Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

WOW! It’s almost time for the WOW festival (and you could get some free pants)

The WOW – Women of the World – Festival at the Southbank Centre has been a firm fixture in our calendar for a few years now. It’s a great weekend event of talks, debates, liveliness and exploration covering everything from politics, science and sex to fashion, war and power – even vajazzling – and we just love it. It’s not uncommon to see fabulous women like Sue Perkins. Jenni Eclair Bidisha Shami Chakrabati and the Vagenda team around the place and it just feels brilliant, positive and fun.

I genuinely love going and feel proud that we get asked back every year. It’s a fabulous place to meet women who are trying to make positive changes and opportunities, and to learn about new things that are going on.

This year we will be taking our massive blue suitcase of travelling pants back to the marketplace there – and we’d love it if you came and said hello.

And here’s where the free pants come in!

If you buy one of our lovely lovely logo T shirts from us on the 24th, 25th or 26th of February, and wear it to meet us at the WOW Festival, we will bring you some free pants!

All you have to do is write FREE PANTS and your pants size/style/colour in the text box that asks for a gift card message/alternate address as you checkout with your T shirt – we will bring those pants in your size to the WOW festival, and when you turn up in your T shirt, we will hand them over!

Here’s hoping to see you there!

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X marks the future.

Good morning everybody! And what a wonderful day to go and exercise your democratic right to put an X in a box. Have you been and done it yet? Don’t forget – I did forget one year and still feel the shame and so now get a postal vote so I will never let down Mrs Pankhurst again. Vive those amazing brave women who, LESS THAN A CENTURY AGO, fought for me and every woman here to have the vote. I’m quite humbled by their actions and suffering for the cause – please do read more about it if you’ve time – wikipedia has a very readable article here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragist and I heartily endorse the Fawcett Society and their excellent ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ T shirts’ http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/

Onto matter pants related, before I well up any more. Quality is still improving – when I look at how far the women have come in a few months, I’m thrilled. This does recognise that the pants a few months ago were.. not all great. In recognition of this, we will be offering everyone who bought pants from September 2009 to an as yet not agreed by Committee date, a discount or freebie or special offer sometime in the future to asy thank you for supporting us.

So, what’s happened over the last week. We’ve had visits from the Hilden Charitable Fund, from Alan Whitehead MP, from Jonathan Cheshire of the Wheatsheaf Trust, from my fab mentor Rob Bentley of Wessex Partnerships, and yesterday I had what felt like hundreds of meetings with the women, someone from Serco, and Hyde Housing.

Hyde Housing are interesting me. It would appear that Housing Associations are tasked with providing similar services to those provided by councils/the state – support into employment, debt advice, all kinds of stuff. And Hyde locally have a high number of tenants who are likely to be the same sort of people that we want to support. This is really interesting – from day one, I have wanted to support the women who are most marginalised, the ones not accessing mainstream support services. Right now we are working with women at a higher level, as otherwise we’d have even more problems getting going. But to backtrack, it’s always hard to get to these most marginalised women as most of the access routes are via support services. However, the possibility of access through their housing is a real breakthrough – those women who are stuck at home all the time will be showing up on the HA lists lists of people who they are tasked to support most, so we should be able to offer some really good stuff there. I hope! It’s long term, but a great relationship to kick off.

Serco came along to see me about a personalised employment plan thing they are looking to develop. It was a reasonable meeting but I’m not entirely sure it’s for us. As much as anything I like working with smaller groups and Serco are MAMMOTH. The woman who visited did make it plain from the start that they run places like this http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/managingborders/immigrationremovalcentres/yarlswood http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarl%27s_Wood_Immigration_Removal_Centre which, to be honest, I want us to have absolutely nothing to do with. So we shall see.

We’ve had some good news on funding. £5k from Lush has arrived into our bank account – thankyou Lush! And we have got through the first stage of an application to Ford. And Hilden and John Paul Gettys have had the further information they have requested. And we have been awarded £674 from the Co-op bank customer donation fund for computers, and £400 from local learning exchanges. So it’s trickling in.

