The Story of Nino’s Song

Discover one woman’s journey as she travels the former-Soviet republic of Georgia, far-flung from her Yorkshire home in both distance and custom, seeking to recover the lost voice of Saint Nino.

The precarious position of Georgia, its history and the fragility of its relations with Russia and the West are cleverly intertwined with the spell binding personal journey of the British narrator, Leah.

After a disastrous relationship with the charismatic but ultimately deceptive and corrupt David, Leah returns to Georgia to find closure and rebuild her relationship with the country she once loved.

With the fellowship of her Georgian women friends, she attempts to finally understand a culture which she has been driven both to love and to hate.

Can the quest for St Nino and her namesake’s box of secrets give Leah the answers she needs to understand the place she once had as a woman in Georgia, and the place she now has as a woman in her own world?

Purchase Nino’s Song here.

Image credit – Tony Bowden

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Forgotten Women of Wakefield

 

We
Rise

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Nationally less than 13% of women are represented on Blue Plaques. In Wakefield there are currently only 4 Blue Plaques dedicated to women against 34 to men or buildings. Ultimately this makes it harder for women to be seen as having contributed to the public life of our city and normalises the concept that women are not as important as men.  I take inspiration from Florence Beaumont, our suffrage woman who, despite opposition, carried on with her reforms, regardless.

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Believe it or not: in the beginning there was some resistance to this project. I know right?

Slide4Dream Time Creative has pledged Blue Plaque Parity by 2028, which will be 100 years after ALL women got the vote. Once we achieve this we will be the only city in the UK to have honoured the women from our past in this way, women who have directly influenced the social, political and cultural landscape of Wakefield.
Women achievements are easily forgotten or written out. All too often they are defined by the men around them, and with their successes belittled they often end up as a footnote in a male’s version of events. Our project is uncovering the stories of the women who made their own way, who made their own decisions and who, as a result, made a tremendous difference to our society.

Women like Edith Mackie, without whom the green spaces in Wakefield we know and love, would not exist. Neither would St. John’s Church, nor the square. 1000’s of children would not have received the care they did in Clayton Hospital and Wakefield would not have been known, nationally, as a centre of medical excellence in the training of nurses. Women like Louisa Fennell, whose art work was exhibited in the highest levels of society and whose Wakefield Scenes delight historians and painters alike. Women like Florence Beaumont, who, in 1913 led over 6000 people through out streets on a march down to London to petition for women’s suffrage. Florence went on to represent every single women’s suffrage organisation at The League of Nations in her role as Hon. Secretary. Women like Ellen and Margaret Gissing, without whom 100’s of boys would not have had access to any form of education and who introduced football, for the first time in any English school, to the curriculum. Women like Gertrude McCroben, whose educational reforms opened opportunities for girls and women across the UK and who, in her role as a government inspector ensured those opportunities became entrenched. Gertrude, Florence, Edith and the Gissings all supported the war effort and raised £1000 of pounds to support families both here and in Belgium. Indeed, in her role as Headmistress of the girls’ school, Miss McCroben raised enough money to buy, kit out and send, an ambulance to the Belgium front. Then there is of course, Baroness Alice Martha Bacon, first female MP elected in 1945 and whose reforms included the abolition of the death penalty, legalisation of abortion, legalisation of homosexuality and the introduction of comprehensive education for all.
All these women were extraordinary and they are just the tip of the iceberg. Wakefield produced some of the most active, passionate trail blazers in social reform, education, health and culture in the UK during the 18th,19th & 20th centuries and it is those women we will be honouring as part of the Blue Plaque Scheme in the next 10 years.

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This is not to forget the memories, achievements and accomplishments of ordinary women in Wakefield. We have a further strand which is designed to engage and honour these women who, within living memory, also helped to shape our communities. We work with local schools, community groups, in the field of mental health, in writing groups, in dementia groups, with local artists and poets and provide opportunities for people to come together to share those stories and honour their women both on small blue plaques and in other forms of creativity which we will be continuing to share, creatively with the wider community over the next 10 years.

