Scheme to bring together Asian, white, black and transgender women through fencing
A group of around a dozen women is getting dressed up. They don masks and body protectors.
With the protective clothing in place, each looks the same.
But underneath the masks, protective gear to make sure their faces are unharmed as they try their hand with swords in a session of fencing, the are as diverse a collection of women as you will find in Doncaster.
Some are Asian. Some are black. Some are white. One was born a man.
But all are committed to taking part in a scheme which organisers hope will help get more women in Doncaster exercising, and bring together and build friendships between communities who paths may not often cross.
Two sessions were run this month, the first at the Intake Family Centre, and the second at the Quaker Meeting House at St James Street, Hyde Park, which are taking the project forward.
They are training over 20 women to take fencing out into their communities as a force to bring people together.
The project, called in Doncaster ‘Ladies Fencing Project’, is derived from a project nationally called Muslim Girls Fence. It is a collaboration between a charity called Maslaha, and British Fencing, aiming to challenge misconceptions of, and raise aspirations among, young Muslim women.
The Doncaster scheme has been given a different name because the organisers want it to be inclusive, and to attract women from right across the community, to break down barriers and improve fitness, and to improve the self confidence of those taking part.
With the protective gear in place, the women try their fencing moves under the watchful eye of trainers from British Fencing, who guide them. They also sit them down and talk to them about the sort of sessions that they want to run in their communities, once they’ve finished the training.
During the breaks, they all sit down together, laughing together about the tasks and skills they’ve been learning.
It follows a pilot scheme run at the Doncaster Dome last year, and the volunteers who have been taking part in the training are part of a plan to roll the sessions out all across the borough.
Akeela Mohammed, who is involved in running the scheme in Doncaster, heard about the scheme through youth workers in the borough, and persuaded Maslaha and British Fencing to bring the scheme to the Doncaster.
She said: “We started the sessions up at the Dome last year, and now we are training for trainers.
“The ladies here today are being trained, and will go out and take fencing into their communities. Most of them are not from a sporting background. They are people who want to do something different and start groups up.
“They will go out with support from British Fencing, Maslaha, and myself. A few will run groups together.
“We want to get people to exercise who have never done sport before. With fencing, it gives Muslim girls a chance to do sport where how they dress does not matter. Barriers of dress are not there.
“But we don’t want this just to be for Muslim women. We want to see women integrate and mix and build relationships with all kinds of different people.
“The people who have come here have been a very varied bunch.
“The group at the Dome had a mix too. There were Kuwaitis, Syrians, Pakistani and white English ladies taking part.
“It has got people together and talking. We want to build bridges between communities and bring people together. If communities mix people understand each other better and respect each other more.”
“There are no restrictions on what people wear. We’ve even had people taking part in two-inch high heels. But as soon as they get the kit, they are talking together and laughing.
“Once they are through the door, it doesn’t matter what colour they are, or what dress size they are.
Taking part at the session at Hyde Park was Olive Sanderson. Olive, aged 64, is a volunteer at the family centre next door, and lives on the estate. She met Akeela through work she was doing at the centre.
She said: “When she mentioned what she was doing, I really fancied trying it.
“The first day of the training was mentally and physically tiring, and there was a lot to take in, and I was a bit nervous about it initially.
“I’m the least sporty person that you could meet, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Rebecca King, aged 38, from Scawsby works for the Green Gables project in Mexborough, which supports vulnerable families. She and colleague Jo Stubbs, 39, plan to run sessions all over Doncaster.
Rebecca said: “I’m looking forward to doing sessions, and I’d like to get started as soon as possible. In the last year we’ve done things like rounders and fund 5ks. We’re trying to raise aspirations through physical activity.
Volunteer Hoora Hajee, aged 27, added: “I’m looking forward to running a session. We’ve had a lot of tips.”
How they run the sessions will be up the the women and their groups. They options they are shown in their training include setting up sessions around setting up dance routines around fencing, or fencing to music, if some of the women don’t want to have a traditional fencing competition, with points awarded for touching the opponent with their foil, or sword. The session use plastic swords.
Virginia Bailey, project manager for British Fencing said: “We are taking fencing into Doncaster. We are bringing a sport which is sometimes seen as white and middle class and bringing it into a different community and make it a welcoming space for women of all different backgrounds, and create stronger communities.”