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Past Club Activities

What has Soroptimist East London done in the past?

What has Soroptimist East London done in the past? The short answer is: a lot!  This includes volunteering, hosting a wide range of fabulous speakers, advocacy around women’s rights and more.

Soroptimist East London has been going since the 1930s, you can read about it on our history page.  On this page you’ll find information about some of our activities before 2020.

15 January 2019

Kevin Hyland, the UK’s First Independent Slavery Commissioner is hosted by Soroptimist East London in Woodford

Kevin Hyland, OBE the UK’s first Independent Slavery Commissioner, was hosted by Soroptimist East London in Woodford on 15 January 2019.  It’s was a great honour for us to host him and a brilliant opportunity to learn about what’s really going on. Other people clearly agreed – the hall was packed with people wanting to hear more from Kevin Hyland about the reality of modern-day slavery.  Tickets were available through eventbrite at and the event reported by local press.

Kevin Hyland treated his audience to a sometimes harrowing speech which made us all conscious of how much modern-day slavery is a feature of modern-day life.  A real expert in the subject, following 30 years in policing, including leading London’s Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Unit, in 2014 Kevin Hyland OBE was appointed as the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner by the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, serving with distinction, before stepping down in August 2018.  Today Mr Hyland leads a number of international anti-trafficking projects, including chairing the Responsible Recruitment Group of the Institute of Human Rights and Business and is Senior Special Advisor to the , a high-level partnership between international law enforcement agencies, the Catholic Church and civil society, which was launched by Pope Francis in 2014.ondon is a hub for slavery and trafficking in persons.

Soroptimist East London President Nimrat Bains said “Slavery isn’t just something that happens overseas, we know that London is a hub for slavery and trafficking in persons.   Everyone needs to know about this horrible crime and how it affects the victims; victims who come from the UK as well as other countries.”

Kevin Hyland Modern Slavery Soroptimist East London January 2019

Tuesday 19 November 2019

The reality of life for Redbridge Foodbank Users

Soroptimist, Christine Clark spoke passionately about her personal experiences as a volunteer, explaining her work at the Redbridge Foodbank, the people she meets and what brings them to use the foodbank.  She explained that most of the people who come to the foodbank are in financial difficulties because of low income, benefit changes or delay in receiving benefits. Some users are sleeping rough on the streets, having difficulties due to bereavement, health issues, redundancy, or are seeking refugee status.  To learn more click HERE.


Tuesday 19 March 2019

Learning about the Indian Suffragettes!

Award winning speaker Julie Begum of the Tower Hamlet’s based Swadhinata Trust gave a fabulous and informative talk about the contribution of Indian women to the struggle for women’s’ right to vote. Julie explained that “although popular Suffragette legend might have you believing only white women were entrenched in the cause for women’s suffrage in Britain, there were a number of Indian suffragettes and suffragists who took part.  For example, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, helped lead marches and played up her perceived ‘exoticness’ in order to bring much-needed attention to the movement, but, as we learned she was not the only Indian woman fighting for suffrage in the 1900s to 1910s.”

To learn more about the role of Indian suffragettes read more HERE.

Julie Begum has lived in Tower Hamlets, east London all of her life and has played an important role in the community Julie is an activist and educator who has worked on local and national campaigns for over two decades. In the mid-1990s she helped set up a group to mobilise local women to defeat the British National Party. Julie can be heard talking about some of her contributions here.

June 22 2016

Can you make art out of T-Bags?

Sue Pritt, a Soroptimist for 33 years, spoke last night to Soroptimist East London about her voluntary work with Original T-Bag Designs in South Africa.  Sue is currently a member of SI Cape Town and Past Regional President of Southern England and has close links with SI East London.

Having retired from her position as Assistant Director of Leisure Services of a large London borough in the early 2000’s, in December 2003, while spending time in Cape Town,  she came across the Original T-Bag Designs stall and was so impressed with the products that she was inspired to meet the founder, Jill Heyes.

Sue began volunteering with the company in January 2004 and soon felt at home in the informal company atmosphere.  Since 2006, she spends five months of the year in Cape Town supporting the Original T-Bag Designs company as a volunteer and participating in Soroptimist International Cape Town.

