Reflections on working with Refugee Women in Manchester

By Kate Ferguson,
September 2022

Change can be difficult for us all; transition involves loss and uncertainty.  Refugees understand this more than most.  Being forced to flee your country to seek safety means leaving behind your home, belongings, family, friends, livelihoods, the life you have known and the future you imagined.

In August 2021, the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.  7000 people were evacuated to the UK and accommodated in hotels across the country.  Supporting newly arrived refugee women through this transition was the purpose of our project.

Newly arrived refugees have a range of needs.  Basic essentials include clothing, toiletries, toys and medication.  Support to learn English, understand a new culture, navigate statutory services and engage in well-being activities are also vital for a successful transition.  Children have additional educational and play needs while they await school places.

In Manchester, organisations from our voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector began planning how we could support the newly arrived refugees in our city.  PTMWA collaborated with local authority teams and VCSE organisations to identify needs, secure basic essentials and produce a schedule of activities to help refugees residing in the hotels transition to their new life in the UK.

Here are 5 reflections from our time supporting Afghan women over the past year as they navigated this transition.

Creating a welcoming space to encourage wellbeing

It was soon apparent that the women and children were not leaving the hotel.  So, we started a women’s social and craft group at The Mustard Tree.

The Mustard Tree offered us the use of their incredible art studio equipped with all kinds of wonderful craft and textile supplies.  We sourced sewing machines for use during the sessions.

We wanted to create a warm and welcoming environment, a change of scene and a safe space for the women to come together, chat and engage in activities of their choice.  The women led the sessions sharing their skills with each other while our volunteer’s provided expertise in arts, crafts, sewing, crocheting, embroidery, and wellbeing activities.

A welcoming space and engaging activities provided the perfect environment for informal discussions about leaving home, the uncertainty of life in the hotels, coming to a new country, finding out about a new culture and for many a new language. We talked about the weather, food, cooking, accessing health services, education, and the rights that they have as refugees and women in the UK.

Creating a welcoming space first where they felt comfortable allowed us to engage with the women and deliver advice and information on services and life in the UK in a natural and non-intimidating way.

  1. Engaging children

Children were facing lengthy waits for school places.  We organised games, crafts and play activities for them at the same time as the women’s sessions in an adjoining room.  These sessions provided a chance to leave the hotel and a play-appropriate space for the children which was a necessity for their well-being.  Temporary relief from childcare provided the space for the women to engage with other women and their chosen activities.

The women spoke of the challenges of living with children long term in hotels. For example, the lack of spaces to play, particularly outdoors, the inability to cook family meals and food their children like to eat.  Also unspoken were the traumas from becoming a refugee – sudden upheaval, loss of home, loss of culture, family and community as well as bearing witness to violence.

For children in particular, trauma can be difficult to process.  Recognising this need we asked our specialist children and young people’s team to deliver a course of therapeutic play sessions in each hotel which were child-led, trauma informed and based on a repair and recovery model. Sessions aimed to help with emotions, confidence, social skills, and self-soothing techniques.

Supporting the well-being of children is of course important but providing a child-appropriate space for play also generated positive outcomes for their mothers, allowing them space to reflect and socialise.

  1. Women’s Rights and Equality

Advice on their rights was self-identified as a need by the women.   Staff in the hotels also told us that the women would benefit from learning more about their entitlements because in many cases the families’ affairs were dealt with by their husbands.   We designed and delivered informative sessions to women in all the Manchester hotels.  The sessions covered domestic abuse, safeguarding, education, employment, volunteering, benefits and finance, marriage and marital rights, immigration and legal aid and health care.

I assumed more emotive topics such as the illegality of forced sex (rape) in marriage, contraception and reproductive rights might be considered taboo and the women would be reluctant to engage.  This assumption was disproven, and these issues generated lots of questions and discussions.  This gave me pause for thought as I reflected on my own cultural bias and the assumptions which had followed. It also highlights the importance of providing women only spaces with opportunities for such discussions for women to feel safe and empowered to ask questions which could be vital to their health and wellbeing.

