Amplify NI’s Ashleigh Hunter catches up with Chara Clarke, Founder of GLOW, who recently took part in the Accelerator programme. GLOW (Giving Life Opportunities to Women) works with women and girls in Belfast to empower them with life skills to increase confidence and self-esteem.
Walking into City Life Centre in Belfast, where GLOW is based, it was great to see the coffee shop buzzing with life. Chara explained it was always like that, with both sides of the Lower Falls and Shankill interface using it as a social meeting place. In fact, Chara’s desire to bring women together across the divide is exactly how she came to start GLOW.
Chara began to organise social activities like fashion shows, pamper nights, and meals, so women could come together to build up relationships with each other in a safe space. Through conversations, Chara quickly recognised that although many of these women had never met anyone from the other side of the community, they faced very similar challenges.
Chara reflected on the early days, “It started by recognising a need to bring women together to help them and empower them to build up their confidence and self-esteem. It doesn’t matter what community women come from – they face the same issues, especially within communities of high deprivation. A lot of women are facing mental health issues, low confidence, a lack of self-esteem, social isolation, money issues and family breakdown.”
Today, GLOW is a registered charity, whose ethos is still firmly focused on empowering women and girls, to help them overcome these types of issues. Chara and her team now deliver two free personal development programmes funded by The Big Lottery; ‘The Real Me’, aimed at enabling women to make positive life changes and ‘Lily’, aimed at promoting positive mental health and well-being to young girls as they become leaders of the future.
Through these two programmes GLOW has provided an opportunity for hundreds of women to focus on themselves, re-think their own negative perception of themselves, and start to make positive decisions in their lives, often in a big way.
“We’ve had a couple of women that have ended bad relationships because they recognised they shouldn’t be in relationships that are abusive. They were used to the abuse, that was life, so they just used to accept it, and then all of a sudden they thought ‘no I don’t have to accept it, I don’t deserve this, I deserve better’. We don’t tell people what to do. We just show them their options, which they didn’t realise they had before – then they make the right choice for themselves. By deciding for themselves, that empowers them even more as they recognise that they can make the right decisions for their lives.”
Following the programmes, Chara ensures there is on-going support for participants by providing weekly drop-in sessions, social events, and volunteering opportunities as GLOW mentors.
Chara recently took part in Amplify NI’s Accelerator, which was a worthwhile experience for GLOW, “The Accelerator programme helped me recognise the importance of networking and connecting with other organisations. It started to help me to look at how to connect more, and that there are other sources of income – not just funding applications. I enjoyed it. It was very creative”
What struck me most about Chara was her humility. When I suggested that others out there would be inspired by her story, she played it down. To her, working for social change is just something that needs to be done, in fact it’s in her blood having grown up with a father and mother who were both very active in community work in their areas.
When asked for her advice for women experiencing low-confidence and a lack of self-esteem, Chara said, “It’s easy to say ‘believe in yourself’, ‘think positively’, but it’s often not easy to do. It’s recognising that you have a choice. You need to take a step at a time – your whole life isn’t going to change overnight. If you’ve been in a negative mind-set your whole life, it’s going to take a while to get out of that. Taking that first step to change is the most important thing”.
To find out more about GLOW, you can visit their website at www.glowni.com