Resident Interview: Zahra of Young Women’s Music Project

This month we hear from Zahra of the Young Women’s Music Project, a local charity that provides an inclusive, supportive space for young womxn to get together to make music, learn new skills, express themselves, and grow in confidence. 

Zahra:

The Young Women’s Music Project was founded by Kate Garrett in 2000 in response to inequality in the music industry. It was set up in Oxford at the Ark T centre, as a safe space for young women to form their own bands. I started off as a participant of the project, and for the last ten years have taken it on as Director.

It’s been really important to me that the project is a sisterhood and community, where we do more than just make music. We run three or more sessions a week, have gained charity status, and mentor young women: helping them get into work and education, supporting them through trauma and helping with self care, using music and other art tools as a tool for expression and self-empowerment. 

Through the years, YWMP has been predominantly based in East Oxford, and has been squeezed into spaces from cupboards to classrooms, struggling to find permanent residency.

Makespace was the first opportunity that the project has had to rent our own space in ten years. 

Makespace also allowed us to run a takeover of the whole building to celebrate International Women’s Day in 2019, running our annual feminist festival, WO-MAN-ITY.  Through performances, workshops and talks, WO-MAN-ITY provides a forum for people of all genders and ages to come together to create, learn and discuss gender-based issues that affect our day-to-day lives.

This included an amazing session on Black Feminism as Intersectionality, lead by Janine Francois, learning how to sign Aretha Franklin’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T  in BSL, and some fun D-I-Y pocket making to redress the limits of clothing sold to women. It was great to be able to use the space to hold such a jam packed programme and host a hundred attendees.

During the first COVID lockdown, Makespace offered us reduced rent alongside support in applying for grants, to help us fund our rent for the future. Usha, one of the Makespace Coordinators, has been a constant ear for the project – she has been side by side with us during this difficult time: even standing with us at Black Lives Matters protests. Claire, another Coordinator, even performed for one of our online Bedroom Concerts to raise money for YWMP, which meant a lot and was a great evening. 

The building is a great place to find community support.

We’ve worked with Helen from Sabali Pots and Lisa from lisamadeit on 2 workshops at WOMANITY, one creating pin badges out of ceramics and another patch pockets for your clothing. We’ve also worked a lot with Lucy from Open House, particularly around the queer cafe and queering spires workshops in partnership with Open House and the Museum of Oxford. Mehdi’s falafel from the deli opposite keeps us going, and the canal keeps us calm.

We plan to keep on providing online music courses for young women while we can’t be in our studio and we’re going to continue getting creative online- watch out for our Isolation Compilation mark 2! But to be able to survive as a project, we’re in real need of support. Due to the pandemic, we’ve lost tens of thousands of pounds of income that would usually keep us running.

Donations enable us to keep supporting young women during a time when it’s more important than ever for many. If people set up a monthly donation of any amount, we welcome them to the gang of ‘YWMP Friends’, with lots of surprise perks! 

We are determined to remain a space where young women can express themselves and use music and art to heal from trauma, and this seems more important than ever as marginalised people in vulnerable positions are at the most painful end of the pandemic.

Together we’ll be a place to process the present, to dream about post covid days, and to build each other up. 

If you’d like to learn more about YWMP and the amazing work they do and get involved or donate, email zahra@ywmp.org.uk or go to  ywmp.org.uk.

You can check out their breathtaking Isolation Compilation or get one of their annual calendars (out this month for 2021), with artwork designed by girls in the project. Donations to the project are also welcome at: www.totalgiving.co.uk/donate/young-womens-music-project