Words by Emily Farbrace & illustrations by Ellis Brown.
Espacio Mama is a social support group led by and for the community of Spanish-speaking mums in Southwark, London. The group has been running for six years and is part of the wider Parents and Communities Together (PACT) project set up by Citizens UK. Back at the beginning of 2019, we were delighted to feature the women of Espacio Mama in the cover story for the first ever Community Bridges print magazine and, two years on, we were excited to catch-up with the group again. We sat down (virtually) with Danna and Claudia, both originally from Colombia, to hear about their personal journeys to Espacio Mama and what being part of the group means to them.
In 2018, Danna sought advice from her GP when she found herself emotionally struggling after having her second child. They suggested that she reached out to the Espacio Mama group for support. Becoming part of the Espacio Mama community helped her to connect with all the different parts of herself as a woman, a mother, a daughter and a friend. She felt stronger and gained a better understanding and confidence in her own strengths and capabilities. The group is all about helping each other to solve problems together, so, as well as being there to access support, each member also takes an active role in supporting others, giving everyone a greater sense of being part of a community.
“The personal experience has been powerful to know myself and my capabilities as a mum, as a woman, as a friend, as a daughter… because we forget all those things that are part of us and how we can contribute to other people in our communities” - Danna.
Illustration by Ellis Brown.
Danna told us how the group provides opportunities for members to build their leadership skills through taking on voluntary roles in delivering the group activities and by getting involved in community campaigns that find solutions and take action on topics such as safe housing, climate change and mental health. Espacio Mama has helped her to find her place in her community and discover that her voice is strong. Longing to live in London since she was a teenager, and now having lived here for over seven years, Danna believes that building your identity as a Londoner is an active process, something that you do and feel. She focuses on the positive things about life here and the importance of finding and holding onto what brings you joy. The ladies at Espacio Mama and PACT have become her friends and sisters; women who are inspiring each other and building a community from all over the World including current members from Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, Italy, Ethiopia and South Africa.
Claudia arrived in the UK in mid-2019. Soon after arriving, her family was unexpectedly forced to leave the place they had been staying at. Facing several months of homelessness and with two children under 5, this was an extremely difficult time for Claudia and her family. Without speaking English, it was very hard for her to find a solution by herself, but through Espacio Mama and PACT she was able to access advice and support to secure housing. She told us that, from the first moment of interacting with Espacio Mama, it has changed her life. Joining Espacio Mama helped Claudia feel heard and supported. She feels listened to and part of a strong community group. This has helped her appreciate that her experiences and feelings are important and overall helped her feel much happier. Through the group, Claudia has also been able to access education including English language courses and she is currently studying health and social care. Claudia told us about how the group works together to find solutions to different issues that members are facing in all areas of life including housing, finances, education, employment, health and access to essentials.
“[Espacio Mama] they have always been super open to helping us in every moment” - Danna.
Illustration by Ellis Brown.
Danna and Claudia speak longingly about the Espacio Mama face-to-face meetings before the Covid-19 pandemic. They describe the joyful experience of PACT’s dedicated volunteers welcoming them with hot drinks and of the children's activities allowing them a bit of adult time to socialise and take part in group activities themselves like crafting, cooking classes or information workshops with Espacio Mama partner LAWRS (Latin American Women’s Rights Service). Outside of the formal group meet-ups, members of Espacio Mama would regularly connect and socialise by going to the park together, shopping, visiting each other at home and celebrating special occasions together. Espacio Mama helps to bring together people who are sharing the experience of motherhood, with all its ups and downs, and this means that there is a lot of understanding when it comes to being flexible with social planning!
“Lockdown was crazy for me in my house… Espacio Mama helped me to relax. I put my headphones on and I don’t have daughters, I don’t have a house, I don’t have a husband; only Espacio Mama and myself for one hour each Friday!” - Claudia.
Illustration by Ellis Brown.
Claudia tells us that despite the difficulties brought by the pandemic and associated lockdowns Espacio Mama and PACT have never stopped. They quickly switched to online meetings and continued their group activities helping each other to gain confidence using digital technology. This allowed the network to stay strong and kept people talking during a very stressful time. They have also been able to keep welcoming new members and switching to online meetings has even allowed for mums living further away to get involved more easily. Claudia describes to us how she has been juggling many responsibilities during lockdown including supporting her friends who could not go out for groceries or to pay bills, staying on top of the homeschooling agenda for her older child, and having nursery sessions via zoom for her toddler – while simultaneously also keeping up with her own studies and maintaining her home. In all the chaos, Espacio Mama has been a lifeline providing her a set time in the week where she is able to switch off from mum-mode to chat to her friends and relax.
Recently PACT has been running a listening campaign to better understand what "working well" is and to gather ideas to help shape their future activities. Almost all of the 150-strong Espacio Mama group have gotten involved with the campaign by joining discussion groups and taking part in interviews. Danna and Claudia agree that this has been a great experience to have their say on the future of the group that means so much to so many people.
“All the mums in the listening campaign agreed that [Espacio Mama] is the angel protector during the pandemic.” - Claudia.
More information about Espacio Mama and PACT:
To find out more about Espacio Mama contact organiser Grace Romero at email@example.com
PACT currently runs the following activities:
Mums Space - a weekly group for parents with babies and toddlers
Espacio Mama - a weekly group for Spanish-speaking parents with children under 5 years old
Babies @ Mum’s Space - a weekly group for parents with children under 1
Dads Space - a monthly group for dads with babies and toddlers
Family Food Club - a weekly group where families share recipes and cook together
Parent University - a free course for pregnant women and parents of babies under 6 months
Baby Bank - provides practical items to families in need like baby clothing, cots, buggies, blankets and more
To find out more about these groups and volunteering opportunities visit https://www.pact-citizens.org/southwark_pact