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Every project we undertake is underpinned by creativity of all kinds. Creativity provides a pathway into cultural engagement and it is this vision which is enabling people from across all areas of our region to engage with, learn from and be inspired by our Forgotten Women.

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This passion and sense of purpose is what will ultimately drive this project beyond 2028 when it will be normal for our citizens to know about and speak with pride, not only about the women from our past but women in our present.

None of this would be possible without the goodwill of our volunteer research team.

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It is my hope that this project will give people a reason to stay and invest in our city, and, with the support of organisations such as Wakefield University, The Art House, The Theatre, The Black Horse Poets, Wakefield Soroptimists, St John’s Church, The Girls High School and The Wakefield Civic Society this first phase of the project, with the commitment of The Wakefield Express and The Yorkshire Post,  is embedding that concept beautifully.

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The swell of support across the city now is incredible.

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We pledge to honour all women over the next 10 years and are actively seeking to research and Blue Plaque women that reflect our diverse population.

Slide24It is fitting to leave the final words in this blog  to our Forgotten Women.
Louisa Fennell’s last entry in her diary reads,
‘Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.’

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Edith Mackie was well known for saying
‘Deeds Not Words’

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Ellen and Margaret Gissing demonstrated a tenacity and determination which highlights their motto:
‘It can be done, and it shall be done’

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Florence Beaumont is remembered well by her family as expressing the following:
‘I shall not bow to convention if that convention is based on unkindness or stupidity’

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Alice Bacon’s speeches to the Houses of Parliament often refer to the importance of collaboration.
‘We will work together to make things better’

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And finally, Gertrude McCroben’s words, written in a Christmas card to her pupils read
‘Better not be at all, than not be noble.’

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Sarah Leah Cobham and the Dream Time Creative Team
16th September 2018

The Team

 

The Wakefield Art Walk May 2018

Artwalk Logo 2012 copy - Copy

 

I was really excited to see how The Woman’s Voice was represented in this art walk and to explore how things are moving forward for women across different  creative spheres here in Wakefield. Driven mostly by The Art House, whose female CEO is actively enabling women within the community and Long Division, whose director is also pro active in providing opportunities for gender parity, the programme was varied, engaging, diverse and intriguing!

Seeing as I wanted to listen to fellow female humans I decided to do a series of vidi -blogs through the evening. I asked them all one simple question:

‘How do you think The Woman’s Voice is being represented in the creative spheres here in Wakefield right now?

I started in a traffic jam behind The Hepworth.

Just click on the links to see interviews.

An Introduction

Linda Bulleymont Ceramics at Chantry Chapel

Wakey Wakey Grime and Slime The Beer Exchange

Helen Field West Gate Studios

Yelena Popova The Art House

One To One Judi Alston The Art HouseThe Merry West Collective The Art House

My Comment

Interview with Jessica Robottom

Sabha Shafiq Jordan’s Solicitors

Last Thoughts about The Woman’s Voice at The Art Walk

It feels as if The Art Walk is moving towards more of a bi monthly festival vibe which personally, I think is a good thing.

The only way the Woman’s Voice is going to continue to be enabled  so that women can be represented in equal measure, is if this issue is targeted, managed and celebrated. I know, with the number of female CEOs now in positions of power and influence in Wakefield we are going to see more of this. I am also delighted to see some men enabling the woman’s voice and creating a sense of  equality in their creative ventures.  Dean Freeman of Long Division and Steve Williams of The Black Horse Poets have been pro active in working with and targeting female artists which is of course raising the profile of the woman’s voice.  I  am more than encouraged with what I know is happening across the city as  has been really rather beautifully demonstrated, on the whole, at May’s art walk.

We have come along way but we have a long way to go.

#standingupforsuffrage

 

 

Review of Wakefield Lit Fest 2017

Edited version 16/10/2017

Wakefield has worked hard over the past 6 years to create a diverse, vibrant and inclusive festival so it was with great anticipation I began to research both the paper leaflet and the web-site to plan what I was going to see. I was very aware that the Lit Fest had a much smaller budget this year and came on line later than normal due to the funding situation (believe me waiting for funding and working within this arts sector is a very frustrating process as so many great projects get ‘shelved’ because a funding body does not feel, for what ever reason, they ought to get funding to enable them to go ahead.) The challenges that go with this very much include working to both print and digital deadlines which can sometimes lead to things being left out. I have also had the privilege of working with Beam on the Words For Well Being project and have always found them to be open, fair and honest. In fact it has been a joy to work with them.

