In the early days of the pandemic, Rubina Khalid, like millions of others, found herself wondering how she and her colleagues at WomenZone could continue to support the hundreds of women that come through their doors each year with such unprecedented restrictions on social contact. Over the course of the next two years, the Co-CEO of the Bradford-based charity oversaw sweeping changes to the way its volunteers help service users, changes that have remained beyond the easing of Covid restrictions.
WomenZone was established in East Bradford in 2003, with the aim of empowering women in the city to live happier, healthier lives. Through health and wellbeing and educational activities, WomenZone works to prevent women of all ages from experiencing social exclusion.
Successive lockdowns presented a significant challenge to the group’s operations, which had previously offered a wide range of activities at their Bradford Moor base, including Active Families fitness sessions, steam and exercise classes at their women-only gym Her Gym, and English for Everyone language courses.
Through a range of Covid grants during the height of the pandemic, WomenZone adapted and moved much of its services and support online. The charity also offered hot meals, food parcels, clothing, hygiene, and activity packs to vulnerable older women.
But thanks in part to a £15,000 grant from national older people’s charity Independent Age, WomenZone has been able to re-open face-to-face services providing gentle exercise, community lunches, peer support, coffee mornings, and a range of wellbeing activities delivered in partnership with other charities, including music therapy, arts and crafts, alongside its bolstered online offering.
“Access to funds to help us build on our work with older BAME women during the pandemic has been crucial. Emergency Covid-19 grants allowed us to acquire the resources to deliver online one-to-one, group, self-help and interactive programmes.
“Throughout the lockdowns, we remained in contact with all of our service users via telephone and Zoom, as well as delivering activity and wellness packs. In fact, whilst a return to face-to-face services has been welcomed, we still have some women who prefer not to attend services in person and instead access support via online sessions, particularly our ‘Chai and Chat’ sessions. In August 2021, over 100 older women from South Asian backgrounds were still regularly accessing WomenZone’s weekly older women’s services online.
“We’re so grateful to Independent Age for their partnership and financial assistance over the past two years. Without this I have no doubt many of our clients risked slipping through the cracks.”
Mark Hayward, Head of Grants at Independent Age, said:
“We are incredibly proud to work with and fund some of the vital work WomenZone has been doing during the pandemic.
“Everything WomenZone does is led and developed by the women they work with. Their efforts during the pandemic have been exemplary, but, as Rubina has noted, the pandemic has taken a toll on communities across the country. This has been particularly evident in Bradford, and isn’t something that can be dealt with by a “quick fix.” I’m confident that the innovative partnership working with other organisations means WomenZone is well placed to lead this ongoing work in Bradford.”