Suffragettes inspire 21st-century mums

8th January 2010 at 00:00
A group for isolated young mothers provides not only a social hub for them and their children, but a first step to learning

When they first started coming to the young mums' personal development sessions at Kersiebank Community Centre in Grangemouth, Jade, Christina, Jennifer and the other women in the Thursday afternoon group could not have imagined they would end up in a Suffragette 100th- anniversary march in Edinburgh, wearing rosettes and sashes they had made themselves.

Following the march in October, a member of the group, Amanda Alston, was quoted in a Sunday newspaper, stating: "I've never voted before. I didn't understand politics, but now I've learned about the Suffragettes and the horrible way they were treated, I definitely will vote in the next election."

The Young Mums group was set up four years ago to provide a much-needed opportunity for isolated young mothers to get out of the house and meet new people one afternoon a week, while their children were at the on-site creche.

Following consultation, the group - whose youngest member is 18 - became more focused on education and submitted a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding to pursue a year-long Suffragettes project which ends this month.

The project was delivered by two community education workers, Carolann Wright and Avril Clarke, in partnership with Falkirk Council's cultural services department, whose input included Suffragette jewellery making, historic costume handling and a music-writing workshop to compose a 21st- century Suffragette song.

The group also looked at how women's lives had changed over the past 100 years, discussed the barriers that women still faced and visited the temporary Suffragette exhibition at the Museum of Edinburgh and permanent collection at the People's Palace in Glasgow.

Linda Gow, leader of Falkirk Council, gave a talk to the group about her career. Her husband and her father had once been cornered by a couple of concerned men who asked if her political ambitions had been "OK'd" by them.

Several of the young mothers used their vote for the first time in the European Elections last May, only a few months into the Suffragettes project. One woman found the prospect of entering a polling station so intimidating, she applied for a postal vote.

Carolann Wright said: "When the Suffragettes Project started, some young mums had been members of the group since they were teenagers and had been coming for four years. They were more than ready to tackle something that would broaden their horizons educationally.

"They also decided that an invitation to take part in the new project should be extended to women of all ages in the area, to add a cross- generational element to the project, and that has been a real `plus'."

This project was a first step to learning for some of the group, and led them to think about what they could do in future. Several of the Kersiebank mums have already moved on to the next step and come to the centre for an early-years course set up under the community access programme.

"Having a college tutor come here and providing a creche removes the two major barriers to learning - travel and child care - that many young mums face," said Mrs Wright.

The group has put together a DVD of the Suffragettes project, to be presented to Falkirk Council's community learning and development conference this month. It has also discussed the structure of its next project - on fashion and its impact on women from Victorian times to the present day.

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