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Women’s Day At The Whitechapel Mission

May 16, 2014
by the gentle author

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

Click here to learn more about The Whitechapel Mission

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. May 16, 2014

    Thanks for this. A nice start for the weekend and for Shabbat
    Melvyn Brooks Karkur

  2. Libby Hall permalink
    May 16, 2014

    Oh what lovely happy photographs!

  3. Jeni Molyneux permalink
    May 16, 2014

    What a heartwarming story! lovely day and the photos record the proceedings so well.
    Thank you for sharing it.

  4. May 16, 2014

    A wonderful idea to create a day of wellness, pampering , creativity and company for the women. Valerie

  5. Ros permalink
    May 16, 2014

    What a joy! Lovely to see and hear about this group which clearly gives its participants such pleasure and sense of togetherness. Great pictures, great faces.

  6. May 16, 2014

    Nice to see these happy women! — You can fetch them out of their daily grind with so little efforts… Well done!

    Love & Peace

  7. May 16, 2014

    Love those darling ladies and their delightful variety of postcard paintings.

  8. May 16, 2014

    What a wonderful place. I recognise some of these faces. Great photos.

  9. Patty/NS permalink
    May 16, 2014

    Beautiful painting that each lady did. I wish I could give each one of them a hug. Please tell them they are all loved by me from Canada, and they are in my thoughts and prayers.

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