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CEO of Hackney charity Asma Shah wins national award for East End women’s project You Make It

PUBLISHED: 09:59 02 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:28 06 October 2017

Asma Shah. Picture: You Make It

Asma Shah. Picture: You Make It

Archant

Fresh from winning a national award, Asma Shah tells the Gazette about her journey from personal loss to helping underprivileged East End women with their own mental health.

Asma Shah speaking at a graduation event for women who have completed her You Make It project. Picture: You Make It Asma Shah speaking at a graduation event for women who have completed her You Make It project. Picture: You Make It

A decade ago, Asma Shah was battling depression after a personal tragedy. Today she’s celebrating a national award for helping others with their own mental health.

Asma’s project You Make It won social enterprise of the year at Thursday’s Precious Awards – which are dished out to women from minority ethnic backgrounds for their achievements in the workplace.

Living in the East End since her teens, Asma saw how deprivation and a lack of opportunities were affecting the mental health of women around her.

Her programme runs in Hackney and is open to 18- to 30-year-old women. It gives them skills and workplace training but differs from other employability projects in its focus on mental health and well being.

Asma Shah with one of the women she has helped (who the Gazette has been asked not to name) at a You Make It workshop. Picture: You Make It Asma Shah with one of the women she has helped (who the Gazette has been asked not to name) at a You Make It workshop. Picture: You Make It

“The most crucial point with our charity is the holistic way we work,” Asma, 44, told the Gazette. “Almost all the women starting with us suffer from depression or other forms of mental health issues. By the end, they tell us how much better they feel.”

It wasn’t just the struggles of the women around her that inspired her to set up You Make It in 2011. A few years earlier, her mother died of cancer and she began to develop depression.

“I was single,” she said. “I didn’t have any parents.

“I had my sister but she has kids, so was doing the family thing.”

Asma Shah with some of the women she has helped at a You Make It workshop. Picture: You Make It Asma Shah with some of the women she has helped at a You Make It workshop. Picture: You Make It

But she didn’t get any support for herself until she’d set up the programme that would help others. “After I’d founded it, I realised I was totally burnt out,” she admitted. “It was only after that when I sought help.”

Asma likes to see the programme as a kind of counselling rather than just an employability boost. Each woman gets a mentor for six months, and they all form strong relationships.

While the women have gone on to a diverse range of careers – from founding a dental repair business to working as a radiographer for the NHS – they tend not to have a lot to do with Asma once they’ve graduated.

“Our women do fly,” she said. “And the reality is, they don’t need us any more.”

Eventually Asma can see her programme expanding to reach more of the East End. “Some of the issues affecting women in this community also affect men, especially mental health,” she said. So once she’s secured funding for next year’s women’s programme, she’ll start planning a pilot for men.

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