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Service

A lasting impact

Christy Bischoff of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting, South Carolina, interviewed women and children in Belfast about the effect a year at Quaker Cottage had on their lives

‘I am trying to think of the nearest word you could even use to describe the place... Magic, I suppose, magic how the year started and how the year ended. How different your life could be within a year, how much you could move on.’ Magic: the concept captures something beyond what we are able to put into words. It feels like more is possible than what we imagined. I do think this is a good concept to describe Quaker Cottage, a crosscommunity family support centre run by the Ulster Quaker Service Committee, serving families in North and West Belfast who have been referred by social and health professionals. Strategically located half way up Black Mountain, with one road down leading to a Protestant estate and one leading to a Catholic estate, the view of Belfast is breathtaking. It is an ideal location for the many women and children who attend a one-year intensive program, to have a break from chaos or violence that may surround their lives. As Quakers, the belief of ‘that of God in everyone’ is central to our understanding of humanity. The actions this requires of us

are full of challenges. How do we ‘speak to that of God in everyone?’ I believe that Quaker Cottage is a place where this question is lived out. It is a place of respect and acceptance for many who may have not found acceptance in other places, be it from their own family or community. It is a place about which I believe Quakers should know, the work being done in their name, a place where ‘Quaker ethos’ is practiced each day. After having worked at Quaker Cottage for over two years, I chose to write my MA dissertation about the work and impact of Quaker Cottage. These findings I want to share with you because I was amazed and humbled by the stories and testimonies of the women about how Quaker Cottage had impacted their lives. I interviewed thirteen women who had previously attended Quaker

‘they give you your

self-confidence back,

they give you love, they

make you feel warm’

Cottage, wanting to find out if the year long program had lasting effects. I knew the changes I had seen in families during the year they were there, but what happened afterwards? It was not so much the external changes the women spoke of, but of the internal changes and feelings they still held close. What the women spoke of again and again was respect, trust, support, and acceptance, which could all be summed up into the word ‘love’. One woman summed it up by saying, ‘they showed me love big time, and I didn’t know what it was.’ The year long program involves Catholic and Protestant (each group is mixed) mothers and their children who attend Quaker Cottage two days a week (with the after-school children attending one day a week with their age group). The staff seek to meet the needs of the families, whatever they may be – from material needs to emotional or psychological needs. One woman expressed the difficulty in explaining what you did up at Quaker Cottage to others, ‘It is just so so hard to explain, I mean you couldn’t start to tell anybody that has never been to

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the Friend , 3 November 2006