Our next workshop is quickly approaching, and I cannot wait. It is always a fantastic opportunity to meet more women interested in DIY and learning new skills. It really warms the heart and reminds me why we started Practical Woman.
Just over a year ago, I felt stuck. Stuck in my job and frustrated by the lack of change with regards to equality and inclusion. From this sprang the idea of helping the cause and giving women the tools (literally!) to take more control over their lives.
At the workshop in April we saw women who at the beginning of the day didn’t feel confident with DIY and found drills scary, drilling into concrete walls by the end of the day! It was quite the transformation and very powerful to witness. At our next workshop on Saturday 21 July, we will see more women becoming more confident and striding forward. I can’t wait.
Last week, I had the honour and privilege to be invited to the ‘Tools of Change’ open evening at the Maya Centre.
I brought along my toolbox and together the group and I talked all things DIY. I was in my element and for the first time, flying solo! A year ago, I would not have even considered going to speak about DIY to a group of women. How times have changed!
I have realised in this past year that terminology and jargon aren’t the most important thing. What matters is having the confidence to stride forward, try new things and share knowledge. Don’t let worry or doubt stop you. Being intimidated by the professionals and put off by the jargon is a waste. No longer will I feel shy about getting the name of a spanner wrong (it was, in fact, a wrench as a woman pointed out!). It really doesn’t matter as long as you have a go.
It was a great experience and I enjoyed seeing how skilled the other women were or wanted to be.
This might just be the beginning of our relationship with the Maya Centre as we might go back and do a longer session in the future if that is what the women want. I hope they do.
Are you an Electrician and passionate about gender equality?
Are you Level 3 qualified and over 18?
Would you like to share your knowledge and empower other women? Then join us and share your valuable knowledge in our fun and friendly workshops.
Practical Woman is based in Islington, London and aims to equip and empower women with DIY skills and to demystify trade language, in an inclusive and non-judgemental environment. But we can’t do this without our experts!
In April, we gathered for the second Practical Woman workshop of the year, at Mears workshop in Islington.
The day began with a warm welcome from Practical Woman founder Kara followed by tea, coffee, and a chat about attendees DIY confidence levels.
Our resident carpentry expert Mel covered measuring basics and safety best practice as well as how to handle different wall types. After the introductory talk, attendees got the change to get familiar with the tools and practices of the trade before heading to the workshop to get practical.
Working together everyone had the chance to attach traditional and floating shelves, to plasterboard and brick walls. They ran into issues with misaligned drilling, visual considerations and bracket positioning but with practice and guidance accomplished the task.
On to the next challenge, a series of DIY troubleshooting exercises designed to give the women the skills to accomplish everyday tasks with ease from changing locks to assembling flatpack furniture and using a hacksaw.
After lunch, we welcomed our plumbing experts Jenny and Jo who guided the group through basic plumbing principles and parts identification.
The ladies learned how to fix dripping taps, toilets with flushing issues, sluggish radiators and much more. With our experts on hand, to answer questions not only about the task but also troublesome domestic DIY issues giving them the knowledge and confidence to use their new skills at home.
At the end of the day, the women discussed their improved confidence levels and received their certificates of achievement.
Big thanks to the Mears Group for providing the facilities and our experts for giving their time and expertise.
Practical Woman is a community interest company and doesn’t make a profit – all funds go directly to the running costs of the project and help us make the workshops accessible to as many women as possible.
If you are happy to make a further optional donation of £10 it will help us to run Practical Woman workshops for vulnerable women who are unable to pay.
Kara reviews Nasty Women: A collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st Century
I’m excited to write about this book. The collection of interviews, essays and accounts from a variety of contributors was formed at speed and the catalyst was Donald J. Trump becoming President-Elect of the United States of America on the 8th November 2016. Nasty Women was published within 17 weeks. It is testament to the passion and energy of all the women involved and it shows in the individual contributions.
