Words by Samar Jamal | Photos by Rizwana Saeed
At the Neighbourhood Centre on Daisy Street, a group of women have just finished a fast-paced body workout in the building’s sports hall. Sounds of trainers squeaking on polished floors are reminiscent of school PE days. Chatter and laughter in Urdu and Punjabi fill the room.
The session is one of three that takes place weekly as part of The Feel Good Women’s Group. Set up in 2007 to support women with their physical and mental well-being classes take place on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The Feel Good Women’s Group is open to all women over the age of 16 but with most attendees hearing about it through word of mouth, many of the members are from South Asian backgrounds.
Rizwana Saeed is the project’s co-ordinator but she first joined as a regular member. She would bring her two young daughters to the creche, hoping the group would help combat a feeling of isolation. She explains: “I was feeling lonely because I was here by myself in Glasgow, I didn’t have any relatives. My parents, brother and sister all lived abroad. My husband was working in a takeaway so he would finish work very late and then had to sleep the whole day. The next day he would wake up and have to go back to work.”
All the classes are free and the creche allows mums to bring their young children along. The women can carve out time from their busy days and fully immerse themselves in the workouts.
Rizwana quickly became a regular, the classes were helping with her loneliness and she noticed a significant change in her physical health too. Having previously suffered from inexplicable bouts of headaches, the exercise provided relief. So when the group’s initial co-ordinator left, taking over the role felt like an obvious decision. It was partly a means to an end, she admits, as there was a risk the group would be shut down without a replacement, but the decision was also supported by the encouraging consensus from the other members who felt she was best suited to lead the group.
Speaking about the importance of the class, one of the attendees, Rabab says: “The classes are always so busy but despite this Rizwana is committed to giving everyone space, whilst being fair and she manages to do it well every time.”
Rabab, has been coming to the classes for over eight years and also supports the group as a volunteer. For her it’s a transformative experience: “We feel really light after the group, we feel energised and encouraged that we can do anything.”
The impact of The Feel Good Women’s Group is significant because it not only builds women’s confidence but it allows them to take time from their busy routines and prioritise their well-being.
“This is our time, this is our group. During this time we get a break from looking after the children or managing the house. There’s a mixture of women here, some are working, others aren’t but we all benefit from it, we all need it,” Ribab says.
Another member, Rinku speaks about the impact the classes have on her: “When we come to this class we feel young and confident because the environment is so encouraging and friendly. I’ve also made so many friends by attending the classes, they are all different ages but we can still share our problems and chat with each other.”
The Thursday lunch club, after the exercise sessions, is about unwinding and connecting with the other women. Some weeks they have a masseuse, which women can get free massages from. Other times they have information sessions to equip them with knowledge about various topics.
In the past, they have had a solicitor provide them with advice on immigration and visas. The West Of Scotland Regional Equality Council held a workshop on how to report hate crimes. They have also had healthcare professionals encourage women to attend check-ups for smear tests or cervical screenings. In the future, they hope to have a session about domestic violence and how to seek support.
These sessions have been critical to reaching women who might not feel represented in other spaces. Studies report that individuals from BAME communities are unable to access the services available to combat loneliness and isolation, as they are less suited to their cultural and language needs.
The Feel Good Women’s Groups is a space where women from South Asian backgrounds can attend without this worry as they can communicate in their mother tongue with other members. This has been particularly helpful during the information sessions as the women help translate for those who require additional language support.
Rizwana tells me: “It has reduced their loneliness, their isolation, and when they come out of their houses, and they come to the lunch club, they tell each other their stories, and they talk to each other. They often say ‘Over half of the depression has gone.’ A lot of women have also said, ‘We don’t come out of the houses except these two days when you run the class.’”
Rizwana highlights how the group has also supported the women to fulfil a personal goal; learning to swim: “A lot of women said that they really wanted women’s only swimming classes because a lot of them never had the chance to do that in their lives.
We started lessons in the Gorbals swimming pool in 2015, it was running very successfully until covid hit.”
“A lot of women learnt how to swim in those classes, including myself who had never been in the water before in my life.”
The group are now eagerly awaiting the opening of Govanhill Baths, which will have women’s only swimming facilities. This will grant the women space to build communities and confidence whilst supporting them with vital skills.
Despite the impact, The Feel Good Women’s Group has struggled to secure regular funding. Reports from NPC found that organisations run for women receive considerably less funding. Of the four billion grants awarded to charities in 2021, only 1.8 percent went to the women and girls sector. As a result, groups like the Feel Good women’s group are left in a precarious position, Rizwana adds:
“We apply whenever funding opens, but I think priority is given to registered charities, we’re a constituted non-profitable group. But we are still thankful to the organisations who have given us funding, like The National Lottery Community Fund and Rosa because it means we can keep running these things.”
In the past, she has tried to secure funding through donations from the women but with many of them on low incomes she didn’t feel like it was a viable approach.
The lack of funding could lead to structural changes for the group but for now, Rizwana hopes to continue running as they are: “Maybe in the future we will have to register as a charity but the idea of directors and constant role change is the biggest problem for me because the people come and go, I want to keep it simple to keep on running.”
Despite the difficulty that may come along Rizwana is dedicated to supporting the group’s future as it brings her a lot of fulfilment: “If we get funding, great, but if we don’t I will still do it. I love this group so much.”