  1. Financial Literacy

 The women were keen to understand their financial position.   For many of them, control of the family finances was with their husbands.   Universal Credit payments for the family were often issued directly to their husbands, further excluding the women from financial decisions.  Their experiences illustrate the threat that the single payment system of Universal Credit can pose to women’s financial autonomy and the role it can play in perpetuating gender inequalities.

Financial dependency can be compounded for some refugee women by unequal access to education and English language lessons in their home countries. This further limits their autonomy and can lead to power imbalances in their relationships when settling into a new English speaking country.

Financial literacy and education on welfare and other statutory entitlements along with English language lessons can help to address this imbalance, empowering women to play a greater role in the family’s finances.

  1. But what about the men?

When asked for feedback, the women overwhelming asked for the same information and education to be given to their husbands.

“It is not useful for us to know about our rights if our husbands do not also know and respect them”.

As a women’s organisation, our purpose is to support and empower women to exercise their rights and participate as full and equal members of society. However, the women are right to question the efficacy of educational interventions targeted only at women and which do not consider the education of the wider family unit.

This observation is particularly pertinent for refugee women and their families who are navigating new lives in a new cultural context with new laws and gender norms. Familial tensions can arise from a loss of identity, status and income and can compound these challenges.

We know that best practice research supports taking a multi-agency and holistic approach which considers the whole family unit. We must listen when women tell us that they want the men in their lives to have access to the same information and education. We are therefore advocating for the Council and coordinating organisations to put in place this necessary support and education for the men by organisations best placed to deliver it.

October Creative Workshops

Purple and orange Illustration of paint, brushes and needle and thread.

Join us for FREE arts workshops to celebrate the launch of the Rooms of Our Own exhibition.

The exhibition is open at the Manchester Histories Hub in the lower ground floor of Manchester Central Library.

Add to a collective banner, design your own flag, or even create and share a zine reflecting on what the future might hold for gender equality. Get involved in other crafts and activities that will help empower and pave the way for a better future.

No need to book – just drop in!

Thursday 13th October 5pm – 7pm
Zine Making – Designing the future for gender equality (Suitable for 16-18 years old)

Saturday 15th October 11am – 3pm
Family Friendly craft day – Banner making and flag designing (Suitable for Over 5 years old)

Manchester Histories Hub, Lower Ground Floor of Manchester Central Library, St Peter’s Square, Manchester, M2 5PD

Rooms of Our Own : Oral History Interviews

The Rooms of Our Own project’s aim was to reveal the hidden ‘herstory’ of the Pankhurst Centre from the 1970s to 2014.

As well as saving the at-risk paper archive which offers a rich account of women’s activism in the region, documenting the activities of the women who fought to save the building – the birth place of the suffragette movement – we wanted to collect women’s stories in their own words through a series of oral history interviews.

At the end of 2021 young volunteers were trained by Historian Dr Michala Hulme in the practice of oral history interviews. In 2022 they began to collect the oral history interviews of eight women involved in the fundraising, building and management of the Pankhurst Centre.

You can listen to short excerpts of the interviews below. 

If you would like to listen to the full oral history interview you can do so through the Archives+ collection at Manchester Central Library. To arrange to visit Archives+ and listen to the oral history interviews visit the Manchester Archives here. 

The collection of the oral history interviews is very important to ensure the women involved in the Pankhurst Trust’s stories are recorded in their own words. Their contributions to the landscape of women’s heritage in the region should be celebrated. 


Helen Pankhurst CBE 
Patron of the Pankhurst Trust and Great-Granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst 

Linda Carver, Julie Woodruff and Margaret Banton 
Hired to help work on the construction of the building

Janet Pickering 
Current Pankhurst Trust Volunteer and Trustee

Karen Clarke
Chair of the Pankhurst Trust (1984 – 1999)

Sarah Vince 
Pankhurst Centre Tourism Officer (1990 – 1993)

Dr Stella Butler 
Secretary of the Pankhurst Trust (1984 – 1999)

Rooms of Our Own Public Exhibition


Join us in celebrating the Rooms of Our Own National Lottery Heritage Funded project at our public exhibition in the Manchester Histories Hub.

