Featured member – Saathi House

Zoya* had always endured hate-crime, she was so used to it that a while back when it got very bad she just accepted it. Zoya came to learn English in the Creative English classes at Saathi House and after a few weeks told her tutors that she had gained the confidence and the language skills to be able to articulate her feelings to her perpetrator…

Saathi House was set up in 1977 (initially called St James Language Project) to provide help and support to one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country, Aston, which had begun to attract a lot of migrant families. The case today is not dissimilar, so I spoke to Mashkura the Interim Director to find out more about what they do and how Creative English fits in to the ethos of this fantastic initiative.

Saathi House is a centre which primarily attracts BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) women in the area. They come to take part in a huge selection of activities, from learning Arabic and sewing, to learning English or taking part in the gardening project; the underlying focus is on personal development and skills enhancement. Mashkura says it may be the case that 80% of the women come for community and friendship but as much as 20% may develop certain skills to then go on and start their own businesses or find work. It’s a place where the women can come, knowing that they can talk about issues such as mental health and that they will get referred to the right channels if need be. Mashkura says they come into contact with many women who are isolated and without social support and who have been stuck at home for so long. Then, they discover that they can come to Saathi House and find community and interesting activities, as well as a listening ear.

Saathi House have been running Creative English for two years. Mashkura thinks the crucial point of Creative English success at Saathi House has been the fun factor. She says “the structure of the program puts people at ease” She has seen great success with participants who are not used to a classroom setting. Where most English language provision is very much classroom-based, Creative English suits them much more.

As for Zoya – she reported the hate crimes to the appropriate authorities. When asked if Creative English had helped her to feel empowered within her community, Mashkura said: “Absolutely, because it’s given her an identity, and that’s the most powerful thing. It’s given her an identity and a sense of confidence where she could engage with the community.”

Mashkura’s advice for anyone thinking about starting an initiative like Creative English;

“Have a good team around you because you can’t do it on your own. Investing in your team, in your volunteers is crucial because they’re the ones who are going to be making the difference, they’re going to be doing the great work.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

Heather Ratnarajah

About Heather Ratnarajah

Heather Ratnarajah is Team Coordinator for the whole team at FaithAction. She ensures good communication and understanding amongst the various sub-teams regarding current workload and availability. She acts as administrative support for all ongoing projects, with particular focus on the Creative English programme. She also acts as support and a point of connection for the numerous Creative English hubs across the UK, ensuring they have everything they require to run classes effectively. She is part of the team acting as Secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society and enjoys the work they do organising important meetings and events at Westminster.