Let it be said right now that this blog was never written with any Arts Council reporting in mind. I have never been privy to the structuring of the festival and have had no clout in its programming. It was always an observation of how the Woman’s Voice was represented from the outset.  My views are entirely my own.

Bearing in mind that the project I had been commissioned to deliver by the Well Women Centre called ‘Words For Well Being’ was feeding into the ‘Beautiful Minds’ day, a day  dedicated to exploring Mental Health, as well as  my passion for empowering the woman’s voice, I was keen to go to as many female focused events as possible.

It soon became clear that the male voice dominated the paper programme, which was disappointing. Men were mentioned by name or imaged  on average 72 times as opposed to a mere average 43 times for women.  There was one woman of colour mentioned  and the ‘We Need to Talk About Music ‘ day had only one event representing women’s creativity. Fringe event information was available on the web-site, which was ‘interesting to navigate’ so as new events came on line the only way to find out about them was via the usual social media channels so that even though women were involved in a great many events, they remained hidden.

This all served to create the impression of a white male dominated based festival  rooted in a local white male community which unfortunately, overall, does not represent the wide and diverse communities that make up Wakefield and who had engaged in events in previous years and was not, I believe the intention of the festival.

The perception and the reality of gender balance can be very different. Of course alot of behind the scenes work goes on to produce any kind of festival and until that information is collated and published the whole picture cannot be seen. The statistics here show a much more gendered balance which is great and I am pleased. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I have been told that my review is ’embarrassing’  and that I have written about ‘nothing positive’ and  indeed what I have written is now redundant in the light of these statistics. I have also had an offer of a potential job (if funding had been secured) to direct a day dedicated to the woman’s voice at a City Festival next year, withdrawn as a direct result of speaking my truth. The irony is not lost on me.  How do I feel about that? Sad. angry, resigned, frustrated, inspired, determined and resolved to continue being part of the strong movement that already exists and is continuing to grow in Wakefield,  no matter what.

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The figures speak for themselves.  Women were represented extraordinarily well in the 2017 Lit Fest. Go us!

With all this in mind I stand by what I have written below. I am not embarrassed by my observations of the Festival, of my role in that, of the way I have articulated how I feel,  nor of the women who performed in it. I am more than happy to have open and honest conversations with anyone who feels they want to respond or reply.   Please, if you have something to say to me. Say it to me. My e-mail address is sarahcobham@hotmail.com

Saturday 23rd September

I planned to  go to the Breakfast Epiphany performance at Unity Works with Genevieve Walsh and Valerie Anderson Gaskill.

Genevieve is from the royal line, being an original member of The Firm and Valerie has been a voice to watch in Wakefield for some time. Their union produced some great electric, social commentary and well written, poignant pieces. Attended by about 25 people, not put off by the 10am start, the performances were initially hampered by technical hitches but once the microphone situation was sorted and the windows had steamed up, it began.  It reminded me somewhat of Wednesday night Unity Words events I had attended over the past 16 months. Crackling with expectation and talent and a platform to showcase established and up and coming Northern Voices, Gen and Val had a mountain of audience expectation to climb. And climb it they did. Once at the top, they planted the flag for Women’s Voices in Wakefield and stood proud.

Genevieve Walsh

All photographs taken by and with huge thanks to  to Jess Robottom

The difference between the Wednesday Unity Words evenings run by The Firm  (which  have finished now)  and this event,  was that the women had space to really explore themes of family and relationships and to paint pictures of colourful  characters that we could all relate to.  I have never seen Gen deliver her line:  ‘as she turned to a small child, hunched by the door, and said, NO BRADLEY, I TOLD YER DOWN T’PARK, DON’T EAT OFF THE FUCKING FLOOR’ in her homage  to women who are walking ‘Contradiction’s poem with such aplomb before. I felt as if I really knew Valerie’s mother by the end of her set. Both delivered with sincerity, warmth and authenticity and invited real empathy from an audience  who already loved them.

