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Volunteers' Week: Empowering women with the King's Civic Challenge

Reverend Sarah Farrow is Vice Dean and Chaplain to the St Thomas’ & Waterloo Campuses. She took part in the King’s Civic Challenge and put together a proposal with her team for Housing for Women – a charity championing female empowerment by providing and promoting affordable homes for women and gender-specific support services. The project the team developed for Housing for Women aims to empower women and provide them with a safe space to speak up and share their stories about what home means to them. The team were awarded a grant under the ‘Multiple Perspectives’ category. In this interview for Volunteers’ Week, Sarah recalls the role volunteering has had in her life, shares what motivated her to take part in King’s Civic Challenge and talks about her experience working in a diverse team to support Housing for Women.

Can you tell us about what volunteering means to you?

Volunteering has always been a part of my life. I grew up going to a Quaker school, where volunteering was a part of the school curriculum. When we were toddlers, my mum used to take me and my brother to the soup kitchen and we’d sit on the counter while she’d be preparing the meals. So I’ve always been volunteering, and that stayed with me through university and until now. I’m working with local food banks, mutual aid groups, and I’m a trustee for a few non-profits.

I’m a trustee of a new charity called VolunTREE, an organisation started by young doctors and looking to connect people with skillsets with those in need. Look out for it if you’re interested in working with refugees abroad and in the UK through mentorship and other educational programmes!

Volunteering is just part of my outlook of how to live with people – by extending helping hands, because you never know which side of the hand you’re going to be.– Rev’d Sarah Farrow, Vice Dean and Chaplain to the St Thomas’ & Waterloo Campuses

I’m a Campus Chaplain, based at Waterloo and St Thomas’, and I’m also the Vice Dean. I started at King’s in October so I’m still fairly new, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do the King’s Civic Challenge. I thought it sounded like a great way to meet people – and I got to meet lots of students!


What was your experience like at the King’s Civic Challenge?

It was a great experience, starting with online meetups getting to know different people that were interested in the challenge and meeting some of the community partners they were working with. We could list which community partners we were interested in working with. To be honest, I can’t remember what my order was because they all sounded amazing. I thought that they all sounded great, and I’d like to work with any of them, but I ended up getting matched with Housing for Women.

How did you develop your project for Housing for Women?

I was very interested to hear about Housing for Women and what they do – but we felt that the Civic Challenge was an opportunity to go beyond what they do on a day-to-day level and think about who it’s really for and how we can serve those people. We thought about the women who live in their housing, and we wanted to create an environment that celebrated them and helped them connect with one another.

We put together our proposal being very mindful of focusing on those women for who they are, not using them and their story towards any publicity for this or that issue within Housing for Women. We didn’t want to see them as vehicles towards an end – we wanted very much for them to be seen and celebrated for the individuals they are, and hoped that in doing that they would get to know one another and have a stronger sense of community within the different housing associations that they live in.

Our proposal was for a series of in-person dinner parties, where we would be facilitating conversations around the theme of what home means to them. This might be an opportunity for them to share their personal stories, an ancestral story, or it might just be a chance for them to share their own thoughts about what home means – whether that’s through an object or through something else. We’re hoping to start the dinners in the autumn, and we’re looking for volunteers to host meals, to be a listening ear and to help create a space for women to get to know each other.

The hope is that we’ll create something that can be replicated elsewhere – and that this will empower women to say, “this is great, I'm now going to host one for this other group of women,” and let it go from there. It may even turn into something bigger. We hope to collate their stories into something that they could choose to share more widely, if we help them to put on an exhibition, or publish something, or whatever it may be. The important thing is that women maintain ownership over their story, that their story isn’t used by somebody else.


What do you hope to achieve with the project?

We were awarded a £5,000 grant to deliver the project, under the ‘Multiple Perspectives’ category. It’s easy for universities to insert themselves into communities and become fenced off from the community that they are located in. And in some places, this ‘Town and Gown’ mentality creates real resentment. I think the King’s Civic Challenge is important because it acknowledges that King’s comes into the community’s backyard but does so with a pool of resources that it wants to share and use to serve the community and our neighbours. I’m glad that King’s has an outwards-looking stance to its work and is serving our own community.

In one sense I was already very mindful of the local community but King’s Civic Challenge definitely made me more aware of it. I don’t live in in Southwark, Lambeth or Westminster, so I didn’t know the different charities there as well as a local would. Doing the initial meeting with the community partners and groups based in these boroughs helped me to become more aware of their work and the opportunities that there might be to join up with them later on, support them through the chaplaincy or through other work within King’s and outside of it. The awareness of what’s happening in our local communities might be the biggest impact of the Challenge in my day-to-day.


Were you particularly inspired by anyone you worked with on this project?

It was really interesting being a group of diverse women of different ages, backgrounds, countries, faith backgrounds. The great thing about the project was having the opportunity to be surrounded by such a diverse group of people and work together. That was the most inspiring, and we thought, if we can get together around a pizza and share ideas and thoughts, imagine what we can do on a larger scale!


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In this story

Sarah Farrow

Sarah Farrow

Vice Dean, and Chaplain to the St Thomas' & Waterloo Campuses

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