WEA tutor awarded prestigious award

Sewing light into Manchester’s rich tapestry

WEA tutor, Taslima Ahmad has been formally presented with a ‘Points of Light’ award. This is a prestigious award by the Prime Minister’s Office, where recipients are selected for making an outstanding impact and change in their community. 

Taslima is an inspirational Tutor and Founder/Creative Director of a successful textiles design and training company Creative Design & Manufacture UK (CDM UK), based in Ardwick, Manchester. Through her work with the WEA, Taslima is able to connect deep into communities facing some of the greatest challenges, to throw women a lifeline of connection and purpose.

Taslima’s learners are women often on the margins of society. She reaches women who are from deprived communities, often isolated with social expectations to stay at home, some with caring responsibilities, others disabled and some suffering mental health challenges.

Since 2020, learners have received free places on ‘Sewing for Employability’ – starting at beginner level to advanced fabric printing, dress making and embroidery, suitable for high-end high-street stores. The quality of product is so good that the women have been invited to successfully sell their wares at a weekly craft fair, with proceeds providing for their next creative projects.

But this story is not really about perfectioning dress-making skills. It is more about the life journey of the students as they are able to connect with and contribute more to their community. 

Through word of mouth, the ‘Sewing for Employability’ programme has reached and been an anchor for women from a wide range of backgrounds across Greater Manchester. Even during the pandemic, Taslima, after being taught by her daughter, took her classes onto Zoom to keep her growing community together. As a result, more learners joined as classes become even more accessible to isolated and vulnerable members of the community. 

The WEA classes are stitching together the rich tapestry of the community. As Taslima puts it, “There are Muslim women, African women, Chinese women, who arrive unsure of their ethnically different classmates. But, through conversation around the sewing machines, or online chat in our Zoom lessons, they get to know each other’s religions more and strong friendships result.”

In a personal letter to Taslima, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“You have brought new meaning to the ‘Cottonopolis’ that is Manchester, by preserving and promoting the shared heritage of hand processed textile manufacturing of Britain and South Asia. 

“You have also created a space where people suffering the most appalling abuse can rebuild their lives, build connections and friendships and move their lives forward.”

Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, said:

“I’m really pleased to see Taslima’s work has been recognised. She’s provided a fantastic service to thousands of women and school children across Manchester and this award is thoroughly well deserved.”

Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive & General Secretary for the WEA, said:

“The WEA is determined to bring adult education in reach of everyone who needs it. Taslima is a shining example of the impact inspiring WEA tutors can have on their community. We are proud to have her. We are, together, reaching parts that traditional adult education cannot, delivering confidence, connections and access to good work.”

Taslima Ahmad, WEA Tutor and Founder/Creative Director of CDM UK, said:

“It seems unreal. But this award is not just mine, I share it with my learners to inspire them. I always tell them about other women who have gone from nothing to being successful - it can be done.

“It’s all about the women. My learners were so proud to be sewing masks and scrub bags for NHS staff through the pandemic and now selling their scarves and dresses at the craft fair. I just love to see their faces, and those of their families who have grown to love and support their work.”

Taslima’s ‘Sewing for Employability' classes are fully booked at the moment, but other steps into employment or self-employment courses are available, please visit wea.org.uk/skills. To enquire about using CDM UK’s workshop facilities email i[email protected].