to the recent panic buying of toilet rolls (due to the pandemic), there were some toilet rolls made available for the benefit of the charity to help build more toilets. This showed how important gender equality is for economies and communities to thrive.
Stories of Faith
The Inter Faith event took place on 14th November 2019. This was open to all members of the public for free with no registration required. The beauty of this project allowed participants to get to know one another and learn more about each other’s faiths.
Spring Ball 2018
“Celebrating Diverse Cultures to increase understanding and create community cohesion.”
This annual project aims to celebrate, foster and promote community events and community cohesion. Our application for funding included organising Family & Community Events, including multi-cultural festivals throughout the year with a showcase of cultural talent, food and music.
One of the aims of this project is to gain a better understanding of other cultural celebrations and interact with them with a view to increasing participation by involving the local community centres and schools. These events are open to people of all ages. We ensure our venues have easy access for wheelchair/pushchair users.
The annual Spring Ball 2018 was was a fantastic night which brought together over 125 people from different communities to celebrate music and all the rich celebrations that each community has to offer. The night consisted of Irish Dancers, Filipino Dancers, Punjabi Giddah and all guests were invited to join in with the dancing. This is an event that we hope to arrange annually to ensure our communities continue to celebrate and showcase their culture in a true community spirit
Awards for All kindly provided funding for this project which was run by SWF in line with our missions:
Food For Thought
The third annual “Food for Thought” event took place to honour United Nations World Food Day. This took place on Saturday 13th October at the Bedwell Community Centre. The fundraising event brought together 10 ethnic community groups, each of which prepared various traditional dishes for everyone to sample. There were delights from around the world including Cyprus, Zimbabwe, India, South Africa, Romania, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ireland, Uganda, the West Indies and Singapore. With children’s activities and great raffle prizes, there was fun for all the family.
“This is a brilliant way for many people to sample different kinds of foods, especially as it helps bring communities together. Great event,” said one of the guests.
The event raised over £250 which has been passed on to the United Nations World Food Programme to provide food for the less fortunate.
Our Country 2011
This event took place in May 2011. A vibrant project, which enabled several different cultures, all age groups and professions to learn about the community’s heritage, their history about living in Stevenage and their love for food and music. Some learning materials (in the form of DVD) were provided which the primary aged children had the pleasure of enjoying first hand when several communities visited schools to share their stories. We thank the insightful schools and teachers who helped us to deliver this wonderful BIG Lottery Heritage Fund.
The 'C' Factor
The ‘C’ Factor is a series of interactive community-based workshops designed to bring diverse communities together, allowing them to share slices of their culture with others. Each workshop day revolves around different themes: Dance, Art, Traditional dress, and Life back home. This took place over four Saturdays in August and September 2010. Local community members are welcomed to experience a vast world of culture and gain insight into the richness of ethnic groups in the local area. The variety of the workshops gave a glimpse into the reality of other countries beyond what is perceived on a daily basis through limited sources shown by the media.
The first event, ‘Can’t Dance, Won’t Dance’, had all-aged members of the public learning the dance steps from around the world. Participants tapped their feet to an Irish Céili, danced to the Polonez (the national dance of Poland), learnt the sequence of an Indian dance and stepped to the beat of a Zimbabwean warrior dance. “The different dances were really good fun to join in together with the stories behind them were really interesting,” said one of the younger participants.
The second event, ‘Ready! Steady! Draw!’, focused on the ancient art-form of henna tattooing. Audience members, from the young to senior, had designs tattooed onto their hands and feet. Participants learnt about the origins of henna. Some took the opportunity to get creative by designing their own patterns.
A returning participant said: “The workshops were a great way of learning about different cultures in an interesting and fun way.”
At the third event, the theme of ‘Undress the Cultures!’ gave community members an insight into the colourful world of saris. The audience heard the many reasons of wearing saris in tropical countries (including the air coolness and practicality to do so). They learnt there are several different styles as to how a sari can be worn. Participants also had the opportunity to wear a sari in both the traditional and Gujarati style. One participant said: “I have always been interested in learning how to wear a sari. It’s great to have had this opportunity today.”
The final event, ‘A day in the life of…’, provided community members with a glimpse of real life in three different countries. Amongst a host of topics, the participants found out about games played in Barbados, school days in Ireland and growing up in a village in South Africa. “My daughter now has an idea as to what life is really like overseas,” commented one participant.
A series of cultural-based interactive workshops which take place in a number of schools and play-schemes in Stevenage. Culture Street allows young children (aged between 7-14 years) to learn about different cultures within the Stevenage community.
Through these interactive workshops, the children have a chance to:
- Play drums to African rhythms
- Be artistic with batik painting
- Learn the dance to a traditional Indian epic
- Dance to Zimbabwean beats
- Paint with henna
- Tap to an Irish jig
- Learn about the Sikh culture
- Hear about Barbados
The participating schools in the past were St. Vincent de Paul primary school, Featherstone Wood primary school and Barnwell secondary school. Pin Green Play Centre have also taken part in this project. Over 300 children benefited from these cultural workshops.
