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Low self esteem affects women in UK prisons

Written by Life Clubs

This was written about us by Sangeeta Waldron on her blog Justmeans.

Every year more than 9,000 women find themselves in UK prisons. For many, it is their first time. Employment for women following short prison sentences is three times worse than for men, as fewer than one in ten women have a job to go to on release. The lack of childcare support, qualifications and low pay are all barriers for many women offenders to find work. While research suggests that challenges such as mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency, educational gaps, low self-esteem and lack of confidence disproportionately affect women in the prison system. The combination of two or more of these disadvantages can severely restrict a woman’s ability to stay the course and succeed in learning and training.

Lauren Cherry was about to find out just how hard life could be when she faced these same challenges during her 11 months in a prison cell. Her journey inside was a combination of being constantly moved around the system, presented with new situations, new cellmates and different people throughout her prison stay. Cherry says, “The only certainty was uncertainty. In ten months, I read 65 books, one of which was Nina Grunfeld’s, The Big Book of Me.” This book changed Cherry’s life. After her release, Cherry found herself working with Grunfeld and Life Clubs.

Grunfeld is a best-selling author, along with her successful, Life Clubs and her “Get A Life” column in The Daily Telegraph.  

Through Life Clubs, Grunfeld has changed the lives of individuals and helped many FTSE 100 corporates, as well as the NHS. Life Clubs gave Cherry the tools to make a brighter future for herself and importantly, never to reoffend. Now Grunfeld runs Life Clubs at Work with the help of Cherry, who heads up the Prison and Community services, helping ex-offenders and those inside how to live in the present, understand that being happy is a choice rather than a result from external forces and giving them the tools to make better decisions.

If women have jobs that enable them to find and keep secure housing, look after their children and move away from abusive relationships, they are less likely to turn to crime or reoffend. But they need support. Inside, Cherry taught her fellow inmates about business and accounting, she studied hairdressing and trained as a Samaritan and a butcher. Close to her release, she began working with the award-winning UK charity, Working Chance, which supports women with criminal convictions and women care leavers to find quality work with mainstream employers.

This month, Cherry began co-presenting a weekly radio programme with National Prison Radio. The show Straightline, will be airing nationally and in prisons, so everyone can listen. Straightline wants to strengthen the bond between prisoners and their families and friends. It's proven that individuals are less likely to re-offend if they have strong connections on the outside.

Photo Credit: Women in Prison


What happened to bravery?

Written by Life Clubs

I find living in Central London very exciting. Right now we are fighting (interesting choice of word, 'campaigning' might be better, but sadly it feels like a fight) to try and protect our tiny local park, right next to the House of Lords. It's the kind of park that would be allowed to have a normal existence, dog walkers, picnickers, lovers etc were it anywhere else in London, but a year or so ago, David Cameron decided it should house a Holocaust memorial and exhibition centre (you may have seen the designs already) and we, a small but fierce, band of locals are bravely protesting. We want to keep our park a park.

I know, it doesn't make sense. My parents were refugees from Nazi Germany so I shouldn't want the world to forget about hatred - and I don't, but that doesn't mean I want another memorial and I know it's not what they would have wanted. My mother did nothing but praise the kind people who looked after her when she arrived here, but they were in Oxford and Sheffield, not Westminster. I'm sure she would want a plaque for them or, better still, for the £50 million the memorial and exhibition centre will cost, to go towards helping new refugees to settle here. Do memorials really do any good?

Our brave fight has introduced me to brilliant neighbours (campaigners) those full of energy who work 24/7 emailing, calling the press and printing leaflets alongside their full-time work. But it's also introduced me to people who will lie down and accept whatever is thrown at them rather than fight. And that I find hard to accept.

The first of these people was the headmaster of the local school who I casually asked which side he was backing? 'Neither' he replied 'I'm remaining neutral. But I wouldn't waste your time' he continued 'it's a fait accompli. You don't stand a chance.'

Life is full of people who don't believe you should try anything unless you have a 100% likelihood of succeeding. It's a simple but clear strategy and makes perfect sense. I remember many of those people from my childhood. The jewellery teacher who said I couldn't come to his class to make a Russian wedding ring - 'it's like wanting to run before you can walk' and the man who ran the car maintenance classes I wanted to attend who said to an enthusiastic 16-year old, 'you'll be eaten alive in this class, dear'.