After the Epiphany I had a choice. Should I go to The Book Doctors (there was no mention as to who they were so I had no idea if I would be accessing the woman’s voice or not but have recently found out that Valerie was part of this event) followed by Wakefield’s Gudrun’s Sisters  in Wakefield Library or should I go to an event at The Hepworth? The Hepworth event was an afternoon exploring how post war art and literature has helped to define national identity and was delivered by three women who held doctorates in this field. I chose the Hepworth.

I had been to see the exhibition, ‘Approaching Thunder’ the weekend before. Desperate to get out of the house after a bout of illness, it had not made an impact on me so I was glad to be able to re-visit it again. Gill Saunders from the V & A spoke briefly about the role of the ‘Recording Britain’ project which helped a post war torn Britain to idolise the pastoral  ideology through a series of propaganda posters. This was followed by a ‘substitute’ speaker from The Hepworth who spoke about modernism in Britain post second world war as the original speaker had fallen ill.  There was a flimsy link to literature. The third speaker, Sophie Hatchwell, from Bristol University, was fascinating in both the content and  her delivery . She highlighted strong links in ‘Letters from the Home Front’ between Robert MacBryde and Keith Vaughan (who were life partners) which demonstrated how their passivism and  social commentary was reflected in their art work. The panel discussion was also interesting  and there was a good and balanced mix of questions from the audience which really helped to unpack the links between art and literature during that time.

Lively, knowledgeable, respectful and informative debate took place until a male member of staff from the Hepworth, who had summarised the three talks, interrupted and talked over the women numerous times. ‘Sigh.’

The Big Night Out at St Austin’s Church theatre was stupendous in its vibe, energy and charisma. It was a sell out. Billed as ‘The Firm’s Last Gig’ Dartford, Abbott, Darwin, Walsh and  Stoppard were introduced by Marina Poppa, who delivered her legendary feminist piece about how women’s bodies are at the mercy of the beauty industry and how important it is to fight back against that by not botoxing, not shaving, not plucking and not generally giving a fuck.   Marina is a favourite guest at the bi-monthly Women’s Voices Ring Out,  and it was wonderful to see her grace the stage and to own it with such power. Genevieve Walsh was, once again, in her element. Like an inspiring dynamo she swept the whole theatre up in her black taffeta Gothic poetry, twirled us about and sat down with us, with a thump, with twigs in our hair, after a several breathless performances.

Other women who took to the stage that night were Wakefied’s Laura Potts, accompanied by a cellist, it was very other worldly. Becky Cherriman, who is another favourite of the WVRO events,  held her space magnificently and told intimate and compelling stories. Kate Fox  finished her set with a flash of her burlesque bra and made the wonderful observation that most women who get up and speak in public seem to be labelled as ‘unruly’ got lots of loud whoops and claps from an entertained audience and Zodwa Nyoni,  absolutely bought the house down with her advice to her niece that came in the form of a list poem. The supportive yells and cries that came from the women in the audience as each wise point was made and delivered in a powerful, life affirming and vibrant spoken word performance raised the bar. I am delighted that Zodwa has agreed to perform at the WVRO event in December this year.

Sunday 24th September

This was a big day for me.  I had been leading a writing course called ‘Words For Well Being’ with women who had been working up to performing at the Lit fest for 5 months. Going from never having written anything creative before  to performing on a stage, in front of an audience, using a microphone and owning their space without either being sick, bursting into tears or having a nervous break down was an epic challenge. The afternoon was dedicated to their achievements in a celebration event. This was book ended by two discussion panels about issues to do with Mental Heath and how to break down those barriers within Wakefield. The woman’s voice was represented by Shannon Wishon from the Well Women Centre. She made compelling arguments for the benefits of women only spaces to enable women to recover from mental health  using creativity at the core, but she also pointed out that men’s mental health needs are not being met at all by the NHS and that  issues around mental health are not gender exclusive.

