Play Hard

The West End photography exhibition celebrating local women and girls this International Women’s Day

As the West End Women and Girls Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary this International Women’s Day, we head behind the lens and meet some of the inspirational women involved in creating the landmark 40 Women and Girls exhibition.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 04.03.2022

40 Women and Girls is a free exhibition which will run at the West End Women and Girls Centre from 8th – 31st March

 

WHAT IS THE WEST END WOMEN AND GIRLS CENTRE?

The West End Women and Girls Centre is Newcastle’s first – and only – open access women and girls centre.

With the aim of building the power of women and girls who have been, and continue to be, disenfranchised, the Centre runs a huge variety of community groups where local women and girls can meet, have fun, learn new skills, look at the issues that are relevant in their lives and build their confidence, all within a safe, supportive and welcoming environment.

And the programme is packed. Think everything from youth clubs to DIY courses, get fit groups to IT classes, a domestic abuse support service and daily soup deliveries to local families. The Centre even has its own farm, where women and girls are taught how to grow and harvest sustainable, organic food and break through gender roles in agriculture.

The West End Women and Girls Centre has been a vital part of its local community since 1981. Over 10,000 women and girls access the Centre every year, and more than 500 sessions and 40 community events are attended by more than 2,500 women, girls and their families. Five generations of families currently hold membership.

Anyone who identifies as a woman is welcome. No matter who you are, what you look like, who you love, how much money you have, what your religious beliefs are, or where you are from, West End Women and Girls Centre is for you.

WHAT’S THE 40 WOMEN AND GIRLS EXHIBITION ALL ABOUT?

This year, the West End Women and Girls Centre is celebrating its 40th anniversary – quite the achievement, considering the raft of funding cuts to the charity and local arts sectors across the UK in recent years.

To celebrate the resilience, passion and altruism of the women who keep this award-winning community hub afloat, the Centre have partnered with writer Catrina McHugh MBE and photojournalist Phyllis Christopher to gather stories and portraits from 40 women and girls who have been instrumental in their communities and the living history of the Centre. These stories and portraits have been combined into the 40 Women and Girlsexhibition at the Centre, as well as an accompanying book.

‘As we reach this milestone, we want this project to shine a light on the often unnoticed, underrepresented and undervalued contribution of women and girls, marking the significant role they play in their communities,’ says the Centre’s Coordinator, Huffty McHugh.

‘Women have been proportionally more disadvantaged by 10 years of austerity and are now also proportionally more disadvantaged by Covid-19; they are trapped in dangerous situations, are often the main care-givers and bear the brunt of the hits to the economy. Yet, as we have seen again and again, women create community, and the Centre is a symbol of the collective power of these women and girls.

‘It is important that this exhibition – which features 40 women and girls from our community who were nominated by the public – will reflect and do justice to the women and girls of our community.’

HOW HAS THE 40 WOMEN AND GIRLS EXHIBITION BEEN CREATED?

Already with strong connections to the Centre of their own, and supported through Newcastle City Council’s Artists in Residence programme, Hadrian Trust and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Catrina and Phyllis were commissioned to gather these inspirational women’s stories and portraits. They just didn’t realise at the time that they’d be creating the exhibition during a global pandemic.

‘Every photo session for the 40 Women and Girls project lifted my spirits,’ says Phyllis. ‘Most of these photographs were taken during the pandemic, in the times we were allowed to meet. It would have been extremely interesting to meet everybody in this book during normal times – their stories are empowering – but to be able to connect during the pandemic was a balm to my soul. Hearing how everybody was coping with the various lockdowns made me feel less alone and photographing at the Centre made me feel even more connected to a community of strong and inspiring women.

‘Originally we had thought to photograph the women in the places where they worked and lived and that pertained to their particular stories. But because of the pandemic, this became unfeasible. So, we decided on studio portraits. The backgrounds are made from photographs I took in the centre; colours and aspects of the building that I thought were distinct and representative of the architecture and the spirit of the West End Women and Girls Centre. I thank everyone who let me photograph them for this book. It was the greatest pleasure.’

WHAT’S PLANNED FOR THE LAUNCH PARTY ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY?

The exhibition officially opens on Tuesday 8th March – handily enough, on International Women’s Day – with an epic (free) launch party planned which will include fairground rides, firework displays and huge projections lighting up the West End Women and Girls Centre, courtesy of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

In short, the exhibition’s opening event will demonstrate everything the Centre does day in, day out – building that sense of community. With fun, with learning and with togetherness.

‘This centre saves and celebrates life,’ says Catrina. ‘It stands with, in solidarity and fights corners. This exhibition is bigger than telling stories – it captures the strength, determination, energy and talent of 40 women. It captures what it means to be a community, diverse and inclusive. I got to witness this history being told. 40 years of women gathering in rooms, kitchens, gardens, trips and board meetings. Of growth, renovations, community and activism.’

‘These are women and girls who have made a difference, championed the centre and become inspirational role models throughout our 40 years,’ Hufty continues. ‘We want to light up our building for our 40th anniversary with the photographs and stories of 40 women and girls who have been the heartbeat of our community from 1981 to 2021. We hope lots of people will come along to the launch party and see the exhibition, read their inspirational stories and celebrate with us.’

HOW CAN WE GET INVOLVED?

High Life North will be at the 40th Anniversary Launch Party, which will be from 6pm-8pm on Tuesday 8thMarch, outside the West End Women and Girls Centre on Elswick Road. Will we see you there?!

The 40 Women and Girls exhibition will run at the West End Women and Girls Centre from 8th – 31stMarch. Entry is free, although donations are welcome. The 40 Women and Girls book will also be available to buy for £25 at the exhibition. 

Exhibitions opening times: Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm (women only); Saturday-Sunday, 10am-2pm (open to all).

If you’re interested in joining any of the Centre’s community groups, or if you’d like to find out more about working with and supporting the Centre, give them a call on 0191 273 4942 or drop them an email 

To find out more about the West End Women and Girls Centre and the work that’s done there do all year round, visit the website and follow the Centre on Facebook and Instagram

West End Women and Girls Centre, 173 Elswick Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE4 6SQ

 

Image credit: Joanne Coates

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