Last week, we attended our first conference. The Make Research Count conference organised by Ian Cummins and Helen Scholar from Salford University. This was going to be the first time we all went together to an event like this, the women and me and Leanne...and the first time we'd get to speak and tell people in person what New Beginnings was all about.
When Ian contacted me a few months earlier to explain that Andy Bilson and David Tobis would be presenting and would we, New Beginnings, like to present too- I was made up. The invitation came at a time when it felt like we were building good strong relationships with the women- they were finding their voices and also learning that their voices could be powerful. They were keen to meet other people and share their stories and as they had never been to a conference before they were excited about what it would be like....and a bit nervous too. I was also excited but also, a lot nervous. I've stood and presented on my research countless times so I wasn't worried about that part but I was worried about the women and whether I was going to expose them to something that they were not ready for.
I realise now that I needn't have fretted so much. They were the ones who thought it all through and we agreed that, as it was their first conference, rather than stand and talk to the crowd they'd make a film about their experiences. The film would show the artwork they had made and not who they were. This way, the women could keep their identities private but still have the chance to tell their stories. They wanted people to hear what they had to say in addition to what they have written.
Next week, on Tuesday 4th of December, the Big Lottery Awards for All, will announce that New Beginnings was successful in securing a small grant to run cohort 2. On that day, to celebrate, I will release the film that was shown at Making Research Count on this website so that people can see what the women have been doing and what they have to say. Viewers will get to catch a glimpse of the artwork they have created with Rod Kippen in preparation for their exhibition called Face the Feeling at the People's History Museum in April 2019.
Today, however, I've been asked to share with you two stories. The first is about what it was like for one of our women to come onto New Beginnings and what it feels like now she has finished. And the second is from another group member talking about the Making Research Count Conference, what it felt like and what it meant to her.
When I found out a referral had been made to social care from my psychiatrist I was so angry. I went there to ask for help with my mental health and just felt they made me feel worse. But the woman who received the referral was a lovely lady and when she visited she told me about the New Beginnings course. Once she seen the news about the programme, she thought it was exactly what I needed.
I wasn’t up for it at all to be honest. The thought of meeting new people gave me really bad anxiety. I felt sick and scared all sort of things ran through my mind. What if there’s people there I don’t get along with? What if I say something in there and other people share my stories? What if I didn’t stick with it? Would social care think I don’t want help and then what would that lead to? However, after a good chat with the lady running it I was kind of looking forward to it. But then on the other hand still didn’t like the fact I didn’t know who else was going. I think I had not even a week to get my head around the fact I was going when the course actually started.
When the day came I was so nervous. I really didn’t want to go but I felt I had to. But when I got there it wasn’t as bad as I was making it out to be. The ladies that was running the group made me feel so much at ease. It was actually nice to see there was people I didn’t know. But then there was also others I did know as well. The ladies made the rules clear from the first session, what was what, so it put my worry about my stories being passed on at ease. So I realised that all that I was worrying about was not going to be an issue after all.
After that first day, the weeks went past and my trust and love for the group kept growing. New Beginnings has helped me recognise what good or bad relationships are like with family members, partners, friend and even my own children. The relationship with me and my children has changed dramatically and I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome from all of this. My children were my main goal in wanting to do this course as I wanted to make myself a better mother for them. I didn’t want my past to affect them in their future like it had done in mine. As we always say in the group ‘pain travels through families until somebody is ready to feel it to heal it.’
One of the best things I have learnt from this group is I’m not alone. And I never will be with the right people around me. We all go through stuff and I’ve learned that what doesn’t kill you makes us stronger. I am truly blessed to have met every individual person I have met through the whole time I have been going to New Beginnings. This was the best start to mine and my children’s future.
The MRC conference
Here we go. It's finally here. The end of my New Beginnings journey. Sitting in this overcrowded room, with all these professionals, sticking out like a sore thumb. Absolutely crapping myself as I know I'm going to cringe when I hear my own voice on that video we made.
When I first walked in I didn't feel like I belonged there at all. With these people who deal with other people going through all sorts of situations, some like mine, all to do with social work. But as I listened to the men (Andy Bilson and David Tobis) give their views, about the things they'd seen and experienced, I knew they weren't the only ones telling a story that needed to be told. I was too. And I realised that they were also there to listen and learn about my story and the trauma I have experienced.
New Beginnings has been the best thing to happen to me in my whole life (apart from my babies) and never in a million years would I have thought I would walk through them doors on that first day, that first session, and that I would be sat here now having completed the course, loving myself for who I am with a new outlook on life and with a group of friends beside me who I cherish and who have been on this journey with me every step of the way.
May be we are not at the end but just the beginning....
I normally finish these blogs with a few words summing up what's been said....but today, I don't think I have anything to add. The women have done my job for me. Thank you.