Sue talked about the company, its products and the impact that it is has had on the community. Sue explained that the company was set up in 2000 after the founder, Jill, came up with the idea of using used tea bags to produce environmentally sustainable ‘Functional Art’.  Today local artists produce a wide range of products from bookmarks to teapot stands. She talked about the everyday challenges people in the area face such as no access to running water, electricity, and daily risks such as the risk of fire from using paraffin lamps and the significant improvements to their lives from the income generation of the company.  Around 120-150 people are supported by the hard work of the employees of the Original T-Bag Designs company.

Have a look at the video to learn more!

May 21, 2015

Spitalfield’s Crypt Trust (SCT) was visited by Soroptimist International East London members to see the facilities, meet the team, and some of the homeless people they help.  Fabulous host, Mike Coffey, kindly showed us around.  SCT specialise in recovery from addiction and homelessness.   A dedicated team of volunteers work tirelessly to make each person as comfortable as possible and provide a safe space for anyone that drops in.  The Trust also provides training courses on everything from computers to woodwork, gardening to singing, and practical help for everyday issues.  A team of dedicated staff are trained to help with more serious issues and there is a dedicated rehabilitation centre where people live and work through a recovery programme with all the support they need.  After the visit, it was time for coffee and tea in the SCT coffee shop just across the road.  Here everyone can come and socialise, read a book, chat with friends, or just sit quietly.  They serve specialist teas and coffees making it a favourite retreat for many local people too.

The coffee shop gives the opportunity to gain work experience and rebuild confidence.  Their social enterprise cafes, Paper & Cup, offer trainees the chance to serve customers, acquire barista skills and manage budgets to improve their employability.  If you are ever in the Shoreditch area in East London do pop in and have one of their specialist teas of coffees.

During our May club meeting, we had the opportunity to meet with three of the charity organizations we plan to work with during the coming year. The charities also had the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other.

April 2015 

New Club Officers for 2015-16

In April, club officers were elected for the 2015/2016 year.  President Melanie Leivers formally passed the office of the President onto Alison Charles. Our new President Alison is very excited to take on the role and hopes to help the club expand and grow over the coming years


March 2015

Learning from Midwives Around the World

Trudy Stevens RM. RN. MA (Cantab). MSc. PhD. PG Dip. L&T and member of Chelmsford Soroptimists talked to us in March 2015 on ‘Working as a Midwife in the Tropics’.  Trudy’s interest in ‘international’ midwifery began in 1976. She worked for three years with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Nepal. Her experiences convinced her of just how important midwifery is within primary health care. Trudy spent 2 years working on Ascension Island and a further 2 years as a Midwifery Sister in the UK, and then returned to Asia to work for 4 years with traditional birth attendants in The Maldives. They taught Sue the true meaning of midwifery.

Trudy drew on these experiences to give us an understanding of the position of women birthing in resource poor countries, yet also highlighted some of the valuable lessons that can be learned from such situations.

To start the 2015 New Year the Reverend Canon Ann Easter gave us a most entertaining talk about her life at our meeting on the 20th January. Born in Newham, she was “dragged round all the local churches” by her grandmother, who loved the church social scene. After attending a Methodist Sunday School, she was then introduced to the Society of St Francis at St Philips Church, Plaistow, where she experienced Anglo Catholic worship. “With the smells and the bells, I absolutely loved it.” Ann was made a Deaconess in 1980 and worked for the Diocese of Chelmsford, which included five London boroughs. She was then made a Deacon in 1987, “it was good to be a ‘Rev’, as no one knows what a Deaconess is!” She was ordained as priest in 1994, becoming the first female canon in the Newham Borough in 2000. She was also Newham’s first female area dean. A prestigious appointment of Chaplain to the Queen was made in 2007 and Ann brought along the scarlet cassock of the Chapel Royal and the badge of her office. Ann is the first Chaplain to HM the Queen to come from Newham. She works as chief executive of the Renewal Programme, a community based development organization, based in Forest Gate. A well-known broadcaster and a mother of 3, with 3 grandchildren as well Ann certainly lives up to the title of her talk ‘No pause for thought’.

