Women from two sides of the community in west Belfast are forging friendships and gaining new skills, thanks to an Awards for All grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
GLOW (Giving Life Opportunities to Women) has received a £9,993 grant from the Awards for All programme. They are using the money to run two 12-week health and well-being programmes from their centre on the Shankill Road for women including physical activities, healthy eating and motivational training. It is part of a Big Lottery Fund grants windfall of£750,350 to 92 groups across Northern Ireland. A full list of awards is available here.
Fiona had a difficult time as a teenager growing up during the Troubles and suffered from issues including depression and anxiety. “I have been through everything,” she said. “I had such low confidence I had panic attacks when driving on the motorway. I just existed, there was no feeling there,” she said.
The women started coming to GLOW twice a week, taking part in personal development and group support sessions and confidence-building activities like go-karting and rock climbing.
“It wasn’t like going to a counsellor,” said Fiona. “It was sitting with women in similar positions and sharing your experiences, and realising you’re not the only one.
Carol-Lee said: “I had locked myself away for over 10 years and wouldn’t talk to anybody. But from the beginning, the people at GLOW were so welcoming they made us feel like we were all one. I sat down in a small group with of women, and we all talked about our lives. We were all on the same wavelength, no matter where we were from.
“Before I went to Glow, I wouldn’t have sat in the same room with someone from the other side of the community,” she said. “Now, Fiona is one of my closest friends.”
Fiona said: “I had never been to the Shankill before GLOW, although it’s just around the corner. Now I go to do my shopping up there, and I meet Carol-Lee and her sisters there every Friday.”
The women have benefited in other ways too. When they came to GLOW, they were unemployed but now both have jobs – Carol-Lee as a sales assistant, and Fiona in a take-away. “I thought I couldn’t work because I had kids,” said Carol-Lee. “But Chara Clarke (Director of GLOW) just kept telling me, ‘Yes, you can,’ And she was right. I found after a while my confidence had risen, and GLOW helped me write a CV and apply for jobs. They don’t push you to do anything, but they encourage you to push yourself. The programme changes how you feel about yourself. I’m living now instead of just existing. Everybody notices the difference in me.”
Fiona said: “I have come on in leaps and bounds since joining the GLOW programme. I’m working full time. I’ve gone from having panic attacks when driving a car, to go-karting and actually enjoying it. I can’t thank the people at GLOW enough. They have turned my life around.”
GLOW Director Chara Clarke said it is great to see the women make so much progress. “GLOW has snowballed over the years has got bigger than I ever could have imagined. Reaching so many women from various communities has been life changing for all involved and I look forward to reaching even more women and seeing their lives change for the better.”