Women’s Day At The Whitechapel Mission
Friday is Women’s Day at the Whitechapel Mission and, after our first visit to the Mission on Easter Tuesday, Photographer Colin O’Brien and I were honoured to be invited back to join the happy gathering last week.
A long line was already assembling in the street even before the door opened at midday, when the crowd poured in to the canteen eager for pie and mash and custard trifle, and the weekly companionship of females that is on offer here. Josephine from Poplar is always first in the line and she had been waiting on the pavement since ten o’clock in excited anticipation of this event which forms the climax of her week. As Sue Miller, the Day Centre Manager explained to me, “This is where you can be who you are and no-one will judge you.”
Settling down to lunch, the women sought out their friends and companions, and an atmosphere of quiet expectation filled the room once the plates were cleared away. Each week, there is a different activity, ranging from pampering- including facials, pedicure and massage – to cooking and styling. This week, Sue distributed tiny canvasses the size of postcards along with brushes and paints, outlining the brief to create a picture upon the theme of ‘new beginnings.’
You might think such an occupation would be dismissed as trivial by this group of street-smart worldly-wise women, yet a quiet descended upon the room as some serious contemplation took place with bitings of lips and scratchings of heads. So many decisions were required. Beyond the frosted glass panels, Whitechapel receded for an hour and joyful creative endeavour prevailed.
Once the pictures had been conjured into existence, Colin took portraits of the proud creators and their works, and a sense of collective euphoria erupted at the group photo. But then it was time for the ritual distribution of modest gifts that is the culmination of the afternoon and, clutching boxes of popcorn, the women filed reluctantly out into the street to face to challenges of life again.
Cheerful farewells counteracted the sadness of departure, qualified by brave calls of “See you next week!”
“We’re sisters from Whitechapel, we’ve been coming here for thirty-five years”
Sue, Day Centre Manager, explains the art project
Time to leave
“See you next week!”
Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
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