Several people who attended the first panel discussion event then came to support the women as they performed their poems. This celebration  event had made it into the Lit Fest paper brochure so we were hoping for a good attendance and we got it.  We started our event by showing a wonderful film made by Amy Charles which captured the very essence of the past 5 months and after both the film and the performance there were tears of relief, hugs of achievement and whoops of delight from both the audience and the women.

Words For Well Being VideoWords For Well Being Video

The evening event was also something special. We had been missed off the publicity despite the evening being named after our project but we had rehearsed and rehearsed on the stage, had taken excellent advice and practiced with microphones and were ready. The nerves were stretched tight in the green room and the rescue remedy was flowing. My pep talk was different this time, this was not a performance for an audience it was an opportunity to experience something new, to share something unique we had created and so we were inviting people to join us in that moment. It was up to them if they wanted to be with us or not but WE were with us. We had one another’s backs. The lighting was just right, the mood was electric and each of the women took their place at the front with confidence, looked their fears in the eye and told their truth with no apology through the medium of spoken word. They were magnificent and the audience thought so too and gave us a standing ovation.

Words For Wellbeing

The only other female voice that evening was Hannah Chutzpah who went on immediately after us. We were in the bar, drinking gin and generally being amazed that we had achieved what we had. I was sorry to miss Hannah as I understand she is really very good.

In between the weekends.

The five days between the two main weekends  of the festival were peppered with different events during the days and evenings. This was an opportunity for local groups who, with or without seed funding to provide events and celebrate their contributions to the cultural landscape of Wakefield.  Only three events represented the women’s voice so  as I was unable to attend the Women’s Poetry Group workshop run by Jasmine King on the Tuesday morning I went to the launch of Kit Eyre’s book ‘Valerie’ in the evening. I had been asked to perform alongside poets Halima Mayat and Susan Darlington. It was a lovely hour with the author reading the first chapter from her novel, participating in an informal performance and sharing a cup of tea and a bun afterwards. Wednesday morning saw Kath Padgett at the Library but I was working and unable to go.

 

Saturday 30th

My mother’s 74th birthday prevented me from seeing the two women led events that day. The first was with, Zoe Howe and Celeste Bell in conversation at Unity Works. This had been advertised in the paper brochure. The  second, not readily advertised, was the Labour MP Rachel Reeves talk about Dame Alice Bacon based on a book she has recently published. Apparently the talk was fascinating. Dame Alice Bacon is the first woman my next project ‘Forgotten Women of Wakefield’ is focusing on so even though I was not able to go I have met with Rachel Reeves to talk about both Alice, and the project, and now have the book.

I made it back in time, however to catch the One day After School commission performance of Simon Armitage’s poetry collection, ‘The Dead Sea Poems’ at The Mechanics Theatre. A little known and I hope, soon to be more used theatre in the old Museum on Wood Street. Dean Freeman and his band produced an incredible musical piece which was accompanied by several well-known local spoken word artists reading the poems out loud against different back drops of pictures, lighting and sound.  The whole performance was really innovative. I would have liked to have seen more female spoken word artists  involved as it was, once again white male dominated.

Sunday 1st October

Based at The Cluntegate Centre in Horbury, there were two events dedicated to the woman’s voice. The first, The Merry West Collective, which was not highlighted as being a woman’s voice event, so I missed it, and the second, a musical ending to the festival, Ruby Mackintosh, a local singer song writer. I have seen Ruby before, and can say with some authority that she is magnificent in both her songstress skills and her performance. I did not, however, get to see her this time due to prior commitments.

I did catch ‘Welcome to the Mad’ which was a partner collaboration between Valerie Anderson Gaskill and William Anderson Gaskill. This was the fifth time Valerie had appeared at the Lit Fest but not once had her name appeared on any programme. They were both extra ordinarily good. So much so that at the end of their piece, William had to announce it was ‘over’. The whole audience were all so hooked we just did not want it to end and were waiting to hear more.

