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Our beautiful launderette: How self reliant groups are changing lives

By Gillian Sharpe
BBC Scotland

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image captionThe Provanmill laundry opened last year

"Our wee heaven" might not be a usual way to describe a laundry, but for a group of women in Glasgow that is what they say it represents.

The BBC reported on them in 2012 and how, using the example of similar groups in India, they have been trying to improve their lives and prospects.

Opening the laundry was one of their aims, but along the way they have changed themselves and their area.

They are part of a wider movement, which is being relaunched on 30 April.

WEvolution's Self Reliant Groups (SRGs) are the first of their kind in Scotland and aim to help in a process of social and economic change in some of the country's most disadvantaged communities.

image captionJacqueline Crawley is hoping to eventually get a wage from her work in the laundry

"Our wee heaven, hiding away down here at the bottom of the church," says Jacqueline Crawley with a big smile on her face.

"Our washing machine, our dryer, our irons on and now it's all up and running.

"It's a great sense of achievement for us all, sometimes it's hard work, but we've done this and all this is ours. Brilliant."

Distant dream

Down in a church basement surrounded by the hum of the dryer and the warm smells of washing, the women of Provanmill Self Reliant Group are bringing their dream closer to reality.

Since they started in 2011 they have each saved £1 every week into the group. They run a lunch club and do other things, including alterations.

All of that has allowed them to save £7,000 and, together with a loan, that has allowed them to open the laundry. It was something which seemed like a far distant dream at the start.

The idea is that Jacqueline Crawley will eventually get a wage from it. At the moment they are still paying back their loan and drumming up enough business to make that a reality, and for the time being they are still volunteers.

"I always had a wee idea I would like to work for myself but there was never an opportunity," adds Ms Crawley.

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image captionThe hope is that the model could be replicated in many more areas

The idea for the Self Reliant Groups originated in India, where they have involved millions of women.

In 2011 women from seven different neighbourhoods in Glasgow made the trip there to see what of that idea they could bring home.

One of the people who went on the trip, classroom assistant, Liz Taylor Main, who is also part of the Provanmill group, was "amazed" by the women there and felt they could use the same ideas of support and co-operation back home.

"The purpose of it is to bring women together, share life's problems, life's issues that we all face and to create employment within the area and to bring the community together.

"I keep thinking that one day I'll wake up and find it's all a dream. It's fabulous, our wee laundry room's great."

The women in the Provanmill group say the changes have been slow, often very hard work, but real. One of their number went for a job and got it, something they say would not have happened without the confidence boost she has had.

Other groups operate elsewhere, but the hope is that the model could be replicated in even more places. Funding from the Scottish government has helped allow the recruiting of a small staff at WEvolution, which is backed by the Church of Scotland. There is also a microfinance loan fund to which groups can apply.

"It's the idea that we're working with women who in society would usually be considered not able to work," says Eleanor Campbell, development worker at WEvolution.

"A lot of people consider that they don't want to do anything besides live on benefits and we're saying this isn't the case," she adds.

"What we're seeing is people who have aspirations, they have dreams for a better life for themselves. How can we equip them?

"People that normally wouldn't be considered entrepreneurial we're helping them see that in themselves."

New skills

At another of the Self Reliant Groups in Glasgow's Maryhill, women gathered round a table are sewing aprons and other tartan products. Last year in the run up to Christmas they made advert calendars.

Many had never sewn before they joined the group and they have really enjoyed learning new skills. They have sold some of what they have made and the money has gone to buy equipment, but like other groups they have also been able to lend small amounts to members when they have been in need.

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image captionThe women have sold items they have sewn and used the money to buy new equipment

"It's 11 years now since I worked," says one of the group members.

"You lose a lot of your confidence. So I thought this was a really good idea, an informal way of getting into a social routine again and a kind of a work ethic. I think I've gained confidence from that. I feel that I am getting ready now to start looking for proper work, but this might be a job for us because that was the whole point, to be a little co-operative."

There has been some interest from other parts of the UK in the project, but this is not a quick fix.

"Many of them I've met have said, 'I couldn't even introduce myself when I first went to SRG' that's only a group of 5-10 women," says Eleanor Campbell "and you look at them now and some of them have been in London actually telling their story to MPs and that's the transformation that we're looking for."

She adds that any money being produced is not the only measure of success but they "can't ignore" the need to look at financial opportunities.

"We're working with people and we're working with people's aspirations. It's a gradual process, slow, but it's also very genuine and it's coming from the bottom up."