Nasty Women covers a wide range of topics including everything from punk rock to racism, ‘fat’ and how to be a woman in today’s world. It is a spectacular feat and worth a read. The only small note is that it feels a little rough around the edges but maybe that’s the point.
Kara reviews Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
I just finished this book and it’s tricky to write about it, as it says so much but here’s my best attempt – If you only read one book this year, please make it this one.
Reni Eddo-Lodge explores how key areas of our society are integrally racist. The stats and evidence are incredibly compelling. She argues thoughtfully, eloquently and with balance. I am planning to gift a copy of the book to all my white friends as we need to be aware and open our eyes to the reality of being black or a person of colour in our country. Wilful or complicit ignorance just won’t do.The book may make some people uncomfortable, but these are truths we really need to hear.
There is a whole chapter on ‘the feminism question’ and it was exciting to read. I saw the truth of what Reni was writing and it resonated with me. Many of the statements I hadn’t thought of before (my own complicity in the structural racism, I’m afraid), however, felt completely right having read them. At once both loving the feminist movement whilst also seeing its flaws, it has made me want to be more of an ally and has in effect changed my life.
I couldn’t put this book down and read it in just a few days. Pick up a copy and I’m sure it’ll be the same for you.
On Saturday 17 March, we ran a one-day workshop for eleven lovely ladies from NW London WI at the Mears Group workshop in Islington.
After grabbing a hot drink to warm up from the snow, everyone discussed their current DIY confidence levels and then our volunteer carpenter Mel kicked off the day with guidance on measuring best practice and an introduction to the tools and fixings needed for each task. Attendees were given the chance to try out drills and take a look at the different wall plugs needed for different materials.
Mid-morning it was time to get practical. Relocating to the workshop, Mel demonstrated how to put up brackets for shelves by drilling into plasterboard and the workshop’s brick walls. After a few hands-on demonstrations, it was the WI ladies’ time to have a go. A short time later everyone had shelves up on the walls with some attendees having a go at racks too.
Following lunch, attendees had the chance to try some more drilling, learn how to change locks or have a go at building flat pack furniture.
Mid-afternoon, Jenny our volunteer plumber led a session on how to fix common plumbing issues including how to find your stop cock, cutting plastic and copper pipes, unblocking toilets, changing washers on taps and lots more.
At the end of the day, attendees were given a certificate of attendance and provided some wonderful feedback on their experience of the workshop. Big thanks to our experts Mel and Jenny as well as the wonderful people at Mears Group who provided the facilities.
“I now feel able to attempt to use a power drill! This is something I have always avoided”
“It has given me more confidence”
“Very helpful and approachable. Friendly atmosphere.”
“Everything was a mystery and now I feel like I could have a go myself”
Kara shares her experience of International Women’s Day and the WOW festival
March has been a fantastic feminist power week so far with the Women’s March, International Women’s Day, the Sex/Work strike and the WOW (Women of the World) festival at the Southbank.
During this period, I have been fortunate to hear some fantastic and inspiring women speaking. What strikes me amidst all the shuddering awfulness of our current situation with Trump, Weinstein, the pay gap etc, is the resilience and brilliance of my fellow sisters. We still laugh even when we are angry.
I wonder when we are going to stop letting our politeness stop our progress. I definitely feel the pressure to confirm, smooth over to maintain the status quo. Since being a child, I have felt compelled to be polite, go with the flow and not create ripples. However, after this intense week of joining with other women, hearing from other women and seeing some truly kick-ass protest signs I am feeling more empowered and confident to push against and work to begin to change our society for the better.Practical Woman is one way I see myself able to take action as well as calling out sexist attitudes and behaviour where I come across it.
The theme of Mirth Control at the WOW festival was #artsovertit and the night explored the huge inequalities in the arts including sculpture, painting and conducting and composing music. Sandi Toksvig and other women challenged us to find a historic artist and find out about their lives and their works and then promote them. You will read who I have chosen in a future post.