That Sunday demonstrated just how talented the drama collective Cuckoos Egg is. Their piece was interactive and immersive, in that the audience was invited to attend an official press conference outlining the reasons why culture and art could only now be accepted if it were set within the framework of being economically profitable and that all other types of ‘art’ had been de commissioned. (Including songs by Robbie Williams) Art for art’s sake had become unpopular and indeed, something to be laughed at and ridiculed. The piece slipped in and out of different scenarios and took a dark turn when it turned out that the young people ( beautifully acted by younger members of the cast) were being persecuted by what can only be described as an ‘arts hunter’ for being creative. The whole piece was challenging, thought provoking and clever. For me, this was the highlight of this year’s Festival. It was inter-generational, tackled diverse and relevant topics and showcased an incredibly talented group of writers, artists, actors and social commentators.

If I had only gone to see events that empowered and enabled the woman’s voice I would have had a very thin experience indeed. As it was I feel I was able to engage in a good amount of different experiences which showed Wakefield’s white creative community in a strong, confident and creative  light.

I do however, feel uncomfortable and some what embarrassed that,  as many of my Asian friends, Polish friends, friends from the asylum seeking community and LGBT friends who had been represented in the past in events I had put on,  have asked of me this year, ‘Where was  my place in this festival? Where was our voice?’

The incredible Genevieve Walsh

Gen

I  asked Genevieve to lead the Words For Well Being group on the theme of Power and Justice and she certainly did that. Gen bought in a dimension which none of us had thought of as she got us thinking hard about who and what represented power and or justice to us. From, Martin Luther King to The Statue of Liberty, from The Suffragettes to Ella Fitzgerald we connected with figures, ideas and metaphors through out time to help us empower our own voices.

It was incredible the way Gen got us connected to our fore mothers and their voices and from that some amazing poetry was born. She also bought in the beginnings of the skill of performance and had us stomping around the room as if we were wearing dockers!

Thank you Gen. We all look forward to sharing our work with you as part of the Lit Fest this September 2017!

A series of wonderful workshops with Matt Abbott

As part of the Words For Well Being Project it has been utterly delightful to welcome one of, in my opinion,  the most gifted poets in West Yorkshire, in his capacity as workshop leader.

Matt Abbot joined us twice! The first time was to look at how important it is to speak and write about  how important journeys and life lessons are whilst the second was to explore how humour is used for effect in Spoken Word. Both workshops produced some incredible poetry and much laughter. Who can forget the ‘Knickers Down in Down Town’ poem written by the gifted Jo and based on a tweet she wrote in that workshop.

The poem itself.. by Jo can be seen here:

Jo’s Poem Knickers Down in Down Town

Matts first workshop poster

Words For Well Being

Words For Well Being Full Film

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The Words For Well Being Project in Wakefield has been an utter joy to lead.

The Well Women Centre, where I have been working as a Freelance Creative Facilitator since 2013 and was the Writer in Residence during 2014- 2015, asked me to lead this project and of course I said yes!

We started in June, and have been meeting every two weeks to explore different themes around mental heath through writing, drama, art and spoken word and have been delighted to share our space and growth with some guest writers such as Genevieve L Walsh, Matt Abbott and Zena Edwards who brought incredible skills and insight to aid our growth.

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I want to give a big shout out to them and say thank you.

To be a writer and workshop facilitator/lead at the same time is  impossible for me so I took the decision to step back from taking inspiration from the course (as a writer) but instead focus on supporting the women alongside learning about myself within an environment that has been joyful, challenging, painful and beautiful all the time.

I have learnt that my passion for nurturing the woman’s voice is well placed. The trust, care, respect, growth, the style, passion, connection, honesty and integrity that the women I have been working with has left me humbled and often in tears. It’s an exhausting but not thankless journey and as a writer, no doubt the lessons I have and am continuing to learn along this journey, will come out later (often many years later) but I would not change it for the world.

Having said that, I was inspired to write the following piece, dedicated to every woman who has been able to, for what ever reason, leave an abusive relationship. It’s called DONE.

Poem DONE

I am looking forward to the next few weeks as we head towards the Lit Fest (2017) Beautiful Minds Day where  we will  cement our ‘performance’ for the public and empower our voices even more. As each session goes by, I feel less of a facilitator and more of a participant who just happened to land a dream job.

It’s been an utter utter pleasure. Thank you Words For Well Being Women for just… well.. everything.

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