Upper Holloway charity works to empower women
In a modest building tucked away behind the busy streets of Islington, a charity empowers and supports women.
Creative and Supportive Trust (CAST) at Lysander Mews, Upper Holloway, provides a safe space for vulnerable women to enrich their lives by hosting free personal development and education classes.
In the center, women walk in and out of the office, appearing relaxed and chatting freely with staff members. Two women compare the clay sculptures they made earlier in a craft class. A small notice board propped up on the floor by a chair is filled with various reminders and details of upcoming events. A note says “Knitting is back by popular demand”.
The relaxed and open atmosphere seems to be the main draw of the center, as one woman with chronic fatigue syndrome explains: “You don’t have to perform at a certain level and you have the right to have a bad day. . The staff are in fact convinced that you have just made the effort to come in ”.
A young woman diagnosed with bipolar who regularly attends CAST appreciates the sensitivity of staff members. “I feel like I can talk to the staff about anything and no one will judge me. If I said something in the big world, they would judge me, but here they accept me as I am, ”she says.
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CAST is proud to specialize in helping women with a history of delinquency and those experiencing challenges related to mental illness or addiction. The only women’s charity was formed in 1982 by Lennie Speer, an ex-offender and members of the education department at Holloway Prison, Jenny Cole and Richard Brown.
Women can be referred to the association in several ways, including by a doctor, a care coordinator or a support worker. It functions as a small college with an annual prospectus and offering up to 40 courses taught by professional tutors. Once service users arrive, they can take courses in six main areas: health and wellness, personal development, creative arts, life skills, computing and getting ahead.
Life coach Natalie Dee teaches groups as part of the centre’s six-week Relationship Management course, which aims to “explore practical ways to build and maintain trust in relationships.”
Ms Dee, a master practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), said, “It’s about taking care of yourself,” she said. “The more you put yourself first, the better you’ll manage relationships, the more confident you’ll be and almost everyone wants to be more confident. Then everything you do from that point on will be a little easier. This is what it means to be assertive, is to be clear. Who am I, what do I want and how do I pass it on to another person? “
Women come from all over London to attend CAST which is a five-minute walk from Archway tube station. Classes are full and the center is busy, but the future of the association is uncertain after this summer and more funds are needed to support operations.
Jasmine Aktar, director of CAST, believes the association is essential as it strives to raise awareness and help women who do not necessarily appear vulnerable. With CAST, these women are helped transform their lives and are ultimately helped to find volunteer work or paid employment.
“I feel very touched by the impact of the work of this fantastic charity and by the dedication and commitment of the wonderful team, volunteers and administrators. Helping ex-offenders is not always a popular cause, which is why we need the help of very special people who look beyond the stereotypes to see the common humanity we all share.
For more information, visit www.castwomen.org.uk.