The Story of ‘This Is We’: Finding Refuge in Writing
October 4, 2023
Amber Lone speaks to National Poetry Day about how Safety4Sisters, an organisation that fights for the rights of migrant women in the North-West, found Refuge in creating a book of poems.
"The Safety4Sisters writing group came about after the women they supported asked for an safe space to explore writing. They began meeting over Zoom, during the height of Covid, then face to face, up until autumn 2021. The group and book was supported co-edited by Sandhya Sharma, then co-director and Vicky Marsh co-director of Safety4Sisters.
I was brought in to hold creative writing workshops with the group. The pandemic compounded the loneliness and isolation the women were going through. All were migrant victims of domestic abuse, their daily lives punctuated by homelessness, abandonment, threats of deportation and a precarious existence.
We read and discussed poems and poetry from around the world, especially by women writers. The women shared their writing, encouraged each other, gave feedback and had communion through creative expression. The group became a welcome refuge from the powerlessness many felt. "
"We have learned a freedom in writing which many of us never had. Our work is a window into our soul."
"The group’s enthusiasm, commitment and persistence resulted in a book, titled by one of the women, ‘This Is We’. It’s a themed collection, some of it in translation. Safety4Sisters held a sold-out launch at the AIU centre in Manchester in March 2022 to coincide closely with International Women’s Day. Since then, some writers have carried out public readings of their work.
This is We is a reminder of the unrivalled power of creativity, particularly through poetry. The confidence raised, the recognition that they were not alone and the exhalations of breath when poems expressing joy, pain, uncertainty were written and read was powerful. Their poetic expression is an insistence on survival and a validation that marginalised lives are as significant as those who occupy the centres of our worlds. This Is We exists to affirm life and speaks to the heart about love, loss, and collective strength for those who are fighting to live.
Here is one of the beautiful poems from the collection; this was written by Jannah:
Every morning I wake up by the calling of a crow.
It’s rough and sharp calling gives me pain and fear.
It’s strange and I fear it’s liveliness.
It has a nest, a home where it can come back to,
whenever it wants.
It’s voice of power and pride calls us.
Here I am bad people. I’m here where I belong.
Strange things are happening. My feelings have changed.
The sounds of the crow are lovely.
It has it’s own nest, a home, where it can come back to.
Whenever it wants.
Now when the crow’s calling wakes me, I smile,
It’s powerful kaa kaa kaa tells me where I belong.
I wake up by the calling of a crow,
It’s nest in the tree nearby.
The whole of my life, I wanted to be a dove,
Soft and beautiful.
Nowadays I want to be a crow.
Sharp, proud and powerful.
The writer's group are currently working with Halla Akhdar, a Safety4Sisters NRPF Refuge manager and specialist group co-ordinator, and myself, on a second collaborative writing project due to be completed in November of this year.
Amber Lone is a writer and workshop facilitator who has worked in the Violence Against Women and Girls sector for over twenty years. Amber has written for radio, theatre and television and is currently working with Safety4Sisters writing group on their second collaborative writing project as well as editing her first novel set in the Midlands.
Safety4Sisters is a Manchester based organisation that addresses the exclusion of migrant women who have experienced gender based violence (in particular those with ‘no recourse to public funds’). We carry out advocacy and policy work and have a global outlook.