St Mary’s Community Centre

St Mary’s is a former church – and now community centre – in Sheffield. From this base a range of local initiatives is run, including English lessons for excluded women from ethnic minority communities, a ‘time bank’ to support local volunteering community connections, and a café which tackles food waste.

Lankelly Chase funds St Mary’s use of ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ techniques to support local Pakistani women who are marginalised and discriminated against – both within and outside their own community – and enable them to take control of the issues which affect them. This means that rather than conversations with vulnerable women being based on needs and ‘deficits’, they aim to identify their strengths, assets and capacity for positive change. This then results in improved wellbeing, motivation, energy and strength to the stage where the women can help to co-design new approaches to the social problems which caused their disadvantage in the first place. It is not just aimed at changing behaviours, but is focused on having a profound and positive impact on the women’s sense of personal identity, through giving them the time, opportunity and space to express themselves that they’ve never had before.

The St Mary’s approach is based on the idea that people at ‘the bottom of the ladder’ can offer a transformational insight that nobody else possesses, and that disadvantaged people should have a central role in designing their own solutions: this is a belief shared by all of Lankelly Chase’s funded projects. St Mary’s work Inquiry is backed up by rigorous and ongoing academic research about the Appreciative Inquiry method, and there is a particular emphasis on how this approach can be transferred over to other local areas and to different groups of disadvantaged people.

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