Funding for self defence programme helps empower girls
Young women are taking control over their lives after a self-defence class empowered them.
Being Me started as a self-defence programme for young women aged 11 to 16 in Rayleigh. Set up by Bar ‘n’ Bus Trust, the class at Rayleigh Baptist Church was so popular, the group of young women continue to meet weekly to support each other and to experience a positive social group, to raise their aspirations and get involved in art.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC) has contributed £16,240 to Bar ‘n’ Bus Trust in the form of a crime and disorder reduction grant from the 2022-2023 Community Safety Development Fund to enable the programme to continue in Rayleigh and to expand into Basildon, with classes at the Salvation Army.
PFCC Roger Hirst said: “We must do more to ensure women and girls feel safer on the streets of Essex. They must be able to spend time out in the community when and where they want and to feel safe. By arming them with the confidence and the skills to keep themselves safe, we will change behaviours.”
Jamie Sawtell, chief executive officer, said: “When we are out working on the streets, we tend to see a lot of young men. The young women tend to be out and about because of the boys being out and about. We want young women to claim these spaces. They hang around the edges at parks while the boys play football. Why do we not see women hanging around on their own?
“The idea of self-defence was a little bit about safety, but largely about confidence and assertion and saying we have the power and control and we are allowed to take it. They are powerful and in control and they could take charge if needed to and claim back their lives.
“The young women gained confidence and socialisation; developing leadership in young people has been key. As a result, some of the young women have seen a reduction in bullying they had been suffering by being more assertive and being seen less as a target.
“The main thing for us is young people feeling empowered. It is encouraging for us to see young women being empowered to take control of their lives. The future is theirs to take and that is important. There is a whole world out there and a key thing for us is for them to see the breadth of opportunity in front of them.”
The course teaches young women to be confident and aware of their rights and encourages them to hold their hands up in a defensive position and shout “back away” as loudly as possible.
One participant was able to put a stop to bullying in the school corridors by turning to her aggressor, holding up her hands and shouting – resulting in the young girl feeling empowered and surprising the bully who was not used to being stood up to.
The young people are also able to practise their defensive skills on a rubber dummy.
Zahna Hull, youth development worker, said: “The self-defence courses have been such a great way to engage young women, not only in the practical ways to defend themselves, but also how to think about their environment and the situations they might be in, to stay safe and make sensible decisions.
“I’m incredibly proud of each and every young person who has been involved.”
Of the PFCC funding, Jamie said: “The money really helps in terms of flexibility of our work. It gives the co-ordinator the flexibility to grow a programme, not just run a programme. The PFCC funding enables us to allow the young people to develop our programme.
“When it comes to community safety and prevention, we need to be that flexible.”