THE strength of women in Stockton is celebrated in a new book.

Thrive Teesside were awarded almost £10,000 of Tampon Tax funding and used it to give their women’s group a voice through poetry and prose.

County Durham Community Foundation awarded the funding to Thrive on the evidence of their outstanding community and campaigning work and were delighted by the resulting book – Thriving Women.

Sharon Gollan from the Foundation, said:

“Thrive Teesside work with many people experiencing a dismaying level of poverty and lack of opportunity. Through this funding they have created a magnificent project which has enriched many lives and given a voice to women in Teesside and a chance for them to show their creativity and resilience. As a Foundation, groups that are able to transform communities like this are our life blood and the reason that we do what we do.”

The anthology, which features testimonies, poems, stories and photos from women across Teesside, was developed through a year of support sessions for women living in poverty who turned their shared experiences, frustrations and triumphs into creative writing.

Thrive chair, Kathleen Carter, 71, was one of the contributors.

She explained: “We wrote about how poverty affects people, how people see poverty, how inequality is ripping people apart. We found that we’ve all had different experiences, but we’re all the same. There’s been a lot of common ground.

“I always remember a man years ago, who said he didn’t like the way I spoke. I told him that the only way I could be heard was by being loud, otherwise he would shout me down or cut me off. Writing has made me see that the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Kathleen, who lives in Stockton, discovered Thrive after going through financial troubles.

She explained: “I retired early, my husband was ill and we were living in a council house because I’d been made bankrupt. I got really tired of staring at those four walls. One day, two people from Oxfam called in and asked me if I wanted to be interviewed for a project they were doing and I said yes. Then they put me in touch with Thrive and that was well over 10 years ago.”

Kathleen is now a passionate devotee to the group, who campaign for reduced inequality by supporting low-income communities to campaign for change.

Kathleen said: “I never have liked injustice. I didn’t like it when my kids were teased and I’ve always stood up for peoples’ rights.

“I was taught by Thrive the meaning of selfless, selfish and selflessness. When I worked that out I changed and found time for myself. I’ve seen many people coming through the doors and they’ve all left feeling better.”

Corinna Eastwood, community organiser for Thrive, supported the budding writers as they began the creative process.

She said: “We met every Tuesday and talked about money, inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor. Thrive is about closing that gap. We are very solution-focused, always thinking about what the next step needs to be.

“The project came about because we just know how important it is for women to speak out. We’re passionate and determined and we have the skills but we’re often missing a platform.  This was a great project for us to do because it was so different from our campaigning work. It gave our women the chance to talk about how they feel. Whenever it got too doom and gloom we’d think of ways to turn it around.”

Thrive worked closely with Tees Women Poets to build confidence in their writing.

Corinna said: “We got in touch with them and they helped us to bring all of these stories out. The women in our group are living in poverty or have chaotic lifestyles. They are dealing with things like debt, universal credit, delays in benefits, bringing up kids, the cost of school uniform, poor mental health – there’s a wide range of issues that they’re constantly juggling and this has been a release from that and a chance to say ‘Yes, this is all happening, but I’m more than that.’

“It’s been a wonderful progression for the women, from feeling like they don’t know what to write or say, or not wanting to share anything personal to becoming really involved. I feel like it has really empowered them.

“They’ve been through a lot of ‘same thing, different day’ but this has brought them together with like-minded women and been a breath of fresh air.”

“Rose again on inflamed feet, first low paid job of three

Working for the care of others young and old.

Feeds kids to provide for her own.

Tends the elderly, smiles and offers

Some company in days that are long.

Never getting real opportunities

Yet she wants them.”

Extract from poem by Caroline Walling, from Thriving Women

(1) No Poverty (3) Good Health and Wellbeing (10) Reduced Inequalities

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