Sally Bonnie is the Founder of Inspire Women Oldham. Sally says: “We are part of a world where our voices and our ability to contribute, our power to act has been eroded. We were seen as a set of labels, a set of deficiencies, problems that needed fixing.
So we created a new story: We are Changemakers, a beautiful, diverse melting pot of women; we are Inspire Women Oldham.
Who have you helped?
“Our journey stories had a common thread, where we believed that the only way out was to be rescued or fixed. We find ourselves in spaces where, to gain resources and often support, we have to perpetuate the language that accompanies our labels. Inspire Women decided they did not want to do this any longer.
We identified that in order to change the world (or at least our part of it) that we needed to first to change ourselves. This is how our WomenFirst Changemakers concept was born, back in 2012. We needed women to change how they told and shared their stories about who we were.
Our label-filled stories did not serve us as women. We were seeking a new way, or maybe as we now believe, we were re-birthing an old way.
Inspire has created and facilitates a beautiful Women’s Centre in the heart of Oldham town centre. It’s a space that is based on kindness, compassion and equality of power with humility at its heart. A space where you can always find laughter, fun, pink wigs and music; and very special moments of change that touch your heart.
The Centre is open to all women aged over 16 and who live in Oldham, women organising themselves around their awakening gifts, passion and emerging purpose.
Since we opened our Centre just over two years ago, we have connected with over 400 Oldham women. Women have gifted over 6000 hours to ensure the doors remain open. Women supporting women – done by us, for us. Our ten-year journey however has involved so many more women.”
“When our stories include women who are wise, powerful Changemakers, it creates a space from where women can claim and live a different story, regaining their voices and inspiring others to do the same.
We focus on what is present, not what is absent in women. We facilitate, creating opportunities for connection in a beautiful welcoming space. We see the wholeness and potential in women, not what is broken. It is from this space that we begin our connection.
Here, women have re-discovered their voice, changed their language, become equal, free to pursue ideas, to shape and re-shape, to co-produce the organisation.
We have pioneered an approach and a model that has both nurtured and empowered women to develop, establish and run a centre where all Facilitators were once Members. Women who were previously only ever defined with negative labels; women who are now writing stories based on strength and courage, daring to be brave.”
What have you learned? Any challenges?
“We are pioneering an approach that has taken courage and commitment. An approach that at times has left us disappointed and heartbroken. Time however has taught us to continue to create our path by walking it.
As a practitioner you have to be prepared to unlearn what you have learnt. You have to deliver what women want in a way they want it- you have to create a listening space that is constant and consistent- continuously evolving and re-shaping your offer.
Your delivery model cannot be static. You have to be prepared to rip it up and start again. You can’t get too hung up on the figures. Hitting targets matter but not more than in our case the women we are working with. Everyone has to be willing and able to change direction quickly.
There is a need to develop asset-based participatory structures at all levels, moving away from current governance structures and performance management measures. Participatory structures bring hope which in turn enables women to take back control. The absence of this makes it difficult for women in the community to shape the services they want.”
“We will continue to learn from the women who step into our space; creating opportunities to write new stories; to become part of a movement of women who choose to support each other.
We will continue to reach out for support from people who understand that we cannot compromise; who do not seek to put us into boxes and label us.”
What advice, contacts or resources would help?
“We would love women and men to help us sustain what we have built by sharing their expertise, or helping to finance what is truly a very special place in Oldham for women.”
Why we’re sharing these stories
An individual or organisation from each of our five categories will be recognised at our Igniting Inspiration recognition event in November, but we want to publish all relevant stories to spread awareness of all the positive work that goes on in the North!