As I left WOW, I felt overwhelmed and deflated. There is still so much to do, and at times it seems completely impossible. I wondered what would happen to light the fire under us and make us do something but I am reassured by the messages of the last couple of weeks – #PressforProgress and #westrike etc.
At Mirth ControlJude Kelly, the founder of the WOW festival and the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, discussed the situation abroad (such as Iran where it is illegal for women to sing in the street) and that whilst WOW has gone from strength to strength, her own personal experiences of people in positions of power holding her back is still accurate today. This was from her recent experience of speaking with women in Australia.
Kelly finished by saying that now is the time to put your foot on the accelerator, keep it down and keep pushing. Overall it felt like a sombre night with less laughter and more reflection on the state if the world and all the statistics and facts to show the reality as it is. One horrifying fact is that we have in fact increased the amount of time, by 47 years, that it will take to get equal representation in Government.
I like to think the millennials with their optimism and determination might be the ones to force change and I, for one, will be right by their side.
Interested in learning more about the Suffragette movement? So were we.
We’ve been listening to a brilliant radio documentary on the BBC World Service called ‘The Lost World of the Suffragettes’ which we would recommend listening to on iPlayer. With #March4Women this Sunday, it gives us access to the voices of the Suffragettes to whom we owe so much. Fascinating.
Feeling in the mood for all things Suffragette, we have also borrowed the graphic novel, Sally Heathcote Suffragette from the library. Have you read it? Review coming soon.
Interested in attending #March4Women on Sunday 4 March? Sign up on at careinternational.org.uk. We are starting at Millbank, SW1 at 12noon ending at Trafalgar Square. Hope to see you there!
To celebrate World Book Day we wanted to share some great reads from the Practical Woman bookcase. Thrilling reads, classic literature, essays, books for children, graphic novels and DIY manuals – it’s all here!
What’s on your shelf? Please share your recommendations in the comments below!
Looking for interesting stories about women and sisterhood? Look no further.
Bad Feminist has been on my shelf for a quite a while but when I watched Roxane Gay’s TED talk, I thought I would finally pick it up and have a read. It’s a collection of essays with a variety of themes and topics. From Scrabble competitions to coming out, Gay is funny, honest and shares her personal experiences as well as responding with passion to topics such as Chris Brown and Tyler Perry.
What I found particularly interesting was her commentary on popular culture and the implications of films such as The Help or Django Unchained for our society and especially black people’s experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her perspective and criticism of the song Blurred Lines. Like others, I hate that song too and recently left a dancefloor when the DJ played it. Roxane Gay speaks for me too when she eloquently responds to others who tell her to lighten up about the song when she says:
“It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.”
It reminded me of Jo Brand’s recent comments on Have I Got News For You in response to all allegations of MPs indiscretions. Well done Jo and thank you.
Possibly the most light-hearted essay in Bad Feminist is How to Be Friends with Another Woman.
“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses – pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”
This chapter resonated with me as this is a core belief at Practical Woman. We believe a huge barrier to progress is when we don’t support each other and buy into these myths that revolve around the idea that we are all in competition for men or success. This shows itself by not helping each other out, judging unfavourably each other’s clothes, weight, looks, hair etc and closing the glass ceiling behind us when one of us manage to break through it.
At Practical Woman, however, we are hopeful. There are so many organisations aiming to inform and support the notion of sisterhood. Long may this continue. There are now organisations such as:
Recently, I have been binge-watching and thoroughly enjoying the BBC3 show Stacey Dooley Investigates in which Stacey looks at the people and issues in the new, predominantly but not exclusively issues related to the treatment of women around the world.
Stacey has a great style – she is serious, eloquent and warm and supportive of the women she meets. The episodes are informative and visit a host of places around the world including Canada, Russia and Japan.
She is incredibly strong and doesn’t back down in the face of anger and is also happy to show her human side on camera. The recent Stacey Dooley: Face to Face with ISIS is edge-of-your-seat watching.
