Jean is a 75 year old who has been isolating since March 2020. She is pictured above with her Mums Mart friends at an International Women’s Day celebration in 2018 so it seems fitting to celebrate her today together with the rest of the Mums Mart group.

Mums Mart is a women’s group that came together when a mum broke down in tears in the school playground one day exhausted from the stress of living on a low income as a single parent with no adult conversation for weeks at a time. Another parent brought her home for a brew and the ideas flowed from there – mums and families began coming together for Saturday evening meals at the local church hall, and then table top sales to raise money to take families away on day trips and weekends.

“Some of the kids had never seen the sea” says Sharon Davis, one of the founding members and Mums Mart Treasurer whose work to support women and families is being celebrated today at an online International Women’s Day celebration for Wythenshawe women and girls organised by Mike Kane MP.

Mums Mart is one of three women-led savings groups from the Community Savers network (together with Brinnington Savers and Sheffield Social Savers) who have been supported since January by the COVID-19 Frontline Women’s Fund managed by the Smallwood Trust who support women to overcome financial adversity and improve their social and emotional well-being.

Grassroots women’s organisations have had a critical role in supporting women and families throughout the pandemic. Elderly women like Jean, who has no family nearby and a number of health challenges requiring frequent visits to hospital, have been in desperate need of support from people whom they know and trust. Mums Mart have supported Jean throughout the period with food and basic necessities, lifts to and from hospital, and regular phone calls to keep her feeling connected and positive about the future.

But what does this have to do with savings? Sharon explains how Mums Mart became the pioneer for savings-based approaches from South Africa and Kenya in 2016 catalysing the Greater Manchester Savers network (soon to relaunch as Community Savers now a group has started up in Sheffield):

 “When we first heard about savings we were an informal group of friends who were getting together every now and then to run a table top sale. We met with leaders from FedUp (Federation of the Urban Poor) and ISN (Informal Settlement Network) from South Africa and their savings approach really made sense to us. So we started up the first savings club as a Friday lunch club. Over time (working first with the University of Manchester and then with CLASS – our support agency) we developed our group so we had a constitution and bank accounts for our different activities, a membership process and a committee, and even our own members’ community fund. We visited South Africa and Nairobi to learn how they do things over there. We started doing community exchanges with other groups in neighbourhoods like ours around Greater Manchester and sometimes further afield like Glasgow and Sheffield. That’s how new savings groups have sprouted up.

There have been lots of developments since then. We are raising money locally to co-finance 10% of the cost of renovating a derelict flat into a women’s wellbeing space. Co-financing is something we learned about from savings federations in South Africa and Kenya. It means we have more of a stake in our community facilities and puts us in a leadership role.

The women in our group have grown in confidence and we have grown stronger together, we trust each other and share things with each other more than before. We look out for each other – we help families out when they are struggling and we try and bring women into the group who we hear about and think they might benefit. We started out with about five of us putting a pound away a week but now we have fifty members. People save for expensive times of year helping to avoid using credit cards or expensive loans, but the savings is just the glue. What we are really building is community.”

Well done to all the women leaders across the Savers network for your hard work and dedication in your communities throughout the last year!

Happy International Women’s Day 2021!