After three years of running our project, it is really important to reflect on why we decided to set up. The post below sets out the background research we did relating to women from communities who access ESOL provision. It also displays our attempts to fund raise to keep these sessions going.
Why Dumplings? Dumplings are interesting as they appear in almost every culture but differ in shape and filling. The process of making dumplings requires teamwork, a long period of time and many conversations in between.
At Heart & Parcel, we view dumplings as a powerful metaphor.
The filling inside dumplings represent the hidden resources and skills women from different communities living in Britain today possess that are not recognised and covered under the mainstream narrative placed upon them by other more dominant sources of power.
Bibi, Monira and Sweety, Bangladeshi women learners, cooks and supper club hosts
Why women from certain communities? There is a wealth of research from many organisations concerned with the rights and equality of BAMER communities suggesting that communities living in the UK face discrimination of all kinds and through all layers of society. Individuals, particularly women whose first language is not English face additional issues relating to employability, integration and mental health including loneliness and isolation; most significantly through austerity. These issues have recently reached government concern, shown through the government’s audit call to tackle racial disparities in Britain.
Yet at the same time they have been continually withdrawing support by cutting funding to ESOL (English classes set up by the government) across the country. These classes are a lifeline for some to develop their English language and employability skills. Cutting funding makes it harder for these classes to run effectively and offer high quality provision.
It is not the government who bears the brunt of this, but rather the migrant women themselves, being frequently demonized in our national media and belittled by victim-blaming policies. Our project is a direct reaction to this, opposing this view of migrant women as ‘a problem that needs to be fixed’.
We believe there needs to be greater support and respect for women from these communities living across Manchester who we have spent so many years working with. There are alternative stories to the mainstream narrative about women from migrant communities. We feel they should be valued on their wealth of previous experiences and wisdom, rather than be assessed and judged by the language skills that they have not yet acquired.
How does our project work? Making dumplings involves many hands, communication and teamwork. We use this process as a method to engage with women using English as the medium.
Our first session making Pierogis. Welcome centre, Cheetham Hill, Nov 2015
We facilitate fixed-term projects with drop-in weekly sessions where women can practice making dumplings from different cultures and teach others how to make similar parcels from their own cultural experiences.
This unique approach to ESOL allows women to develop their skills and realise their potential, giving space to explore these hidden resources whilst making friends across communities along the way.
Laila & Karolina presenting a workshop. Welcome centre, Cheetham Hill, June 2016
How do we keep sustainable? We have been funded by many supportive providers but we have also generated funds through selling the dumplings at market and at monthly supper clubs, showcasing different dumplings from around the world made by the women from our session.
We now offer catering and dumpling workshops to individuals, organisations, schools and companies who can hire us for an afternoon of dumpling folding, making, chatting and/or eating. We also run longer term projects with organisations to supplement their services for their clients.
Our dumpling funds go back into the project, maintaining these sessions and creating further provision.