AKDC has begun this year consolidating its work in Woking, where a productive partnership has blossomed with Liaise, a women’s network centre, a partnership which also has a relation with Dance Woking. Here we ask Ishrat Ahmad, Liaise’s co-ordinator, how working with Amina has benefitted their women…
WHAT IS LIAISE?
Liaise Women Centre started about 15 yeas ago, a pilot project to motivate and empower women and to see if a women only centre can be effective; the centre is predominantly run by volunteers.
We provide safe and supportive environment for women to network, learn new skills or get advice and information on a range of issues and skills including health, interview skills, building self esteem, art classes, learning English as well as other languages.
WHO ARE THE WOMEN WHO COME TO LIAISE?
Liaise welcomes all women who live or work in Woking, regardless of culture, age, religion and sexuality.
We have a range of women who visit us regularly from many different cultural backgrounds – Woking is thriving with many different nationals i.e. Pakistani, Portuguese, Arabic, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Latin American, English, Syrian, Palestinian, Chinese, Aga Khanis, Ismailis, Polish, Spanish as well as Indian from many language background such as Pubjabi, Gujerati, Tamil, Hindi etc.
We have young mothers who are either new in the area or lonely and bored at home, jobless, new arrivals in UK, women suffering from domestic violence or from post-natal depression. We offer support and advice on all the areas and no one is turned away. We also offer counseling therapy as also therapy through activities such as art classes. Our recent engagement with Amina saw us bring classical dance and music into the equation.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING AT LIAISE?
I have been with Liaise for almost fourteen years! My knowledge of the local communities and understanding of different cultures has helped me to engage with various different community groups.
AND HOW LONG WITH AMINA?
Well, I first met Amina many years ago when she did a residency project in Woking, which I attended. She impressed me and I knew I wanted to work with her. Few years later, I approached her to work on a project but unfortunately she was busy at that time. Then to my delight Amina called me to deliver a dance project called ‘Bol’ in 2011. And since then we have been working together with the local women in the area. I feel privileged to have the partnership and despite the cut in funding Amina continues to inspire me to continue the much needed and important work here at Liaise.
WHY IS WORKING WITH AMINA IMPORTANT FOR YOU?
Amina’s work is very important to us and particularly to me - we are both passionate about helping and empowering women. Her work deals with real issues women face all over the world, and being a community group that helps and support such women it is a partnership that I value. Her work clearly reflects ours, as she focuses on universal issues, which perfectly lend to each other's work. We both have the same goals but very different approach in delivering. It makes it exciting to bring together her expertise and my knowledge of the communities with rewarding outcome!
Amina has an organic and natural approach to the women, she treats situations sensitively, a unique and a must quality as we work with sensitive issues with extremely vulnerable women. As a result, women feel comfortable with her and are drawn to her immediately. This is a testimony as how quickly they embraced dance and music – subjects, which are still taboo with many women I work with.
We realised there was a gap in our activities we offered, particularly with creative focus. Amina now fills that gap with her wonderful ways of communicating through dance and story telling. It’s a cathartic release and artistic expression of feeling that can only be expressed through the use of body and mind. The use of Abhinaya and Mudras are both beautiful and effective. It is aesthetically pleasing and doesn't require any language.
It is very important that Amina continues the work she is doing with us, as for thousand of years dance has been a release of emotion. Women are familiar with dance but did not know there's a more to it then dancing at wedding parties and watching it in Bollywood movies. Her sessions are effective for all cultural groups that use Liaise. She brings universal stories to women and encourages them to share their own stories, while emphasising the importance of physical and nurturing of mental well-being through dance.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU BOTH COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER’s WORK?
We complement our work as we both bring a holistic approach to delivering projects. I have developed a trusting relationship with the women over the years and evidently women are taken in by Amina’s approach and empathy to each other in the group. We have diverse groups here who speaks many different languages, but Amina is able to communicate to all even without the knowledge of all the languages.
Another aspect of working with Amina is that she is able to bring her performance work to our local theatre - Rhoda Mcgaw in association with Woking Dance. Recently over 80 of our women attended the performance of YERMA there, most of whom were stepping into a professional theatre for the first time.
It is our intention that our women also get a high quality artistic experience and I know Amina is passionately working to reach the communities, particularly the hard to reach. I know she has been very successful in bringing women into mainstream theatres all over the country, in places such as London, Birmingham, Brighton, Luton and Crawley. This is a huge and challenging undertaking and I truly believe this would not have been possible without her engagement at grass root level.
WHAT KIND OF PRODUCTIONS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN FUTURE ?
I would like Amina to continue creating work of high standard that allows women to access and experience visiting a theatre.
Most of the groups I work with are from traditional orthodox religious background, and are a tough group to sell the idea of watching a show in a theatre. Perhaps a good way for us to break that barrier is by presenting matinee shows for ‘women only’. I’m confident once they’ve seen Amina’s work on stage, they too will come to see the shows with a mixed audience and during the conventional evening time. One step at a time is what it requires and a good knowledge of the community is essential. Still a long way to go!
And finally, in terms of the work, it is also important to find narrative that helps and engage women, and equally that which educates and informs them. We are looking forward to A THOUSAND FACES when it comes here in the autumn whose theme Amina has already touched in her workshops. I would like to see Amina continue what she is already doing, which is the work that is relevant for today's disenfranchised women and the culture and society around them.
Liaise Women Centre is based at the Maybury Centre in Woking – 01483 599 090.