Luckily there are those of us who want to fight for what we love whether or not we believe we're going  to win. Maybe we're naive in thinking we can make a difference or get our own way, but it's important for us to try. Our view is that so long as we give it our best shot and remain optimistic who knows what might happen.

What is it that drives us? I know for me it's largely to do with freedom. To me that park represents freedom and I want the political freedom to try and rescue it. I know that persistence comes into it too. I can be persistent if I want something. And I believe it's also important to be brave and to do your best. To give your all to a cause you believe in.

And what I want right now is for all those nay-sayers, the ones who insist that something cannot be done, to sit back, watch us fight and be open to what we're saying.

I don't know if it's my values of freedom, equality and bravery that make me so strident, but I've never given up and I won't now.

For those of you who are curious, a couple of excellent extra articles (one and two) on the subject and a link where you can join me in being brave.

7 reasons to be cheerful

Written by Life Clubs

I don’t want to get political but when I saw Lucy Mangan’s article with the same 'Reasons to be cheerful’ title in The Guardian I felt it was perfect timing. Below are my reasons to be cheerful and I hope they work for you too… We would love to hear your 7 reasons for being cheerful, get interactive by telling us on our Facebook and Twitter.

  1. I’m discovering the joy of putting down my phone and reading again. Loving the new Hogarth Shakespeare series – modern retellings of Shakespeare. Started with Jeanette Winterson and now on a roll.
  2. Walking the dog in Green Park after a long day at work and seeing her pink fairy light collar flashing in the dark as she frisks around.

  1. A new series of Suits, my guilty pleasure.
  2. Having friends to stay and being able to chat whenever we feel like it rather than just over a meal.
  3. Our kitchen is now almost finished after a pre-Brexit flood. I was so upset by the loss of our kitchen that it took me ages to decide what I wanted. Now it looks better than I could ever have imagined.
  4. The kindness of people (and this I’m copying from Lucy M). I love talking to strangers in the tube, smiling at people walking down the street – that warm, spontaneous interaction that can happen all the time if you allow it to.
  5. And finally, Life Clubs has started again for the year and I’m so excited. It’s all of you who make my life worthwhile and the kind things you say about Life Clubs and watching it help you change your lives. Book in today and let it support you in yours.
As you know by now, it doesn’t matter which month you join us in, if you buy for 10 months your payment will roll over into 2018. It’s a great investment in you. 

Before I learnt about what I valued...

Written by Life Clubs

Before I knew anything about personal development, I always rather fancied working as a Reality TV presenter. I went to lots of interviews and often got through to the third or fourth round of auditions only to sabotage my chances at the final stage. Things kept going wrong and I wasn't sure why. My final interview was for a programme which I would have been co-presenting with three other women, looking at people’s real life problems and offering live advice. A sort of TV Agony Aunt. It sounded a perfect fit.

Six of my potential co-presenters were at the audition too and the first person we were being asked to advise was a woman who was very heavily in debt and about to get married. The question was whether she should tell her fiancé about her debt. 

I sat there listening to the other would-be presenters making light of the problem, ‘She needn’t tell her fiancé at this stage – she’s allowed a few secrets.  You don’t always have to tell your partner everything. What matters is that they love each other.’ And the more they skirted round – what I saw as the seriousness of the woman’s predicament - the more I realised how strongly I felt about being honest.

I not only felt that there was no way this lady should be marrying a man she was going to lie to, but (big Lifebulb Moment coming up) I also realised that there was no way I could work in Reality TV, alongside presenters like these, offering what I thought of as flawed ‘advice’ to people for the sake of entertainment.

I sat quietly through that entire interview, knowing that by my silence I was once again sabotaging my chances of working in Reality TV.

Looking back over all my auditions I noticed a pattern emerging. Each time I had understood how distorting the truth would have made the program more interesting – and my presenting skills more impressive – because of my value of honesty I was unable to do it. It was clear that my future was not in Reality TV.

Bounce into 2017

Written by Life Clubs

By Ayana Rollings-Kamara, First year Psychology Student at Brunel University, interning with Life Clubs

Are we all expected to be like an elastic band? And simply spring back into shape after we have been pulled and manipulated consistently?

The short answer is yes. While it may not be expected it still is assumed that after a bereavement, divorce or even moving house we can simply ‘ bounce back’ to our usual selves.

A lot of people, me included, find it difficult to come back from our challenges and stressors. This doesn't however mean that we have to act as if we have forgotten about what brought us down but instead use the strength gained from the challenge for the better.

