Indian self-help gives Glasgow food for thought

India and Provanmill composite The self-reliance idea in Glasgow came after a trip to projects in India

How to get people off benefits and into work is a question which has occupied policy makers for years. Could at least part of the answer lie in an Indian project which has inspired a group of women in one of Glasgow's poorer areas?

Amid the smell of pies and sausage rolls at a lunch club in a church hall, three or four tables are full of people chatting.

"I enjoy meeting people that's it," says one woman.

"It's the company," adds another.

Jake Crowley Jake Crawley says she hopes eventually to create her own job

The lunch club was set up last year by the Provanmill self-reliant group, local women who wanted to provide an amenity for the community but also help themselves.

Last year, women from seven different neighbourhoods in Glasgow went to Mumbai and elsewhere in India, on a trip organised by the Church of Scotland, to look at the model of their so-called self-help groups.

In India these groups have involved millions of women living in very poor conditions, coming together to save small amounts of money.

Power inside

Loans are given to members of the group to start something like a small business. It has never been just about enterprise though, more about building self confidence.

"I saw a lot of women making a difference to their lives, to their family's lives," says Liz Taylor, one of the Provanmill group who went to India and was inspired by what she saw there.

"The circumstances that they were living in you wouldn't think it would have been possible, that they would have had the power inside them, the energy, but they were able to come together, start saving and had done wonderful things with it.

The Lunch Club makes money to invest in other projects The women say the lunch club has given them self-confidence

"I knew it could work over here," she concludes.

The Provanmill group decided they would try to harness the power of women working together to try to help one of their number, Jake Crawley, realise her dream of getting off benefits and opening a laundrette.

They began by putting in £1 a week each. That buys ingredients for the lunch club and leaves a little left over. Now they also do alterations and ironing. All the women are volunteers.

Of the plans for the laundrette, Ms Crawley says: "That's me creating myself a job and a bit of self-respect, back to work."

Although the laundrette is not yet up and running there is a room in the basement of the church which the women plan to use and they are getting costings for machinery.

Thus far they have done this without outside money, but they may soon need a small loan.

Eventually they hope to be able to create jobs for other women in the area. So why does something which has its roots in India seem to be working in Glasgow?

"Having grown up in this community we know how everyone knows everyone's business," says Ellie Shields, a youth worker at the church, who also made the trip to India.

"We're all involved in each other's lives so why couldn't we support each other in this way as well?

"A lot of people see a lot of negatives in the area. They see a lot of violence, drug use, very, very poor families, a lot of social work cases, but also within that there is a lot of community spirit, there's a lot of people helping each other out.

"They all have their own talents, their own ways of surviving and so that's what this is about; it's just on a larger scale."

Bringing the self-reliant groups to Scotland is the idea of Noel Mathias, who works with the Church of Scotland. He argues a developed country can learn lessons from what women in India have done.

"We have to recognise that the poorest who live in Scotland in some of our poorest neighbourhoods have aspirations," he says, "but also have an inherent capacity to better their living conditions by themselves."

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