At a time when the meaning of employment is shifting for many, newcomer women are finding some stability through this work. Their confidence is growing as they see their skills being valued, and thanks to Madderhouse and Watson & Lou their visibility and impact as makers continues to grow in our community.
As we celebrated the end of our Creative Entrepreneurship for Newcomer Women project last month, we asked the participating women about where they would like to go next. The consensus was to keep going as a group; to continue working together because “with a team it’s easier to do something good”, said participant Fabiola Contreras Carrasco. That was the last time we were able to meet and share a meal together. Our new reality of staying at home and social-distancing unfolded immediately after, and we began to think of new ways to bring these women together again.
Three weeks later, a request emerged from the frontline health workers at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) for caps and headbands. We re-connected with Madderhouse Textiles Studios once again, and with further support from Repair Café Peterborough, a new community sewing initiative was launched. Several of our newcomer women from our sewing program joined in and volunteered their time and skills, along with 100+ community members. Within a week, the initial goal of producing 600+ caps and headbands had been met, and has since more than doubled. Inspired by our strong volunteer force, we immediately joined PRHC’s 1000 Mask Challenge. By then, Madderhouse was receiving and processing fabric donations, and volunteers including newcomer women were coming by nightly between 6-8 pm to drop-off their completed items and pick-up fabric and materials for more.
As we transitioned into mask-making, Madderhouse and Watson & Lou began receiving requests from the public for masks for purchase, and saw an opportunity to revive our newcomer women “collective” in order to fill this emerging gap in the community. Seeing this as a natural evolution to our previous project and a continuation of our existing partnership, we teamed up with them once again to produce a unique line of face masks that are now available online for sale. With the artistic guidance of Leslie Menagh, the fabric is being screen-printed at Madderhouse and then picked up by participating newcomer women to sew into masks in their own homes. Once completed, they bring them back to Madderhouse for quality control before handing them over to Watson & Lou where they become available for sale on their website.
The piloting of this socially-distanced collective work is an important milestone in the creation of further work opportunities for these women. At a time when the meaning of employment is shifting for many, newcomer women are finding some stability through this work. Their confidence is growing as they see their skills being valued, and thanks to Madderhouse and Watson & Lou their visibility and impact as makers continues to grow in our community.
Our goal through the Peterborough Immigration Partnership (PIP) is to establish strong connections with individuals and organizations in our community who share our values and goals and provide continuity to the work that we do. Through this initiative, we are highlighting the important work of both Madderhouse and Watson & Lou in supporting newcomer women. We are also supporting the transition of these women into meaningful and supportive employment opportunities that provide them with the flexibility and stability that they need. What’s more, they continue to volunteer their time otherwise in producing free personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers in Peterborough.
Community initiatives like this allow us to build on the successes of previous projects and support the growth of newcomer women who are participating in our ongoing programs. This project also contributes to the ongoing discourse around gendered work and sheds light on the level and scope of impact it can have for our partners, newcomer women, and the community as a whole.