Some believe that we need to be taught resilience and others that we already possess it. We believe it is a bit of both, that is why we don’t simply think you can ‘bounce back’ but that you can ‘bounce back higher’. At Life Clubs we assume that you have previously been through hard times and have come back from them, so you can do it again – with even more of a spring in your step.

No one has walked through life without experiencing one bad day, we have all had our troubles and hard times. The key to resilience is the ability to look forward to next week and not worry about what troubles you have and are facing.

Life Clubs wants to help you spring, run and jump after a challenge and give you the boost you need to come back higher. 

10 Tips to keep you resilient

Written by Life Clubs

This week has heralded the first cold week of weather in London and the results of one of the bitterest and most drawn out elections I remember. Plus everyone around me has either had some tummy bug or flu this week, which has been no fun for them, and my youngest child is becoming an adult (18) today. What a week...

I thought it would be helpful to give you a quick précis of the 10 American Psychological Association's tips for  becoming resilient.

Those of you who know our workshops will realise that we cover all these tips within each and every one of our workshops, which is why regular attendance is so helpful.

1. Maintain a hopeful outlook.
An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

2. Nurture a positive view of yourself.
Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

3. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

4. Make connections.
Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Assisting others in their time of need can also benefit the helper.

5. Take care of yourself.
Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

6. Accept that change is a part of living.
Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

7. Keep things in perspective.
Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.


8. Take decisive actions.
Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.

9. Move toward your goals.
Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"

10. Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.

With thanks to the American Psychological Association.

If you can't get to one of our workshops, buying one of our online workshop series will be almost as rewarding with the extra bonus that you can look at them on your phone. Wonderful.

5 Women who inspired me

Written by Life Clubs

I’ve been lucky enough to be nominated for one of the Women of the Year awards this year, which means, to quote their website, that I have been considered an ‘extraordinary woman’ with ‘significant achievements’ by at least one person.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be going along especially as I’m not someone who enters competitions or wins awards. I don’t even vote for my favourite Strictly contender. But I’m delighted to be meeting lots of women who do great things at the lunch on Monday and feel very privileged to have been included as I know there are many, many unsung heroes around.
Having this accolade has made me think about the women who’ve inspired me in my life and it has been very much the unsung heroes. I loved reading Jane Austen and watching the progression of Bridget Riley’s fabulous art. But did it inspire me? Not really. I’ve enjoyed reading the masters of self-development from Barbara Sher to Susan Jeffers, but did they inspire me? Not really. The key inspirers in my life were the real women who I met regularly as a child who opened views for me as to how life could be.
As I wrote my list, at the top was the lady who lived in the flat upstairs, American Donna. Donna was an artist - an illustrator, who created calendars for the Royal College of Art and other gorgeous things. Her work was created with a thin ink pen that seemed to splodge in all the right places. Donna showed me that it was possible to do what you love, work at home and be visually creative. Donna inspired my first career – that of graphic designer.
The second woman I wrote on my list was my mother. For many years my mother was my best friend and, in between, she was also my worst enemy. It wasn’t a perfect relationship – not sure any mother/daughter relationships are, but my mother certainly inspired me. She was a single parent and, from her, I learnt the importance of independence. Mummy did everything – from mending the sash cords on our windows to running the home and bringing up my brother and me. I never saw her cry or get angry and she only shouted at me once when, as a ‘naughty’ teenager I came home very late at night. It was only once I had children that I truly realised how incredible she was doing all that alone.

 My mother’s great-aunt, Vera, was also a huge influence on me. Vera was one of the last to analyse with Carl Jung and became a leading figure in the Jungian world. Vera always seemed to me a wonderfully calm and interesting presence, if not a little formidable. Although much older than me, she was always interested in me, never patronising and opened up the possibility of being able to work in a field where you could be involved with people and listen and talk.
My mother’s best friend was another great influence. Annemarie had no children that we had to play with– instead she arrived alone and oozed glamour and fun, from red lipstick to high heels and stockings with seams. She made everyone around her laugh and feel comfortable. I so enjoyed being in her company and wanted to be like her when I was older. I’ve never managed it, but still love relaxing and laughing with a group of friends.
And finally, our childhood neighbour, Mrs Dubens (in those days parents had surnames), was a remarkable woman. I was great friends with her daughter, Alice, and my brother was friends with her son and so we were in and out of each others flats all the time. I remember when my mother told me that Mrs Dubens had started a sandwich shop and was running it. I was so impressed. She was probably the first female entrepreneur I’d come across and made me want to be one too.
I’m still inspired by the women I meet, but it tends to be the ones I know rather than those in the spotlight. My daughters, for example, with their openness, honesty, humour and hard work ethic also both move and encourage me. I love spending time with them.