Open from the 11th October the exhibition will feature items from the newly catalogued and deposited Pankhurst Trust archive, artwork from young people and the premier of the project’s film ‘Is the Fight Over?’

Although now recognised internationally as a site of historic importance, as the former home of Emmeline Pankhurst and the place from where the suffragette movement was born, for many years the Pankhurst Centre’s significance was overlooked. It was thanks to women’s activism that the quest began in the 1970s to save the building, which faced the very real threat of demolition in 1978. This hard-fought campaign, and the vision that led to the creation of a museum and feminist hub, has never been fully explored until now.

It would be wonderful to welcome to you the exhibition, to celebrate the hard work of volunteers and young people from across Greater Manchester in uncovering, cataloguing, and responding creatively to the Pankhurst Trust’s archive.

Free entry, open Monday – Saturday until 3rd January 2023.

The Rooms Of Our Own Summer School!

This summer we delivered a series of summer schools for young people aged 16-18 years old from Greater Manchester. The workshops were part of the Rooms of Our Own project, to explore and uncover the Pankhurst Trust’s organisational archive. 

In July we invited young people from RECLAIM, a Manchester based youth leadership and social change organisation. We then repeated the same week-long workshop in August but opened it up to anyone aged 16-18 years old to book on for free. 

The workshops were devised to increase skills and gain a better understanding of women’s rights and history. 

The creative activities in the workshops were planned by the Rooms Of Our Own Young Creatives. Four early career artists who have been hired to creatively respond to the Pankhurst Trust’s archive. Watch this space for news of an exhibition of their work opening in October 2022. 

It was also a brilliant opportunity to work collaboratively with external artists to help teach skills that reflect the activities. The Young Creatives chose activities and skills that were once taught at the Pankhurst Centre in the 1990s. 

We kicked off the week on Monday with Hot Bed Press, the North West’s largest open access print workshop, delivering a screenprinting session. It was a great experience printing directly on to second hand t-shirts and wearable fabrics using designs created by the Young Creatives.

Screen printing skills with Hot bed press

The illustrations and designs were inspired by items found in the Pankhurst Trust archive. In particular printed newsletters made by the Pankhurst Press. Getting messy with acrylic paints was a great way to start the week. Using the traditional Suffragette colours of purple, white and green to get into the spirit! 

Stop motion animation

The second day we were joined by Triple Dot Makers, a moving image and sound studio in Manchester. Delving into the world of stop motion animation to create simple, yet powerful moving animations exploring Women’s rights and equality in the 21st Century. It was such a fun and empowering day, learning lots about animation and how this can be achieved with a little patience and determination!             

Upcycling with stitched up                                       

The final day was hosted by Stitched Up, an organisation passionate about making change through textile upcycling and sustainability in fashion. Some of the participants had never even touched a sewing machine before and the staff at Stitched up were amazing at helping to guide and engage. A hard skill to try and grasp in just a couple of hours but incredibly rewarding. The participants used the second hand items they had already printed on to from day one to achieve some amazing upcycled pieces of clothing. 

Overall the weeks flowed with creativity, empowerment and fun. It was great to see brand new visitors to the Pankhurst Centre engaging with its history. 

The Room’s Of Our Own project will culminate in a final exhibition in October 2022 in which the Young Creatives work over the past summer months will be displayed for all to see at Manchester Central Library – exciting! 

If this sounds like the kind of activity you would also be interested in taking part in. Why not check out our Heritage Open Day on Thursday 15th September. 

Book a ticket to the museum and get involved by making your very own protest badge inspired by the Rooms of Our Own project. 

Booking is free but essential, you can do so here >>

See you then! 

Meet the Young Creatives

A collection of four portraits of women

As part of the Rooms of Our Own project, four young artists have been commissioned to create a piece of art inspired by items from our newly restored collection, in addition to this they will also be lending a helping (creative) hand during the summer school workshop’s that are taking place at the centre throughout August, so we thought you should get to know them a bit better! 

A woman sits on a bench in a garden facing the camera.

