Good Causes

Taslima’s textile classes stitch community together

Taslima Ahmad’s love of textiles began as a young girl when she was taught how to crochet by an elderly neighbour she called Mrs Arthur. Now she has become the tutor, passing on her knowledge of traditional textile techniques from Britain and South Asia to hundreds of women in Manchester.

Taslima’s efforts to share skills such as batik and block printing may have started as a heritage project, but they quickly became something else: a chance for vulnerable people to talk openly about the challenges they face.

This aspect of her work came into sharp focus during the first coronavirus lockdown when she switched from face-to-face classes to online tuition.

Taslima said, “Women were asking me ‘how do we survive, how do we help each other?’ When I did my rounds handing out fabric to people taking the classes online, people would write messages saying thanks for giving them structure and purpose.

“A lot of the women told me they were scared and many of the older women said ‘please, please give us something to do’ – it was heartbreaking. But we quickly became a big community, a big family, that helped each other and talked about things that had been bottled up.”

Her efforts to simultaneously preserve textile skills and help people deal with loneliness and anxiety during the pandemic have won her the Heritage category at the 2020 National Lottery Awards. This year’s winners – selected from 5000 nominated projects from across the UK – recognise the ‘Lockdown Legends’ who have worked tirelessly to help others during this extraordinary year.

Taslima said, “I’m just blown away by the award. I feel the women I work with deserve it, but winning the award is also winning it for them.”

Prior to the pandemic Taslima taught at the headquarters of her company Creative Design & Manufacture UK in central Manchester. She also visits schools and has delivered textiles classes to more than 2000 children.

During lockdown Taslima and her staff delivered food and activity packs to women taking part in the online classes. She also loaned some of them sewing machines bought using emergency funding from The National Lottery. The machines allowed her students to generate some much-needed income as well as make face masks and scrubs which were donated to hospital staff and patients.

During the 2nd lockdown the women have also been making face masks for a homelessness charity which is selling them to raise funds to support its work.

Taslima is determined to keep changing lives. She said, “I like to say we’re stitching the community together and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

17th November 2020

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