Are you putting yourself in a box?

Written by Life Clubs

Today one of my long-lost relations took me around four churches and had me spellbound. I always consider myself not particularly interested in history and with no affinity to any religion and yet he managed to make everything interesting.

I learnt about how the first part of the church that's built is around the altar so services can start instantly. I learnt how Medieval churches would have been painted from top to toe, so the pure stone look they have now isn't original and I learnt how difficult it is to restore a church (or any other building) as you have to decide on which period you want the church to 'go back' to...

When I said to him at the end of the day that I felt he was a born teacher, he's so brilliant at inspiring me and at making things I didn't feel were interesting sound fascinating, he said he had always hated school and felt he had no ability to teach whatsoever. Sadly he'd boxed himself in...

I know I can box myself in - I never wanted to teach either and, in a way, working with groups of people is what I do now and, most importantly, what I love. 

Negative thoughts like these can box us in, and ultimately stop us from achieving our potential. They can even separate us from our values.

Maybe we need to 'go back' to our strengths and values and make sure that we haven't boxed ourselves in.



A Great Summer Read!

Written by Life Clubs
I'm one of those people who has lots of acquaintances and very few close friends. I've always been lucky having family I adore and have never wanted for much more until reading Elena Ferrante's  My Brilliant Friend  series which was recommended to me by my gorgeous literary god-daughter and I'm thoroughly enjoying.

The Ferrante series is relevant for our wonderful Making Better Connections month as it's about two women and their friendship from early childhood into their sixties. 

The entire female best friends relationship is portrayed - from the admiration to the envy and even, hatred. We see them through years of not seeing each other, but ever present is this intensity and love/hate pull. My only sadness with the books is that few of the other characters are portrayed as fully as the two central ones, but that obsessive relationship between two strong women has eluded me all my life and so I'm thoroughly enjoying reading about it. Their relationship is almost like a adolescent relationship which has never matured - compelling, addictive and time-consuming. Great to read about but not so great to have!

How to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs ...

Written by Life Clubs


A Londoner by birth, I know my way round my 'patch' pretty well and am also fully aware that I've learnt most of my best driving routes by following taxis heading in roughly the same direction as me and seeing where they go and the routes they take. Their knowledge has stood me in good stead throughout the years.

I somehow managed to skip the sat nav in my car stage, but since I got my iPhone I've made up for lost time by endlessly checking Google maps in case they've got a short cut I don't know about. Most of the time I really don't need to use it, but every now and again it has introduced me to a new set of streets which I really appreciate.

Last week we had the start of the short-lived heatwave and I was driving home on a journey I've known since childhood, but Google maps was suggesting a different route, so I decided to have an adventure...

I'm not going to go into much detail because car stories are very boring and I feel I could easily go down that route and lose you all (forgive the pun). Suffice it to say that I was in the wrong lane at the traffic lights and I held someone up for a few seconds as I moved out of the way.

Instead of a gentle hoot on her horn, this lady hung her head out of the window and shouted at the top of her voice "You stupid old bag".
I have been shouted at in the past, but I think I was most taken aback by being called 'old'. I'm not sure how many of you are at the grey hair stage, but, I'm going to speak for all of us to say that no matter what we look like, we certainly don't feel old. 

But, other than that, I was amazed at how calmly I handled her anger. I realised that my behaviour was the tipping point, the icing on the cake for her . Yes, she was cross with me (and rightly so), but she was angry way before she encountered me. She may well have had a bad day, I may well have reminded her of her mother or someone else that angered and exasperated her, she may well have been frustrated at work... it could have been anything. But, what for me was important, was that I noticed I didn't rise to the occasion and start feeling angry myself. I knew I was in the wrong and I forgave myself - and her.

When someone shouts at you it feels horrible and yet you can't be responsible for another person's anger. They may be cross or frustrated by you and what you've done, but, more often than not you have triggering a 'backstory' - some other situation which you had nothing to do with. Breathe, walk away, get a glass of water, apologise to them for whatever you did, but remember that their anger is nothing to do with you.

Come to Life Clubs and find out how you can keep your cool this summer!

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