Laura Jones 

Having just completed a degree in Graphic Design at The University of Salford, Laura is now a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer. Luckily for us this will not be Laura’s first time working at a place of historical importance – for one of her university assignments she created an app that would (hypothetically speaking) teach 1950s teenagers how to use mill equipment, the project was inspired by Manchester’s rich industrial heritage, a period she became well acquainted with during her time researching at the Working-Class Movement Library in Salford for a University project.

Laura comments on what she’s most looking forward to about this project: “I find it interesting how you can use old material to inspire creativity now, so I am excited to use the archive material they have here at the centre to make a fresh, new piece of art.” 

A woman sits on a bench in a garden facing the camera and smiling

Alexis Maxwell

Alexis is an interdisciplinary artist, although she studied Theatre and Performance at university, Alexis now creates animated poetry on a freelance basis, a skill she taught herself how to do during lockdown.

Her main creative interests include both feminism and intersectional feminism, so working at the birthplace of the suffragette movement will hopefully ignite those two passions.

In the past Alexis has collaborated with organisations like the Arts and Libraries Cultural Hub in St Helens, where she developed their oral history archive, so she is especially excited to delve into the audio bit of our collection. 


Katie McKeever

Katie is currently studying for a master’s degree in Visual Anthropology at Manchester University. Throughout her lectures Katie mostly concentrates on photography and documentary style filmmaking, this includes (for example) recording testimonies.

Her passion for digital art started when she made a film about a youth community hub in Norwich for one of her undergrad degree modules.

Katie expresses her excitement for the project: “This is a rare opportunity to be given, it’s a feminism inspired, creative role for young emerging artists, and it’s right on my doorstep! I feel very lucky to be involved.” 

A woman sits on a bench in a garden facing the camera and smiling. Behind her is the Pankhurst Centre.

Millie Sheppard

Like Alexis, Millie has a theatre and performance background, which means she has a lot of experience working in a group on creative projects (so that’s ideal for us!).

Millie has just finished her second year at Manchester University, where she’s studying for a degree in English and History, so working on the Rooms of Our Own project will keep her occupied during the long summer break.

She comments: “I find it exciting that most of the archive only dates as far back as the 80s because it’s not really a time we often see as history, just because it wasn’t that long ago, so I’m excited to create a piece inspired by more contemporary material.” Millie also adds: “I’m equally as excited to work with the other Young Creatives because they all have great artistic practices”. 

A woman stands in front of a white background facing the camera.

Article written by Evie Pugh

Creative summer school for ages 16-18 years old

We have a really exciting opportunity at the Pankhurst Centre for young people aged 16-18 years old from Greater Manchester to take part in a 3 day creative summer school.

Book your free place by completing the form here 

Dates:   Monday 8th, Tuesday 9th and Friday 12th August 2022 
Times:  10:00am – 4:00pm each day 
Location:   Pankhurst Centre, 60-62 Nelson Street, Manchester, M13 9WP

If you are interested in learning more about stop motion animation, textile up-cycling and printmaking then sign up to our new and exciting summer school. 

Each activity will explore the power of campaigning and how activism has shaped the Manchester we live in today. You will learn about the history of the Pankhurst Trust, how a group of people came together in the 1970s to save the historic home of the Pankhurst Family which had become a shell of what it once was. They campaigned, fundraised and re-built the building brick by brick to create a new space for women to meet, support one another and organise. 

Explore this unique history through three days of creativity: 

  • Explore the process of screen printing with artists from Hot Bed Press studios
  • Learn how to make your own stop motion animation with Triple Dot Filmmakers
  • Get creative and up-cycle pre-loved clothes in to a new outfit with the help of Stitched Up

Lunch and refreshments are provided on each day and travel to the Pankhurst Centre will be reimbursed.

Participants are encouraged to attend all 3 days to slowly build towards a final art piece on the final day. 

We are looking for 15 young people to get involved, a really interesting and unique opportunity to work in a space full of Manchester’s history!

To sign up and book your free place now, complete one of our forms here. 

