Community Research Summary

By Lucy

I have been singing with My Heart Sings (MHS) / London Women’s Voices (LWV) since MHS started almost 5 years ago. In a city where the choices for leisure time are endless and can feel overwhelming, this space felt unique and just right for me. It has nourished me personally and spiritually, providing a sense of an extended family and connection beyond the scatter gram of friends who it can be difficult to make time for. But more than that, it has always been a source of intellectual or professional inspiration for me as someone who has spent most of my working life in community-based settings. When I began my MA in 2016, in Applied Anthropology and Community Development at Goldsmiths, I thought LWV would be perfect for a placement. Discussion with other women in the group saw the birth of an idea for a small piece of community research.

The time I’ve spent listening and feeding back to self-identifying women in this wonderful circle has been thought-provoking and affirming of the joy and comfort it brings to our lives. Here’s my summary of the research.

4th birthday pic

Women in this group have contributed beautiful words to describe the value that London Women’s Voices and My Heart Sings has brought to their lives.

 

…it’s a place of sanctuary on a Tuesday evening, it has a positive impact on my life, because of this I feel I’m better resourced for others.”

 

Between October- December 2017, eight women were interviewed, thirteen women responded to an

womenlikesinging wordle

online survey, and around twelve women were involved in a brainstorm at singing about the highlights of 2017 for the circle. Our singing leader and group founder Shilpa was also interviewed.

These inputs were presented back to women at a community event in January, at Kentish Town City Farm. Themes were developed to support discussion around group sustainability, over reliance on Shilpa, fundraising and inclusive practice within the group.

 

We also had some lovely Palestinian food made by local Café Palestina, deep listening with Val’s sound healing chimes, and a spooky dark tour of Kentish Town City Farm!

The aims of the research

These were collaboratively decided by a small organizing group within the circle:

  • Develop a shared understanding within the group of what is valued commonly
  • Support the resilience and sustainability of this group

How much the community means to me, to my wellbeing (mental, emotional, physical), to my sense of belonging in this huge city, and because I love the songs and style of learning them together.”

 

How well did we meet the aims of the community research?

  1. Develop a shared understanding of what is commonly valued

Certain themes were very clear from the research process.

Acceptance and non-judgment

Universally valued amongst this group is the feeling of acceptance, non-judgment, celebrating diversity, women only space and a sense of community in an otherwise often hostile London environment.

“Diversity is great, it’s boring when everyone is the same”

“I feel very accepted by other people in the group. In other groups, I’ve never had that experience of feeling so accepted for me, being me is ok”

waves

Singing, stories, self-care

Women love the singing and connection to song, struggle and history through unpacking the meanings and origins of songs. Many have found the breathing and self-care techniques useful in their lives, especially when facing hardship or challenges.

“….it has given me solace in times of stress and heartbreak and grief.”

“It provides a sense of your own self-worth, and your own value outside of that kind of dominant culture.”

“…in terms of creativity, it offers me a chance to make something beautiful with a room full of amazing women.”

Activism, inclusivity and dialogue

Other common – but not as universal – themes addressed the political nature of the space, the possibility (in some ways untapped) for dialogue and understanding between women of different backgrounds, the desire for more activism, a wish to see further efforts to include marginalized women.

“LWV has also stimulated a lot of really healthy self-reflection for me about the ways in which I can show up more meaningfully for women from marginalised communities and identities.”

ano world is possible

 

  1. Support the resilience and sustainability of the group

A significant minority of women identified a concern in survey and interview responses, about our over-reliance on Shilpa, the financial sustainability of the group and some expressed desire for more self-organising or a more democratic structure.

“In terms of sustainability I think it’d be great if we could get some funding, to make sure we can cover the rent, and pay Shilpa properly, and give us the opportunity to do more gigs outside which will build our profile and let more people know about us.”

 

“I enjoy everything about the group – I am welcomed and so are other people. It’s still a little

Shilpa led despite attempts to change that. If Shilpa left, it would cease. But maybe this is what people need, for someone else to hold it all together, so that they don’t have to because life outside of the group demands so much from them. I certainly feel like that most times. On the other hand, I recognise that it takes away something if it’s not a genuine collective effort.”

“I would love for a self organising group to emerge, where other connecting activities take place. For example, different people could organise self-care days, baby sitting clubs, carer club…Basically a hub of love and care that is everyone’s responsibility but not a burden”

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Many women were either happy with the structure as it is, or weren’t exactly sure of the structure.

Below are some fledgling ideas and energy which emerged at our community event, which could go some way to address these concerns. However, these would require further energy and enthusiasm from the group. For example…

Fundraising ideas

  • Patron accounts
  • Crowd funding
  • Grant applications

Constituting the group

Becoming a voluntary association would allow us to open a bank account and raise funds for trips, subsidies for women on low or no incomes, or other activities we want to do as a group. Currently it is unclear whether the energy within the group is available to do this, and/ or what the aims would be going forward.

What else has emerged from the research?

  • Race dialogue

Most women who participated in the research identified racial / ethnic diversity as an important experience of this group – some simply celebrated that as a good thing, others took it a little further.

“It’s really helpful that the group is led by a Woman of Colour, as it signals that the space is built and created for every type of woman”.

shilpa nanboy

Three women described this group as anti-oppressive, in the way that it works to center the experiences of women of color, but this was not always recognized or fully understood.

“The only moment I felt a bit uncomfortable was a discussion on a group for women of colour where I felt excluded as a white woman…”

Some women showed an interest in race dialogue from the perspective of white women wanting to explore and deconstruct conditioning in a racist society, to explore blind spots and enable more deep listening to the experiences of women of color. A possible future aim could be to facilitate a ‘fishbowl’ discussion on race, where white women are invited to listen to women of color who would like to speak about their experiences.

A selection of reading on topics of intersectionality, race, racism, white supremacy and gender has been jointly collected for women in the group to access via google documents. We invite all women in the group to use and contribute to this.

  • Inclusion of trans-women

Issues around trans-inclusivity have been heard, discussed and somewhat addressed through more frequent and explicit reference to the ‘self-identifying’ nature of women’s participation.

  • Shy-ness during the break

Some women identified difficulties feeling comfortable during the break. Efforts have been made to create a quiet or creative corner to support women who need time out from chatting. This requires ongoing efforts from the group if it continues to be useful.

A whole-hearted thank you from Lucy, to all the women who participated. I really enjoyed listening to and reflecting upon your experiences, it was an honour and a privilege. I hope you enjoyed it too.

If you’d be happy to provide feedback (positive, constructive, all welcome) on the research outcomes, or your experience of participating, I’d be very grateful as it all contributes to my learning going forward. Feel free to speak to me directly, email me on lucy.colbeck@gmail.com.  

 If you are interested in reading my 3000 word report which I submitted to Goldsmiths I’d be very happy to share it.

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