If you haven’t seen the show, I’d recommend catching it on iPlayer. It’s a real shame it is broadcast on BBC3 rather than BBC1 or 2 where it would be seen as more serious and by lots more people.
Kara reviews All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister
This is a vibrant, energising read. It reminded me how wonderful and freeing it can be to be single and not have to compromise or negotiate decisions. It is a homage and a wonderful loving tribute to the power of friendships and sisterhood.
This especially resonated with me as a key aspect of Practical Woman is sisters helping each other. We do this in a number of ways including reserving two -places on every course for vulnerable women. We also run a pay it forward scheme whereby people can donate money to help us to run workshop days for vulnerable women such as care-leavers and domestic violence survivors.
Full of case stories, facts and stories All the Single Ladies is a must read for any woman regardless of their current situation, whether in relationships, dating or single.
What does it mean to be a man in the 21st Century? Being yourself is liberating but when you can’t find your own identity it can be damaging.
Last week, we reviewed Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary Miss Representation. This week our Chair, John, discusses The Mask You Live In, also from Newsom.
Currently available on Netflix, The Mask You Live In investigates the concept of masculinity and the male gender in the 21st Century. The documentary focuses on young men, boys and adult men in the USA – what influences them, what it is to be a man and what stories boys are told from a young age by their parents and by society.
‘Man up’ and ‘Boys don’t cry’ (or show emotions) are common themes, and the documentary shows the damaging effects of such ideas and messages. These types of comments and attitudes prevent the male gender from being themselves and being able to show their true identity.
What are the repercussions of this for men and wider society? Depression, anger, violence and the ‘alpha male’ stereotype. Men trying to communicate but not fully knowing how or having the means to do so, so they revert to what is perceived as the ‘male’ thing to do. The documentary shows how being able to talk with trusted friends and in safe environments, where no-one is judging you, can have a massive impact and really change the course of someone’s life.
The Mask You Live In is thought-provoking, emotional and well worth a watch. The more people who see it and men, in particular, the wider its impact will be. Spread the message, as the old BT advert used to say, ‘It’s Good to Talk’.
We’re big fans of Mary Wollstonecraft at Practical Woman. Perhaps most famous for writing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, Mary was a passionate advocate of women’s rights and education and an incredibly talented and prolific writer. Mary lived a fascinating life and we recently reviewed Charlotte Gordon’s brilliant book Romantic Outlaws which looks at Mary’s life and that of her daughter, famed novelist Mary Shelley.
Mary on the Green is an organisation campaigning to create a monument which would honour Mary’s memory and inspire young people in Islington, Haringey, Hackney and further afield.
Did you know that currently, over 90% of London’s monuments celebrate men despite a population of 51% women? It’s time to start celebrating influential female figures from history too.
Share your #MinuteforMary
Mary on the Green has been asking people on Twitter to take 60 seconds to tell the world why Wollstonecraft deserves a memorial.
Kara reviews The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
After getting the chance to see a performance of The Glass Menagerie last year, I finally made the time to sit down and read it.
The play encapsulates what it was to be a woman in those times, and possibly still holds true for some women even today. The priority for women who didn’t want to join the typing pool seemed to be to find a suitable husband which is something Amanda is intent on trying to arrange for her nervous, dreamy daughter, Laura.
The Glass Menagerie conveys the stress on the mother to engineer a match and alludes wonderfully to the mothers own ‘courtship’ period with gentleman callers. We are presented with a possible suitor for Laura and it seems perfect – he’s an old school acquaintance and seems ideal to help the nervous Laura. In the production I attended, this led to one of the most affecting and deeply romantic moments I’ve ever seen. Truly breathtaking. But is all as it seems?
If you get a chance to see Williams’ wonderfully poignant and beautiful play, please do, otherwise, we recommend reading the play.
Have you read The Glass Menagerie? What did you think?