On the form we ask that you tell us about any access requirements you may have so we can better support you to take part. The workshops will take place on the ground floor of the Pankhurst Centre, with regular breaks and a quiet, separate space if needed. 

As catering is provided we need to know of any dietary requirements including any allergies or preferences. 

Places will be allocated on a first come basis. When we have filled all 15 places we will set up a waiting list for those still interested in attending. 

If you have any questions about the workshops please email Charlie Booth on 

Rooms of our own at the Manchester Histories Festival

A few weeks ago (Sunday 12th June to be precise) our team took a trip across town to The Manchester Monastery to spread the word about our latest project, as part of the Manchester Histories Festival. Keep reading to find out more! 

Manchester Histories Festival returned to the city earlier this month to celebrate the rich histories and heritage of Greater Manchester. As part of the event, on Sunday the 12th of June a whole variety of organisations temporarily set up shop at The Manchester Monastery to showcase their ideas. The wonderful Charlotte was manning our stall, she expands: “I was there to help promote the Rooms of Our Own project. It was a great opportunity for people to find out a little bit more about us and what we’re currently up to”. 

She adds: “A lot of people seemed to want to visit the centre, so that’s good”. 

“I brought a few bits from the newly restored archive with me, this included old newsletters, which people found especially interesting. I also lead a mini workshop during the day where people could write down how they feel about activism, what it means to them, and how it relates to the present day”. 

We were just one of 56 stalls occupying a spot in the magnificent monastery, luckily Charlotte got a chance to chat to some of the other organisations there and get the word out about what we’re currently up to: “It was good to talk to everyone. I spoke to The Film Hub Archive, which was fantastic because they are currently in the process of creating a film about the Pankhurst family called ‘Born A Rebel’, so it was great to share ideas and discuss how we could help each other in the future”. 

Rooms of Our Own is an archive restoration project lead by the Pankhurst Trust and Manchester Histories, their aim is to organise and preserve all the important material that had previously been randomly stored overtime in the attic here at The Pankhurst Centre. Once fully catalogued the archive will be transported to Manchester Central Library where it will be put on display. 

Working in the Pankhurst Archive!

A room full of boxes from the archive are piled on the back of the photograph and on the table in the middle of the photograph.

Want to find out what it’s like to work in the Pankhurst ‘Rooms Of Our Own’ project archive? Volunteer Sophie gives us a little insight.

Upstairs at the Pankhurst Centre, there’s a room that’s absolutely full of boxes upon boxes – and that’s where I spend my Thursdays, helping to catalogue and preserve materials for a new archive about the Centre’s history. It might seem a bit unorganised to an untrained eye, but to the Rooms of Our Own team, its organised chaos! 


As mentioned, our task as volunteers has been to sift through all the materials that have been kept by the Centre over its decades, decide what is appropriate to go into the archive, and ensure it is all in the best condition possible. In doing so, we have come across such a wide range of interesting materials! As a final-year history student at the University of Manchester, I’ve even managed to find magazines, articles, and postcards to cite in my dissertation. Being able to interact so closely with such materials, and see how the feminist movement in Manchester has grown over the decades is such an incredible experience; in the week that our Students’ Union held its annual Reclaim the Night March, I found an article in a Manchester-based women’s newsletter talking about the Reclaim the Night March that had been held when the movement began. It is a real privilege to be able to read such things and see how far the women of Manchester have come.

Other materials I’ve come across in the archives include copies of Spare Rib dating back to its inception, conference papers on women’s healthcare, anarchist newsletters, resources on feminist figures, poetry by Sylvia Pankhurst, and photographs of all the many events put on at the Pankhurst Centre over the years. Being in the archives has taught me so much more about the history of feminism in not only Manchester, but across the globe, than I ever thought possible – I’ve enjoyed every second of it so far and can’t wait to see the completed archive!

Opportunity: Young Creatives Freelance


Can you use your creative skills to explore hidden histories and share those stories with a wider audience? Are you passionate about equal rights and collective activism? Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists to bring history to life? Would you like to be involved in a project which helps teach and inspire young people to get creative, learn about Manchester’s history and tell their own story.

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, then we would like to hear from you. We have an exciting new opportunity for a group of artists to respond to the archive and history of the Pankhurst Centre.

For more information please download the role description document here. This includes the person specification, timeline and wider project information.

Download the PDF here >> Young Creative – Role Description

Download the Word Document here >> Young Creative – Role Description


The Pankhurst Trust are looking for 4 – 6 young creative professional artists to work together to create an exciting new digital art piece for the Rooms of Our Own Project. The artists must be aged between 18-25 years old and self-classify as ‘Early career’. By ‘Early Career’, we define this as an artist who has received specialist training in their field (not necessarily gained in an academic institution), who is at the beginning of their career, and who has created a modest independent body of work.

The creatives must be interested in collaborating and have a passion for inspiring young people with Manchester’s history and heritage.

The artists may be interested in film, illustration, design, audio, photography or other digital mediums.

You can apply as an individual artist looking to make connections and collaborate or you can apply as a collective of people already creating work together. You must indicate in your application if you are applying as an individual or as a collective.

Total fee: £10,500 to be split between the 4-6 freelance artists. Equivalent of £200 per day.

The brief is in two parts. The first part is to make a piece of digital artwork and the second is to help run creative workshops with young people in Manchester in the Summer of 2022.

Part 1: Digital artwork

The young creatives will create an innovative and dynamic piece of digital artwork which tells the stories uncovered in the Rooms of our own project. Therefore, the final artwork must be inspired by themes in the archive and the history of the Pankhurst Centre. These themes could include an artwork about personal identity, collective activism, human rights and equal rights.

The purpose of the final art piece is to encourage more people to learn about and become interested in the recent history of the Pankhurst Trust.

The final artwork will go on public digital display in October 2022 so must be finished by September 2022.

What format the artwork takes is currently open and will be based on the interests and skills of the artists commissioned. Some ideas for the final artwork could include:

  • A short film documenting the project.
  • A visual branding identity for the project which would include a designed logo, illustrations and a colour scheme.
  • A digital timeline which shows the Pankhurst’s history.
  • Something digital which is interactive e.g. a website or a game.
  • An online magazine or similar publication
  • A piece of music

The Young Creatives will be supported by members of the Rooms of Our Own team including the Project Coordinator, Freelance Archivist and Engagement Coordinator. However, there is no additional budget to cover the costs of other artists or creatives so the entirety of the artwork must be made by the collective of artists.

The Young Creatives will be expected to attend regular meetings to discuss their ideas and share progress of the artwork. They will also be expected to come to the Pankhurst Trust to look through the archive and other collected material to inform their final artwork and ideas for the workshops.

Part 2: Summer 2022 workshops

Working closely with the Rooms of Our Own Engagement Coordinator, the young creatives will deliver art workshops aimed at people aged 16-18 years old. The content of these workshops is currently open and will be based on the Young Creatives own skills and interests. It will be a chance for the Young Creatives to share and teach their skills such as filmmaking, music recording, animation, illustration or design. Young people coming to the workshops could come from community groups such as Reclaim and the Proud Trust.

How to apply

Please submit a C.V. or equivalent digital creative portfolio along with a written or audio recorded cover letter no longer than two pages in length and no more than 2 photographs or website links to previous creative projects.

In your cover letter you should evidence how you meet the person criteria, why you are interested in the brief, what your creative interests or specialisms are in (e.g., film making, illustration or graphic design), how the project would benefit your professional development and how you would respond to the creative brief.

Please write on your cover letter if you are applying as an individual wanting to collaborate with other artists or if you are applying as a collective of artists. If you are applying as a group of artists please briefly introduce every artist in your application but only submit one application as a group.

Please submit your application to Charlie Booth on by the deadline Tuesday 10th May 2022 at 5pm.

Please write in the subject heading ‘APPLICATION FOR YOUNG CREATIVES – ROOMS OF OUR OWN’

If you would like to speak to someone about the opportunity please email Charlie Booth on or ring the Pankhurst Centre on 0161 273 5673

Continue reading “Opportunity: Young Creatives Freelance”