The United Mothers Project 2015-2022

We focussed on engaging mothers of younger children and made partnerships with primary schools and early years providers. However, women of all ages (and all English language levels) were welcome in all the groups; no-one was turned away. It worked by word of mouth and attendance was always completely voluntary.
Every programme and all activities were completely free; we raised all our funding independently.

"… that’s the depth, that’s the togetherness, that’s the group that’s got some connection going on … policy and procedures come and go but that work is gold dust "

We ran up to four half-day sessions a week at different venues throughout the school year. This included over 2 years at a refuge for women who had been trafficked into the UK, most of whom were pregnant or had young babies. A creche was provided here, and elsewhere when funding was available. All groups were long term and women could stay as long as they wished, or leave and return as needed.

Every woman who attended became a United Mothers member. There were no entry requirements or criteria. The whole UM community came together for activities, events and outings, including women at the refuge where possible. Some women have been active members since 2016.

“The main important thing about this group is that we don’t let anybody down. We are just holding hands. If someone is making a mistake, we are not going to laugh at them. This thing the core of this group, has helped me to understand, to face things. Before that, I was afraid of walking the streets, you know, strange faces. But after joining this group, I have many friends ”

The sessional team comprised Sheila or another ESOL tutor, Jodi (Natural Voice) and at least one volunteer, usually two. This allowed us to offer high levels of attention to each group member. Attendance varied from 5 to over 20, demanding flexible, skilled responses.

British women as well as those born outside the UK became volunteers; men were welcome as non-sessional volunteers and operational staff. Some UM members took on roles as teaching assistants and outreach workers. Including our non-executive directors, by 2022 the team numbered 23 people.

“Everything that it does for the women that we work with and for, it actually does for the volunteers as well – so the participation, the friendship, language development … it keeps our minds going as well ”

Our cutting-edge cross-disciplinary methodology ensured that every member experienced the benefits of the foundational warm-up, led by Jodi. Every day we formed our circle, sounded out our voices, laughed, created energy and connection between us. Every visitor participated and we established the principle that we listen and learn from each other, whatever our background.

Click below to hear Jodi speaking about our work on Vox Pop with Hullabaloo Quire – May 2022

“I just feel better about myself … You know, when you go through tough times, you feel like you’re nobody, you’re worthless. But coming to United Mothers, you feel like you’re somebody. You’re a human being. You’re noticed ”

This work demands a high standard of ESOL teaching and community arts facilitation in order to successfully meet the needs of a very diverse demographic. Although our local area in east Kent is 88% white British, we engaged women from over 50 countries. We set out to meet women’s primary demand for speaking confidence and community connection.

"Key findings indicate that United Mothers successfully provides women with the support and opportunities to further their integration into the community … we conclude that Beyond The Page and WantsumArts should persist, as far as possible, in supporting the wide-ranging holistic needs of the women who attend United Mothers. While acknowledging the significant demands this places on the groups’ facilitators in terms of expertise and skills, this appears to be the optimum route to best equip the women with the language skills, confidence, connections and opportunities to afford them their best chance at integration."

“There is a moment of trust. Trust is the thing. I can trust this (United Mothers), these people. They will not betray me. Because many people who migrated, they went through the biggest hurdles of betrayal. From their own government, from their own people and this is a very big issue that sits deep inside us ”

Further information:

Macdonald, S. & Watson, J. (2021) Know Your Place

Click here to watch our 30 minute video about this project

Christie, S. (2019) Evaluating the Impact of the United Mothers Programme. Research Centre for Children, Families and Communities, Canterbury Christ Church University.

Macdonald, S. ‘Migrant Women, Active Citizens’ IN: Cooke, M. & Peutrell, R. (2019) Brokering Britain, Educating Citizens: exploring ESOL and citizenship. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

BTP & Wonder Foundation (2017) “Migrant Women, Active Citizens: Empowerment Through Education – a briefing paper.” London: BTP

Macdonald, S. (2016) “United Mothers: A Partnership EAL/ESOL Project” EAL Journal Autumn 2016 Naldic, UK