Project Aasha is a community-focussed project that creates a safe and inclusive space for people from ethnically diverse communities across Northumberland, who are at risk of social isolation, to discuss issues important to them.
We went along to Cup Shup, a daily drop-in session run by Being Woman as part of project Aasha. Being Woman runs these sessions to support Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people across Northumberland, many of whom have recently moved to the UK, some as asylum seekers and refugees.
So far, project Aasha has reached over 80 people.
The charity offers practical support around immigration processes as well as wellbeing support, which often goes hand in hand.
Fareeha Usman, founder of Being Woman, explains:
“Often, we have found that people’s experiences of the immigration system contribute a great deal to their poor mental health. Delays in asylum applications, language barriers and confusing processes can be a huge cause of stress and worry for people who have already experienced trauma.
“We try to just be there in the moment for people, for whatever they need.
“We provide practical, solution-orientated support, whether this is advice and guidance around immigration, visa or housing issues, looking for volunteering and work opportunities, or signposting people to help them get more support. We also have a partnership with local shops so can offer vouchers to provide people with essential supplies while empowering them with choice.”
The service also gives wellbeing tips, informal counselling sessions and advice to help people take care of their mental health.
Fareeha explains that for many of the people who use the service, mental health is something of a taboo subject and some people don’t feel comfortable talking about it.
“We remind people that it’s okay not to be okay and that it’s important to take care of our mental health, because ignoring how we’re feeling can have consequences.
“People never forget the way you make them feel, so it’s important not to dismiss people when they open-up about their emotions. We’re always mindful and are here to listen non-judgementally.”
Inclusive mental health support
Fareeha explains the important role the service plays when it comes to supporting people in the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in Northumberland with their mental health.
“I’m passionate about race and mental health and believe that mental health services should be personalised and shaped by lived experience.
“Being Woman fills a gap in the NHS for mental health support designed with Black, Asian and minority ethnic people and issues at the centre, by considering how mental health and race intersect.
Collaboration is key, we want to work with the NHS to support a more diverse and inclusive mental health provision. This includes breaking down language barriers, introducing peer support and a more diverse range of counsellors to make mental health support more accessible.”
To address some of these issues, Fareeha and the team place inclusion at the heart of everything they do.
“If you value and welcome people, they will come.
We’re creating an environment of belonging and connectedness where people feel accepted as their authentic selves. Our service and support can be flexible, but it is always underpinned by these values.”
“Being Woman has stopped my social isolation and has supported me to gain my confidence back.
I had fallen into a deep depression and I thought I was going around the bend. We are like a family and we all support each other by listening to each other. I now consider myself fully recovered and I wouldn’t have been able to recover without their help.”
“Aasha is a valuable mental health support service in the local community. The staff at Being Woman were amazing and very supportive. It was nice to be among people who understood what I was going through.
I was receiving care for my severe anxiety and depression after I lost my job. I was unable to work. My doctor had put me on medication but I needed extra support.
I wanted to be in a place where I am not faced by cultural barriers. I joined the Cup Shup group and found talking helped take my mind off things I was going through.”
Service user to volunteer
Hussein came to the UK as an asylum seeker and was supported by project Aasha, he now volunteers at the charity as a project manager.
Before moving to the UK, Hussein worked as a photographer and is bringing these skills and talent to the Being Woman team. Hussein is in the process of setting up a smartphone photography course to help people record the beauty in everyday moments, however small.
Hussein explains why the project is so valued:
“The service is really important because when people arrive in the country, they may not know anything about the laws, immigration procedures or speak the language. We can guide people through these processes by helping them with GP forms so they can access healthcare, helping them with visa processes, housing, or getting into education.
We ask people what they need, and this shapes our support.”
As well as practical help, Hussein also explains how the service offers cultural and social support.
“In the service we have many nationalities, each of them special.
We share and celebrate people’s backgrounds, rather than trying to erase them. Difference is beautiful and we always try to learn about and celebrate the difference between our cultures and traditions”.
Hussein’s journey with Being Woman is an inspiration to many. From service user to project manager, Hussein plays an important role in strengthening the service for asylum seekers and refugees in Northumberland.
Queen’s Voluntary Service Award
Being Woman has been awarded the Queen’s Voluntary Service Award for their fantastic work promoting good mental health as well as equality, diversity and inclusion.
Here’s Hussein collecting the award.
Northumberland VCSE Mental Health Alliance
Project Aasha is funded through the VCSE Mental Health Alliance as part of the community mental health transformation for Northumberland.
We’re proud to be the lead partner for the VCSE Mental Health Alliance and look forward to sharing more about the fantastic programmes being offered, such as the DigitalMe project.