It’s not easy though. I am not being paid at all, but am living off my UnLtd award. Which is fine til you do maths and work out that my mahoosive mortgage and having to buy a new washing machine when mine broke (erk) mean I am poorer now than I have been since I started this. I’ve even run out of overdraft. So I can empathise with the few women who, yesterday in our review meetings, made it clear that they want wages. NOW.

Remember a few months ago, I wrote this post https://beckypants.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/rolling-rolling-rolling/ about how the women came up with their own plan about how we’d progress when we couldn’t pay them. Well yesterday, we had a review, two months into the three, to see how things are going. One woman spoke for a few and made it very clear that they think they should be getting paid. She said they think they are good enough to work without the teacher now. The fact that she then went and ran her four thread machine for half an hour without noticing it only had three thread in would suggest that this was not the case. And we are still producing as many pants that need repairs, hand stitching or are seconds as we do ones that are saleable first time round. It’s really hard. I want to pay them, really. I’m no gangmaster, I’m no slave driver. But while we are ticking along with sales through the website, they are not making enough good pants for me to do any sales and marketing pushes and so we are not generating enough income to pay them. We can get grants to pay for training, but we have to show receipts from the trainer so we can’t divert money or use it for different things. We just do not have the money to pay them, and it’s really hard to get that message across. Not all of the women feel like this, and that’s great and wonderful. I do struggle with the idea that, as this woman said, ‘when you pay us we will be better but until then we don’t care’ – that’s NOT co-operation inaction, but something driven by very different motives or perhaps subject to very different pressures. I know that one women became subject to dramatic levels of domestic violence after she engaged with us (and ultimately had to leave us as she had to move away) and so it’s always in my mind that this is a real possibility, even if it’s unlikely. I also struggle with the idea of the women having to leave – it may well be that there are family pressures on them that make going out and earning ok, but going out and having fun less ok. I don’t know quite what to do here and am very glad I have my Committee to go to for help. I’m also glad that we had a very sociable lunch after this meetings, with lots and lots and LOTS of cake.

Think that’s all for today. It’s freezing in our office, again, and we are too poor to put the heating on really. I’m a bit tired of being broke, both here and at home. It seems so barmy to me that something as arbitrary and invented as money can cause such problems. I know it’s relative and that I have a house all to myself (well, I say that. Two cats take up an awful lot of sofa/bed and leave so much fluff everywhere I tend to sit down only rarely) but it’s hard when things like roofs/floors/ceilings/fences/sheds/bikes/heating/showers all break at once and I can’t afford to fix them 😦 And hard when we’ve no money t pay people. Someone find me a lottery ticket or a leprechaun, please.

Goodness me, I’ve written a lot today! Just a last few things. I had a brilliant opportunity to go and meet the wonderful folk of the Mark Thomas Mailing List on Friday night. They have very kindly supported us by donating money and paying for our lovely finance system for a year, It was great to be able to say thank you in person (and drink gin and wiffle at them of course) Big thanks to our smashing bookkeepeer Helen for the ticket and making it possible for me to go, and for the sterling work she is doing on our accounts – we are very nearly ready to have our first ever AGM, nd our first ever accounts. It feels very grown up and totally bewildering but Helen does a very good job of getting me to understand it.

Ooh, those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I have been sadly bike less for a few days. Well, my trusty steed is back with me and riding like a dream. The bottom bracket had failed catastrophically and apparently took quite some effort to remove. My very generous brother paid for the wonderful wonderful chaps at Rock and Road Southampton http://www.rocknroadcycles.co.uk to get the bit and fit it and I picked it up yesterday. We had a joyful cycle together the Common and I feel quite myself again.

Happy voting everyone, more next week… when we’ll know who’s behind the big black door.

Becky

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