Youth club inspires Chiswick resident to launch her own initiative
Effat Chowdhury loved taking her children to Riana’s Youth Club, and the sense of community inspired her to create her own initiative with the Chiswick based charity.
My children are nine and eleven years old and as many parents may tell you, finding activities for them can be tough. Youth Clubs are becoming a thing of the past, but I was lucky enough to discover that a charity local to me – Riana Development Network – ran one, and it was great!
Riana were flexible about the fact I was a working parent, because sometimes you do feel slightly discriminated against. I was impressed and began volunteering for them. Being involved with a community centric organisation got me thinking and I realised there was a greater need for parents to be collectively involved in a group. So, I hatched the idea of a simple community coffee morning; Thrive and Connect.
I was approached by one of the staff members at Riana. We were all obviously aware that the cost of living was a huge issue and Riana were also offering a warm hub, along with many other places in the borough. So many people could not actually afford to have the heating on in their house. They were aware that I knew a lot of parents in this area, so we started last September. It was a trial at first, but it went well, and surpassed expectations so we just extended the warm space time to encompass the new Connect and Thrive sessions.
People could be signposted to voluntary services and just have a chat and meet other people with similar lives. Riana are an award-winning organisation, they know what they’re doing with community projects, so word of mouth worked in terms of promotion. They have an established community.
I think, because of COVID we all became quite comfortable within our own zone, even though there were a lot of people that needed to come out and talk, seek help. I felt restless within myself during that time – we had so much time to think! – and this project was born of that time – so was my own wellbeing business.
People wonder why I do it because I’ve got a full-time job. But it’s the satisfaction that it gives me. I walk away from that community centre (Dukes Meadow) knowing that a family will have access to a food bank quicker than they previously thought – I know that those children are not going to go hungry.
The way I look at volunteering is that you’re not losing anything. The community that your children are raised in is the community we all live in. There’s nothing to lose at the end of the day.
I’m not from this country, I’m from Bangladesh, that’s where I was born and raised. When I came here, I came as a student, met my husband, and started family life. I would never have imagined that in this so-called developed country, there are families that don’t have food. Food to feed their children. These are my own children’s classmates. The beautiful thing about children though is their understanding. Do we lack that as adults because we are so busy with our own life?
So, when my daughter tells me of the problems her classmates’ family are having, and how it’s upsetting her friend, she naturally expects me to help solve them as an adult. She considers it the right thing to do. I didn’t know the mother, but we spoke, I told her about what was going on at Riana. She’s been living here since before me – more than 10 years – and she didn’t know these services were available. She does now, after Community Solutions came to have a talk with the residents to promote their services.
That talk really influenced the Connect and Thrive initiative, and we’ve just had some Thriving Communities funding, so I’m really excited about the future. There’s so many things I want to do with it, perhaps some fitness outside as the weather’s getting better, and we’re also looking at mindful eating sessions at Chiswick House. Not necessarily in the meditative sense, but practical tips, encouraging people to eat healthier and grown their own food. To touch, feel and smell the food they can grow themselves.
It’s only when we connect, that we can help others to thrive. Otherwise, we are just hidden in our own shells. People feel that they can’t come and seek help because we will be judged. But there was time I needed help. There will be time in the future that I will be needing help, and it’s about creating that safe space.
Connect and Thrive, every Tuesday from 10am – 2pm, Dukes Meadows Community Centre, Alexandra Gardens, W4 2TD.