This poster on Falcon Road promotes the council’s Big Society Fund. It features Senia, Sandra and Hadas, three remarkable local mothers who volunteer for Women of Wandsworth (WoW Mums).
The real story behind the smiles on the poster is how they overcame war, family breakdown and homlessness to contribute so much to Battersea.
I’ve got to know Senia, Sandra and Hadas quite well in the past few years – and I’m still slightly in awe of them. Here are their extraordinary stories…
Senia is a dynamo in the local community – from the Katherine Low Settlement, where she is a trustee, to the Falcon Estate Residents Association, which she helped to set up. WoW Mums started in 2007 and now runs martial arts and drama classes for children, an enterprise club to help mothers back into work and regular visits to entertain older people in supported housing. They are the most inspiring volunteer group in Battersea.
Senia was born in Sarajevo and experienced the long siege during the Bosnian War: “I remember being in a basement cellar hearing the bombs explode above us. In one night I counted 586, before I stopped counting. My fiancé, now husband, was in the newly formed Bosnian army and to my despair went to the front line.”
“Then water, electricity, telephone and food ran out. Bread queues were bombed. I spent four months in the local communal basement with my parents and our neighbours. Mum and Dad were begging me to leave the city and the bloodshed.
“I left the city on the last available bus to the Croatian border. From there I had to hitchhike to Zagreb and get the train to Zurich where my sister lived. After further adventures, I decided to come to London and settle in Battersea. These 20 years here are the longest, most stable period of my life”.
I interviewed Senia for International Women’s Day last year. In December, I wrote an article about the lovely story of Senia’s daughter Una.
Hadas is a bundle of energy and loves the wonderful Doddington Community Roof Garden. Here she helps children from one of Battersea’s toughest estates grow and cook their own food – and teaches them a few of her own Ethiopian specialties.
Hadas is also project coordinator at SpaceMax. SpaceMax is a community-led group of carpenters and architects who help Battersea families make simple adaptations to their council flats. These small changes – such as partition walls and fold-down furniture – make a real difference in the face of chronic overcrowding.
Hadas has just run a two-week summer course on drama, dance, weaving and sculpture for local children. She does so much voluntary work because “giving can be as important and satisfying as being on the receiving end.”
Sandra is a talented film-maker. She shot and edited this video to as part of our successful campaign to save York Gardens Library.
Sadly, Sandra was evicted from her rented flat last February when the landlord wanted to take it off the rental market. I saw first-hand how the WoW Mums supported her every step of the way: the early morning trip to the Housing Department with her son to declare they were homeless; the depressing year in cramped temporary accommodation with no washing machine; and more happily her recent re-housing in north Battersea.
Sandra, who is French, has keep her sense of humour and love of music and the arts throughout the difficult journey, which was reported by homeless charity Shelter and ITV News.
Does your community project need support?
The deadline for this round of Wandsworth Big Society Fund grants is Monday 23 September. Please let me know if you would like help with your application – I am currently helping two local groups to apply.
Your Latchmere Labour councillors (Tony, Wendy and I) have helped to secure more than £50,000 in Big Society Grants for local groups since the last election. The successful groups were: Women of Wandsworth, Kambala Estate RA, Wandsworth Wolves Basketball Club, SpaceMax, Christ Church School PFTA, Elays Network, Mercy Foundation Centre, Carey Gardens Social Club, My Time Project and Dolphins Swimming Club.
These fantastic organisations deserve all the support we can give them. You can learn more about their work by clicking on their names.