My partner Rachel and I started ‘Idle Women’ to offer a place for all women and girls to belong, in 2015 in response to the austerity cuts. We were both working in public arts and huge budgets were given for arts projects for an elitist audience, but we saw women’s projects and centres closing down – it was a complete in-balance of power and resources. We wanted to work differently, not in a patriarchal way but working in rhythm with the seasons and decided to build a boat. We wanted to create women’s spaces with women for women, somewhere that would not be taken away with budget cuts.
We started working with Humraaz support services and designed the boat together, lots of women helped with the construction and we toured the North West’s canals for 2 years. The boat is designed to get 12 women on comfortably and host a woman in residence, the boat is now moored and is a safe space for women.
We moved onto our next project, called ‘Helen’, supporting refugees, we deconstructed the interior of a building to create a space for women to learn construction skills and DIY. When vulnerable women were rehoused, they wanted to improve their space but didn’t have the skills and would often phone their ex, who would then know where they were living, and the cycle continued.
We start by teaching very basic skills, changing a lightbulb or a plug and then we work together to learn more difficult skills. We have a power tool library, women book out the tools and help each other and we are launching “power tools” online video tutorials made by women for women. We have made 14 videos and women can make their own video and upload it to help other women.
One woman we supported was forced into marriage to gain access into the UK, a couple of her babies died, she had one small child with her and she was pregnant. We started doing nature walks with her and she would tell us that she felt like she was having a heart attack. We knew it was a panic/stress attack, a totally normal response to her experience, we started making her lavender and camomile tea for natural calming. Other women come to us on lots of medication and we were really inspired to create the UK’s first physic garden, a medicinal herb garden. “Physic” means the art of healing and through the design and shaping of the garden we aim to increase the non-rational knowledge of women that we have lost. There used to be a physic garden in every town, it was like the post office and women had responability for the herb gardens.
In medieval times, they used to have groups called “gossips”, groups of women who had kids together, they looked after the wellbeing of the community, cooked together and practiced natural medicine. During the witch hunts a woman was pulled out of the gossip and was tortured until she gave up all the other women in the gossip. After the witch-hunts, women were put into traditional marriages, the gossips didn’t exist anymore, and we lost that deep instinctive knowledge about how to look after our health naturally.
Western medicine is about capitalism, before a medication is released it needs a billion pounds of investment and the pharmaceutical companies need to recoup that money and make a profit, there is little motivation to develop drugs to cure. There is a disconnect with what we know is good and right for us and what we are being sold.
So, we are reclaiming the land and building the garden together, it will be dedicated to medicinal herbs that women have used for centuries, from menstruation to pregnancy and childbirth, and beyond to menopause and old age. We are in a very impoverished part of the UK and the garden will also be a peaceful retreat where women can take a break from daily routines, make new friends or simply have space for reflection.
To find out more about Idle Women please visit their website- https://www.idlewomen.org