The hall is dominated by a tree painted directly onto the wall. Instead of leaves, there are Post-It-sized notes covering its branches.
‘To wake up safe.’
‘I’m worth happiness.’
‘Peace for my children.’
They are wishes and affirmations made all the more powerful for their simplicity, because the women who come to the Birmingham Freedom Project are not safe in their homes. They find no comfort in the people who should cherish them and keep them safe. They have suffered domestic violence – but they are not victims.
I was invited to visit the Birmingham Freedom Project after I got chatting on Twitter to one of the incredible women who runs it.
“We want to meet inspirational women,” she explained.
I was both as pleased as if I’d found a diamond in a Christmas cracker, and humbled, too. They had got it wrong: I’m not the inspirational one, they are. Keen to do what little I could, though, I went along yesterday.
What struck me most was the laughter, positivity and camaraderie. They sat together round a table, chatting, swapping experiences, but also just talking about life in general. This is a place where they can step beyond their present day life, or their history, and be among people who understand them. There are some who still barely have the courage to speak, and have trouble meeting my eye, but others who talk openly and get everyone chuckling. Everyone is accepted and understood.
“We laugh a lot,” says the woman who runs it. “It makes them realise how ridiculous the men are who are controlling them. How unreasonable the men’s demands are. That the fault isn’t, as they are repeatedly told, theirs.”
Some are only at the start of their journey towards rediscovering themselves, while others are several years down the line. Whatever their story, the Birmingham Freedom Project offers support, practical courses to help them deal with their emotional damage, and plenty of smiles. There is no charge for any of the courses – and the project will even pay for a bus ticket to help women attend.
The logo was designed by one of the women. “It sums up how I feel about myself,” she says. It is certainly evocative of the emotional journey she and so many other women like her are taking: it is a strong iron chain, which once bound them and seemed unbreakable. But a link has split wide open, and flourishing within is a flower. Freedom takes root here and the women bloom.
The Freedom Project relies receives no government funding. To donate, or to find out more about it, please click here.
- Can YOU spot today’s Christmas-related reference in this blog? If you can, email it to email@example.com to enter my competition – and YOU could have a character named after you in my next novel!
MORE WAYS TO WIN! Three lucky people will have characters named after them in my next novel. They might be a baddie, or a nosy neighbour, they might even be bumped off, who can say, but they could have YOUR name.
To be in with a chance of winning this unique prize, all you have to do is take part in my Christmas countdown search. Every day for a fortnight I’ll be hiding a Christmas-related reference in a post on this blog, or somewhere over on my website www.barbaracopperthwaite.com All you have to do to enter is email me that days’s reference (e.g., I might randomly mention seeing ‘three wise men’) at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can enter as many times as you like. The more days you take part, the more entries you’ll accrue – so the greater your chance of winning!
I’m also running similar competitions across Twitter (you can follow me @BCopperthwait) and my Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/Author BarbaraCopperthwaite) and you’re free to enter those as many times as you like, too.
Over on Facebook, every day for a fortnight I’ll be posting a fun, easy question based either on Christmas, me, or my books. Just ‘like’ the post and leave your (correct!) answer in the comments section, and you’ll be entered into the prize draw.
Over at Twitter, you simply have to retweet me using the hashtag #FlowersForTheDead. Each retweet is an entry and, again, you can enter as often as you want.
Good luck to everyone!
* The winner will be announced on Christmas Eve