One small suggestion from a Scout has spawned a burgeoning community project where homemade gift bags bring much-needed joy to victims of domestic abuse
The table is full of intricate and quirky charms: little silver stars, different coloured hearts, red Monopoly houses and yellow buttons. There are also threads of every colour, and golden bracelets. At one end of the table, a pair of hands is using pliers to open a thick silver chain. On the other side, a pair of eyes squint while fingers carefully thread a string through a golden heart. Someone else is covering a bangle with fine wool using a technique called ‘knit and knot’.
It’s a cold Tuesday night and the Scouts of 1st Healing Scout Group in Grimsby are busy making jewellery. These accessories will go inside the gift bags they’re preparing for the Grimsby Women’s Refuge. The refuge falls within the North East Lincolnshire branch of Women’s Aid and acts as a safe house for women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse; a place where they can live free from violence.
Scout Section Leader Louise Drakes is the adult driving force behind the gift bag project. Whether she’s out collecting old pieces of jewellery to up-cycle or saving any piece of material she can lay her hands on (extra fabric? ‘Perfect for a small headband!’), Louise is constantly thinking about new items to put in the gift bags and more ways of inspiring her Scouts to use their creativity to help others.
‘As leaders, we bring our own skills and our own craft into the Group,’ says Louise while she ‘knits and knots’ a bracelet and prepares the room for a guest speaker. While Louise is always on the lookout for projects that will have an impact on the local community, the idea of working with the refuge came from her son, Will. Will is a member of the 1st Healing Scout Group and has been part of the Movement since he was a Cub. His idea to make gift bags for the refuge came after finding out that a mother of a fellow Scout was working there.
When Will first pitched the idea, Louise was quickly convinced and what started out as a small Christmas project, with 10 gift bags in December 2016, has quickly grown into a fully fledged community impact project. For Mother’s Day 2017, the Group delivered 20 gift bags to the refuge and for Christmas 2017, a total of 30 gift bags were lovingly made and delivered.‘It’s a very important action,’ says Louise. ‘Women at the refuge do receive donations over Christmas but these are very personal gifts that we make for them.’
A quick look inside their meeting place and there’s no doubt that everyone is committed to making the very best gift bags they can. Henry, who’s in charge of the music tonight (making a speaker out of a pink plastic cup), is busy adding extra charms to a bracelet. Afeef has already finished three necklaces tonight and two parents have stayed this evening to help knit scarves. But beyond the creativity, and at the core of this project, is the issue of domestic abuse in the community. Janice Woods from Women’s Aid is here to talk to the Scouts about the impact of domestic abuse. ‘It’s very important for us to have the speaker here tonight because that’s what’s going to help the Scouts really understand why we’re doing what we’re doing,’ says Louise.
Domestic abuse is not an easy subject to address with young people, so Janice framed the conversation around the subject of bullying.
‘At some point or another in your life, you’ve all experienced bullying. Is that a good or a bad thing? Is it something we do?’ Janice asks the group. The Scouts are all quick to respond with a resounding ‘no’ and then go on to give different explanations as to why bullying is so harmful.
‘It can make people very sad,’ says Henry. ‘People who get bullied can get mental health issues,’ adds Lilly.
‘It’s like hammering a nail into a fence and then taking the nail out when someone says sorry,’ says Ben. ‘You take the nail out but the hole is still there and then you have to live with that hole.’
It is instances and observations like this that make Tracy Kelly, the former Grimsby Cub Leader and an occasional helper for the Scout section, feel incredibly optimistic about the impact of this project on both the community and the young people involved.
‘I think the young people feel very proud,’ says Tracy. ‘It’s always great to feel that you’re involved because that’s really what Scouting is all about, it’s about getting involved in the community and about teaching young people skills.’
To make sure the project includes the community on a larger scale, Louise has invited the town to participate by donating different materials. She’s approached people through the Healing Community Facebook group and the results have been astounding: all sorts of craft supplies and broken or old jewellery have been donated. ‘Word has gotten out and the people of Healing are very appreciative,’ says Tracy. ‘When I chat to people around town, they know about the work the Group does, the information definitely gets around.’
As for the Scouts themselves, creativity and craft making is exciting and, according to Louise, it tends to have a very positive impact on the Scouts’ mental wellbeing, helping them feel confident and more relaxed. But the biggest accomplishment comes from being able to help. ‘It feels really good because you know you’re helping people who are in very difficult situations,’ says Emily, who’s been part of Scouts since she was a Cub.
That help comes in the form of gift bags containing items such as shampoo, soap, socks, handcrafted jewellery and knitted scarfs. But the real service is the commitment and the genuine care from the 1st Healing Scout Group every time they ‘knit and knot’ a new bracelet with their community in mind.
From a woman at the refuge:
‘Young people like you are an inspiration’
‘My children and I have been in refuge for almost six months, and will remain in refuge until a safe place to live
is found for us. When we first arrived we had very little.
We were in the position of having to rebuild our lives and forget about the things we had to leave behind. To be given a gift bag of any kind was superb – even the toiletries were appreciated greatly. Some women have absolutely nothing when they come here; only the clothes they stand in.
‘The benefit of addressing the topic of domestic abuse with young people is awareness. Some young people may not realise what abuse is. It doesn’t have to be physical; it can be emotional as well. Also some young people may be being abused without even knowing it, because it’s all they have ever known. It’s important to be able to point them in the right direction if they need help and show them who they can turn to.
‘If you know someone who is suffering from, or witnessing, domestic abuse then listen to them and give them reassurance that they are not to blame. Try to encourage them to contact the appropriate agencies that can offer professional support.
‘I’d like to say to 1st Healing Scout Group: thank you so much for the wonderful gift bags and donations that you give to Women’s Aid and for all the hard work that you do. Young people like you are an inspiration to others and bring so many smiles to the faces of families that would otherwise struggle and go without.’