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English for Women are breaking down isolation

Something for women to belong to

04 Dec 2020

Reducing isolation by welcoming women who don’t have English as their first language is the main aim of English for Women, a Mothers’ Union-supported project based in Chelmsford.

The project, which has just celebrated its five year anniversary, welcomes all faiths and none. It was founded by Heike Prentice, an Ordinand at Chelmsford Cathedral, before being gifted to the community and taken under the wing of the Mothers’ Union.

“The sessions build confidence and conversational English skills, as well as helping learners to understand British culture, so that they feel more at ease and can develop a sense of belonging,” said Project Assistant Kirsten Esden.

Chelmsford is home to a wide range of nationalities, and women from all over the world, including Turkey, Latvia, Russia, Afghanistan, Moldova, Italy and Portugal take part in the sessions. Before the pandemic hit they met four times a week in Chelmsford, with one session for men, and weekly in Harwich and Goodmayes.

Supporting over a hundred learners across the different venues is a team of more than 60 volunteers. “Our volunteers are fantastic; they are motivated and committed and the project simply wouldn’t exist without them,” said Kirsten.

The sessions, which new participants often hear about through word of mouth, have transferred online since the start of the pandemic, and are now publicised through social media. “During lockdown the online sessions have been a lifeline, for our volunteers as well as our learners,” said Kirsten, “but we can’t wait to reopen properly and see people face-to-face.”

Both volunteers and learners praise the positive effect it has on their lives. “I go in to help the learners but I often find I learn a lot myself,” said volunteer Alison. “It’s a great community. We are different ages, different nationalities, different religions and different ethnicities, but we are also very much the same,” she added.

“I came to England a year ago and I felt lonely and isolated before I came to English for Women,” said one learner from Chelmsford. “English for Women has helped me with speaking about many things…hospital appointments, shops, transport. English for Women makes me feel I am not alone,” said another.

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