The Importance of Peer Support and Lucy’s Blog

Sometimes I feel under pressure to ‘big’ Mothers Who Make up, to speak of grand visions of exhibitions, platforms of work, commissions, publications, festivals – all of which would be wonderful, any of which may well happen, but how it started, and the main form it still takes, is none of these things. It started as a peer support group – that is a group of people, in this case creative mothers, in a room, in a circle, sharing their experiences, listening to one another and responding. That simple. In this day and age of snazzy social media, glossy marketing materials, funky websites, I can feel almost embarrassed by the simplicity of it. Surely there should be more to it than that? And then I hear back from a mother who came to a meeting. I hear what it meant to her, and I trust again that, yes, it is that simple – people in the same room, in a circle listening to each other – and it is that powerful. We need this, in our world of snazzy social media we need it more than ever. So however Mothers Who Make grows, and I hope it does grow in many wonderful ways, it will always also be a simple, powerful peer-support group. Thank you to Lucy Simm for reminding me of this in her moving testimony to MWM here:

On the 16th May last year I made what for me at the time was a big journey by train from Halifax to Manchester with my good friend Zoe to attend a peer support group called Mothers Who Make. We didn’t really know much about it but as mothers and artists we just knew we needed to go. Excited and nervous we walked into a room full of strangers. We sat around in a circle feeling like we were attending an AA meeting. Some mothers brought along children of varying ages from babes in arms to older ones freely roaming the room and playing with toys. Some mothers had older children at school and others like me had their child with grandparents. We all had the connected experience of being mothers and artists. A very different dynamic to the usual mother and baby group. This was a room full of creatives.

I listened intently to the introduction and explanation of how the meeting would progress. The group format allows each person to talk uninterrupted for a period of time. As a mother that is a powerful thing. To be listened to. To be recognised. To be valued. The circle allows you to share personal experience, thoughts, ideas, challenges and woes in a non judgemental setting. Mothering and working creatively can both be quite isolating experiences so to have the shared support is incredibly important.

I was in the fortunate position of sharing a studio with 3 wonderful mothers who are all makers. I had their support throughout my early mothering and creative journey. This support was invaluable and allowed me to continue striving forward despite not being clear where exactly I was heading.

“Back in the room” to HOME in Manchester where I opened my heart and shared my story. Of my adventures in life, motherhood and creativity. I cried openly. I connected through shared experiences with a couple of mothers at similar stages of mothering to me. It was cathartic, it was uplifting and most of all it was empowering. I felt I could take on the world. It felt like a circle of strength.

We left the group and strode through the streets arms linked… talking not of burning bras but this time around we would be burning knickers!

Something changed within me from that one meeting. I knew I had a renewed purpose in my making. I knew I could value it as intrinsically important to my present and future life. A part of who I am as a person. I knew it had to continue to be a part of my identity. I wasn’t “just a mum”. Or “just mucking about at the studio” as I often devalued myself when explaining to others what I did… partly because I felt that’s what other people felt I was doing. HELL NO. I was in the infancy of creating “something”. I still didn’t know what that “something” was… as I was still in the exploratory experimental stages… but I needed to value that stage. It was hard to value that which didn’t create a value itself. It wasn’t earning me any money. Infact it was costing ME money to use the studio. It could have also cost me money for childcare. As a family we had made the decision for me to spend the majority of my time doing the wonderful and all consuming job of mothering. Having had a long and painful journey getting there I wanted to soak up and treasure as much time doing this as I possibly could. I also knew that to do that to the best of my abilities I needed time to be me and creatively explore who I was as a person not just a mother. Serendipity landed at my door when my little boy was one year old and I was in the privileged position to be able to jump at the chance of sharing a studio. We couldn’t have done this without the incredible support of grandparents gifting us free childcare.

I returned to Halifax where a little seed of an idea had been planted in my mind. If I felt this depth of change within me from one meeting then more mothers needed to experience this feeling. I knew in that moment that I needed to set up a group in Halifax. So I contacted Matilda Leyser the founder of Mothers Who Make and after several months of planning the Mothers Who Make Halifax group was formed on the 12th September 2016.

The group created a spring board for me to really connect with my own work. Through sharing my experiences with the group and hearing other mother makers talk of their own experiences we creatively pushed each other forward with gentle nurturing hands. Tears were frequent but not an essential part of the meetings. After 9 months I experienced a few health issues that forced me to reconnect with my personal goals. I felt I was spinning too many plates and needed to reevaluate where my energy was going, otherwise I’d rapidly be stumbling over broken crockery. I cancelled a few meetings then after a break over the summer I made the difficult decision to hand over the group to Alice Bradshaw, who has been a key supporter of MWM Halifax from the very beginning. The timing was right for both of us. Alice has done an amazing job in taking over the reins and steering the group from strength to strength. I’m a little reluctant to fully step away from the group after investing so much emotional energy into it but I’m trying my best to be a supportive member, attending meetings and not muscling in on what is now Alice’s baby.

This long story… which took me nearly 2 hours to write on a rock and roll Saturday night in… was initially intended to be a short supportive post for Mothers Who Make. But that’s where it can’t be just that. The reason it’s taken me so long to add my support to this crowdfunder and to find the headspace to write this… because it IS so much more than a few whimsical paragraphs written in between cooking tea and bedtime. Mothers Who Make allowed ME to believe in ME. Believe I could create something from nothing… starting from a blank canvas. In the early days I was often reminded of the Peter Kay song from Max and Paddys campervan road trip with the line “Don’t know where I’m going, got no way of knowing, driving on the road to nowhere”. That’s how I often felt. But deep inside I knew it would all make sense eventually. All the exploration, all the experimentation, all the soul searching.

And here I am at the end of the year having created a Facebook page, an Instagram account and my own website where I’ve just launched my first ever product. All whilst juggling life, the universe and everything in between. But I did it. And I’ll continue to do it because I believe I have a reason and a purpose for doing this. For creating my own business. For helping other mother makers to be the change they hope to see in the world. Could I have done it without Mothers Who Make? I very much doubt it. I truly believe this group needs to be supported, to enable it to support other mothers in the country like me. Who want to mother and make at the same time.

Matilda has worked incredibly hard to both create this network and to gain funding from the arts council. Please if you can dig deep in support to raise the funds needed for this campaign. A ripple of change is happening and it’s exciting and necessary for all mother makers in the country to be recognised for their hardwork and efforts in both of their undervalued, underpaid / non paid jobs.

My name is Lucy Simm. I am a mother and a maker… and I value both those jobs equally. Thank you for listening <3 

Read more about the campaign here…

And here is Lucy’s website: