A beautiful start

Place’s new beauty project got underway at the end of September with two natural skincare workshops for local women – held at the Muslim Community Organisation and Bakersfield Community Centre on 27 September.

Local women got chance to relax and enjoy a little pampering as they learnt how to create their very own natural beauty products for hands and nails, including scrubs, masks and hand creams, and how to give themselves a manicure at home.

The free workshop was run by Sadie Houston, an accomplished beauty therapist. Her products come from her family home town in Morocco, where skin and body care is a ritual handed down from generation to generation. The workshops also included tips for making effective and inexpensive beauty products from everyday ingredients at home.

We caught up with Laura Dicken, the artist leading the beauty project, and Suzannah Bedford and Laura Savage from Place, to tell us more about the workshops – and what’s next for the project.

workshop - Laura Dicken
Workshop photo by Laura Dicken

How many women came along?

Laura D: Around 26 women came to the afternoon workshop and some of them brought along their children too. It was very lively and vibrant. The evening workshop involved about 13 women, and it had a more relaxed, calm vibe. Both were incredibly special in their own way. There was a great mix of ages in both workshops, from teenagers and young mums to a lovely lady in her seventies and everyone in between. And a vibrant mix of cultures too, including ladies from the Bengali, Muslim, Indian, African and Caribbean and White British communities.

Laura S: Some of the children who came along with their mums were old enough to have a go at making beauty products themselves, which was great.

What happened at the workshops?

Laura S: The workshops began with cups of tea, biscuits and chat. Suzannah then introduced the project and handed over to Sadie so the women could get stuck in, learning about hand and nail care, before picking their ingredients and starting to create their own, handmade products. Suzannah, Laura and I wandered around and chatted to the ladies, answering any questions they had about the project and explaining how they could get involved.

Laura D: The next stage of the project will involve me photographing women for a series of portraits exploring individual notions of beauty and beautitude, for an exhibition later in the year. The workshops were a great opportunity for me to talk to the women who came along and if they were interested in being part of the exhibition, I showed them examples of my work and explained more about my work as a photographer.

Suzannah: I met Sadie on her stall at Greenwich Market in London during the summer – she seemed perfect for our project! Her approach to beauty is natural, working with ingredients you would find in the kitchen or can get hold of easily. Sadie also uses Argan oil and Rhassoul clay from her family home in Morocco – I had not heard of either ingredient before, but others knew exactly what they were being given! It was great to see many of the women connecting with aspects of their culture in a different way.

What was the women’s reaction, did it go well?

Laura D: I think the workshops were a resounding success. All the women seemed to really enjoy learning, taking time to do something for themselves, catching up with old friends and making new ones. There was a wonderful atmosphere in both workshops that felt very wholesome and inclusive.

Laura S: It was chaos at times, but good chaos, with lots of excited energy in the room. The women seemed to really enjoy it, there was lots of chatting and everyone got the chance to have a go at making a hand mask, scrub and lotion.

Were there any good conversations around beauty?

Laura S: It was wonderful to hear the women’s different opinions on beauty and what beauty means to them as an individual. It became wonderfully apparent that most women, if not everyone, believes that beauty comes from within and the different places where the ladies felt their most beautiful varied from when they’re cooking for the family, to when they’re singing!

Lauren D: Lots of women were asking Sadie questions about natural beauty and ingredients, the kind of ingredients you have at home in the kitchen. They were exchanging tips and recipes which was wonderful, and there was a generous sharing of knowledge.

Suzannah: I was moved by some of the women’s interest in the workshops, beyond themselves; for instance, one of the women is a doula in midwifery, and she was saying that the natural scents alone could have a calming effect on her women, and the application could also help with pain relief. Another woman is teaching something similar to hard-to-reach teenagers, and this gave her more ideas.

Do you have a favourite moment?

Laura D: I feel like there were so many connections being made and conversations being had it would be difficult to pinpoint a particular moment. Some women came to the workshops alone, not knowing anyone, but by the end they were chatting to other ladies like old friends. The energy and inclusivity of each workshop was very moving. As the evening workshop was a little more relaxed, at the end, the women sat in a circle and gave each other hand massages. I found that to be a special moment, for the ladies to both give and receive something caring.

Suzannah: So many special moments, but one has stayed with me: Sadie was describing how to make a bath tea bag using powdered milk, flowers and rose petals – the dreamy look on one of our older participant’s faces suggested it was a faraway dream of luxury, and I knew we have to get the recipe out to our women! That’s what this work is about: connecting those aspirations, however big or small, closer to being a reality.

How do you feel now the project is underway?

Laura D: It felt amazing to get the project underway. The workshops were both very special and Sadie was fantastic. It was a wonderful way to give back to the women of Sneinton and introduce the idea of the project to them. I’m looking forward to getting to know them more and making portraits with them. Sneinton has such a diverse and rich community, it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.

Laura S: It was great meeting all the ladies who came along to the workshops, lots of incredibly beautiful women inside and out, with lots of life and stories to tell.

Suzannah: I can’t wait for the portraits. They will be beautiful and will help us tell the story of the many different women from the many different cultures that make life in Sneinton so rich.

What’s happening now?

Laura D: The next step will be for me to build relationships with the women who expressed an interest in being part of the project and having a portrait made. Then I’ll be setting up the photoshoots and making the work.

Laura S: The portraits will be exhibited somewhere around Sneinton, we’re just in the process of confirming a date and space for the exhibition so keep your eyes peeled on Place’s Facebook and Instagram for more info!

Suzannah: The portraits will be part of an exhibition – we’ll confirm the date and venue soon, but ALL are welcome. The community are our VIPs, and we want to make it a wonderful celebration of all the conversations, workshops and relationships that have been part of our journey.