A separate series of workshops were also carried out to encourage school children to explore and record their family history. A Learning & Access Officer from Herts Archives worked with young people,to show them ancient records and methods of tracing their family history.
Comments from participating children included:
“Thank you for helping us learn about different cultures.”
“I thought it was really fun and our teacher was really good fun.”
“I thought that the drums were fantastic and I’d love to do it again.”
Across the Oceans
Across the Oceans documented, (on DVD and CD) the stories and journeys of 11 people who chose to settle in Stevenage for reasons of family, work and new opportunities.
Here are some samples of those stories.
Tom, The Philippines
“A year after my wife started working as a nurse in Lister Hospital, I moved to England, which was in 2002. It was freezing as I left the departure lounge at Heathrow airport in March. But I loved the drive coming to Stevenage – the trees and nature were almost the selling point. Stevenage is so organised and safe with its pedestrian walks etc. I immediately loved the place. And it was really good to know it was one of the new towns after the war. Being able to see so many trees was so different compared to Manila which is heavily industrialised. It really was like a fresh new breeze for me. But when I went to the town centre, I noticed the shops were open till only 5:30pm! In the Philippines, the shops are open till about 12am midnight, and most of the restaurants are open till about 3am. Maybe in London, it’s the same, but here in Stevenage, I was thinking ‘Oh no!’
“I came to England 26 years ago to do a Montessori nursery school course, with the intention of going back and starting my own nursery school in Harare. Initially, I lived in Stockwell, London, with my aunt for the first three years. I did my Montessori training and then worked in a Montessori school. During that time, while studying for another course, I met my husband in Stevenage. I liked London but I preferred Stevenage. I think I have always loved Stevenage because it reminded me very much of where I lived in Harare. A lot of the suburbs and places in Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was known) were built along similar lines as here. In St. Martins where I lived back in Rhodesia, we had a lot of wooded area and many green and play areas like we have here. I think I knew even then that if I did get married and if I was going to stay in the UK, I definitely wasn’t going to stay in London.”
A European Union-funded initiative, the IT4U computer training course ran between September and November 2010. The course gave 20 senior citizens of the community the opportunity to develop basic computer skills to enhance their quality of life.
Over the 18-week programme, the students attended weekly training sessions (there were two groups of 10 students) during which time they learnt about using Microsoft Office, emails and surfing the internet safely. The course was aimed at the older members of our community, targeting those who required coaching in basic computing skills such as switching on a computer.
The successful conclusion of the course was celebrated in style at the local Bedwell Community Centre where the students, their tutors and SWF members enjoyed a fish and (micro)chip supper. As part of the celebrations, all students were awarded a certificate of attendance by Cllr Sherma Batson.
The course feedback was one of overwhelming success with many participants keen to know if SWF will be running any similar or next step courses. It was amazing to see a diverse group of people slowly transforming themselves from self-confessed low-techs to computer-nerds. And having great fun along the way.
Comments from the participants included:
“I had never turned on a computer until I joined this course. I even used our computer at home over the weekend.”
“It’s the highlight of my week. For the first time I have sent out letters that I have written on my computer – one went to a solicitor and he tells me that he’s very impressed.”
“I now feel confident to that I could shop safely on the internet.”
“A great course and tea and biscuits too.”
Take Part Hertfordshire is a nationally funded two-year programme that commenced in 2009. As part of the national learning framework, it aims to enable groups and individuals to get more involved in local communities, decision making processes and have a stronger voice.
Take Part Hertfordshire is all about empowering people who may feel they do not have a voice but want to be heard and to get involved. The programme made a huge difference to the lives of those people who are now better equipped to take part in their communities.
There are two project areas within Hertfordshire, each with a different focus:
- Demographic: focuses on black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups in Stevenage.
- Geographic: focuses on the Cowley Hill ward in Borehamwood
This programme is managed by the Hertfordshire County Council with delivery arrangements unique to each area but both involving the voluntary sector organisations that employs the project’s two part-time Project Officers. Take Part Stevenage is managed by Stevenage Borough Council and is delivered through Stevenage World Forum who hosts the Project Officer. They work alongside BME communities across the district with over 100 people participating in the programme.
Over the two years, more than 20 activities were organised including:
- Visits to the Houses of Parliament and council offices.
- Opportunities to shadow a local councillor.
- Skills-development and training courses such as Leadership & Influence; Giving presentations; Mentoring.
What did the programme achieve?
People feel they belong in their area
Increase from 87.5% to 91.5%
People from different backgrounds get on well
Increase from 70% to 95%
People feel able to influence decisions affecting the local area
Increase from 58% to 75%
Comments from Take Part Stevenage participants:
“I was encouraged to get involved to understand the importance of what equality and diversity means within communities and places.”
“I feel empowered to continue with my new skills.”
“I have made many new friends through the Take Part project which has enabled me to understand other cultures and also to understand myself and I have gained confidence too.”