Delivered by Women’s Health Matters, Wow! supports women in Leeds who are seeking asylum to support and encourage each other to be more physically active following the COVID-19 pandemic. In a bid to raise awareness of the importance of physical health, its positive impact on mental well-being and to reach our target of £10,000, the Women's Health Matters staff team will be walking an incredible 1 MILLION steps each week for 8 weeks, starting November 17th.
All women seeking asylum supported by Wow! have experienced some form of trauma, including torture, human trafficking and sexual violence and rape in conflict zones. We know that women seeking asylum experience problems with their mental health; high anxiety levels, depression, low confidence, fear, stress, and extreme isolation are very common. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased this. The instructions to stay at home has meant that many of the women we support have stayed away from others and, mostly, stayed safe from the virus, but many are now hardly leaving their homes, some not at all, and very few are engaging in any physical activity.
Women seeking asylum in Leeds are placed in housing all over the city, usually in the most deprived areas of the city. This means that creating a sense of community can be extremely difficult and can further increase feelings of isolation; a feeling that has already been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical activity has been proven to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being, with research showing that regular exercise can decrease levels of anxiety and depression, ease stress levels, and increase confidence. Engaging in activity classes can be a great way to meet new people and reduce isolation. However, the financial barriers faced by many women seeking asylum mean that accessing physical activity classes is virtually impossible.
In addition, many women are unfamiliar with their local area, are unaware of any local activities that would support with improving their physical health, and do not have a local social network to support them to do this. Women report feeling high levels of nervousness when considering walking alone in their local area to discover different opportunities, and many face additional language barriers when trying to access support.
How is Wow! helping?
Wow! was originally set up in December of 2020 to help improve their physical and mental health after the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as we were getting started, the country went into another national lockdown and Wow! had to quickly rethink how it was going to deliver its work. Delivering sessions online was the most obvious alternative, however many women seeking asylum are digitally excluded. Through other Women’s Health Matters projects and funding, women were supported to access tablets, Chromebooks, and data, enabling Wow! to move to an online platform.
Wow! has able to run online dance classes and in partnership with Leeds Girls Can, a dance routine was choreographed, filmed by a Leeds Girl Can Ambassador and sent out to women to practice at home at their own pace. Wow! met virtually for 4 months to practice the choreographed routine as a group and when restrictions were finally eased, the group were able to meet for the first time in person to dance together! Not only was this meeting the first time the group could dance together but, for many women, it was the first time they had ever met each other in person! Our video shows how amazing this session was.
In additional to improving physical health, Wow! has been able to provide women with activity packs consisting of brightly coloured pompoms to dance with, headbands, sports towels, resistance bands, gym balls and sports bras - all resources that financial barriers would have prevented women from accessing.
Women have been walking in pairs, receiving support from workers to identify others that live in their local area. For many, this has been the first time they have explored their local area. Being supported by each other has resulted in women feeling less nervous and intimidated walking around their local communities. In addition, women have also been able to access badminton, football, pilates, dance fitness and Bollywood dance sessions.
This combination of activities and daily walks has had a hugely positive effect on the women of Wow! Women are feeling more confident, less isolated, more socially connected; women are recognising the positive impact physical activity has on their mental well-being, with some reporting feeling less anxious, less depressed, and sleeping better.
So why are we fundraising now?
Wow! has been funded by a variety of sources, with current funds due to end in March 2022. Without additional funding Wow! will not be able to continue. Women already supported through the project have said that they will keep walking as much as they can but will miss the support of the project and believe that it will be hard to keep it up without the motivation of others. We would love to continue to support more women seeking asylum to improve their physical and mental health, and allow them the opportunity to try different physical activities that they may otherwise not have the opportunity to take part in and give them the equipment and clothing they need to do this.
What will the money raised do?
- £250 will enable us to provide 6 sessions of physical activity for up to 10 women seeking asylum, allowing them to try different activities that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to take part in.
- £1,000 will ensure that we can refund weekly travel costs to 10 women for 5 months allowing them to access our various activity classes.
- £1,500 will allow us to film 3 of our sessions and create a video sharing the positivity experienced in our group and encouraging others to become more active.
- £10,000 will mean that we can do all of the above and pay someone to be in the office to organise all the events, manage referrals, complete paperwork and all the tasks that go on behind the scenes to enable such a project to run smoothly for 5 months.