At our November 2014 meeting we were spoilt for choice and had two speakers. The first speaker was Ellie Wasson an impressive young volunteer on a Government sponsored programme who had previously worked in Honduras for 6-8 months and was returning to that country at the beginning of December for a further volunteer placement. Ellie told us there was a high ratio of domestic violence in the country and a great many of the women were unaware of their rights and had no way of earning a living. She had been in a project working with abused women and helping them towards independence. They had been helped to acquire land on which they grew coffee which was then sold. Workshops were organised give advice, teaching reading and writing, giving business skills. A successful women’s football team had been set which gave the women a chance to socialise outside of their homes. The men were learning that their wives were and could be more that domestic slaves. When she returns to the UK Ellie want’s to work in women’s rights and one day to set up her own project in Honduras. Members agreed to give £50 towards Ellie’s sponsorship.

The second speaker was Helen Kunda, leader of Redbridge Gingerbread, the local group for lone parents which was set up early in 2014 by Helen and now has 60 members, including three male single parents. Helen told the meeting that nationally Gingerbread has 30,000 members; that on average single parenthood lasts for five years; that one in four families in the UK is headed by a single parent; and that in the UK there are about 200,000 lone parents.  Redbridge Gingerbread SIEL members decided to provide presents for the Christmas party organised for the children of Redbridge Gingerbread members.

Our Open Evening on October 21 2015 was considered to be a success with 25-30 people attending. All showed great interest in our work and it was hoped that we might enrol new members from the evening. We were well supported by fellow club members from SI Southend and SI Chelmsford and displayed knitting that our members are doing to support SI Maidenhead’s Kori Development Project. Drinks and nibbles were served and those who attended were able to take away packs containing contain a SI leaflet; SIGBI booklet, contact details of SIEL, membership form; bookmarks and other materials. The film produced by LAR highlighting the Region’s work over the past year was also shown on a number of laptops.

The membership grant from London Anglia Region helped us fund the evening and was much appreciated.

Not Wapping but WHOPPING ! SI East London’s pre-loved handbag sale and lunch in London’s Docklands in June 2014 raised an amazing £1000 for Project Dignity, the toilet-building project in Bengal, India recently started by Soroptimist International of Calcutta with whom SI East London has a friendship link. The desperate need for toilets in rural areas in India has been highlighted in very recent news items worldwide and in the SI Calcutta SoroptiVoice blog on the SI website. SI East London’s contribution will certainly make a difference!

At our Speaker meeting in June 2014 Author, publisher and book coaching company owner MINDY GIBBINS-KLEIN said that ‘everyone has a story to tell and writing about your life and experiences can empower you and others’. An engaging speaker Mindy talked about how to find the inspiration and the story inside ourselves; how to write with authenticity and confidence; how the book world works today; and explored different ideas for books we could write ourselves. Mindy always wanted to write a book but never got round to it until a major trauma in her life was the prompt. After many false starts it took her over 10 years to write and publish her first book which turned her life and career around. She has gone on to write another 7 books and helped a great many people to write and publish their own stories.

‘Are you stopping yourself from moving forward because you are lacking confidence and how do you get from here to there’ the question asked by Neslyn Watson-Druee, speaking on ‘Confidence and Self Esteem’ at our May 2014 meeting. Neslyn who is a multi-award winning and highly decorated executive coach gave tips on how to build up confidence and belief in ourselves. ‘Everyone has talents but so many stop and don’t go forward because we stop believing in the power within us,’Neslyn said. ‘Age and gender is no barrier and the more you like yourself the more confidence you have. The level of confidence you have determines how you live.’

Also speaking on the subject was SIEL President Elect Alison Charles who is a transformational change coach. As a child Alison suffered chronic shyness. Overcoming this enabled Alison to do something which previously eluded her – presenting in public. Alison gave us exercises and practical advice on calming ourselves down and taking the first basic steps into confidence. “Just Breathe” she said!


Vanessa Vallely is of one of “the most networked women in the City”. She talked at our Speaker meeting in January 2014 about how she left London’s east end, aged 15 to find her fortune in London’s financial district.  Despite her doubters and purely through hard work, grit and determination she managed not only to work her way up to what is commonly known as C-suite, but to build 2 successful businesses alongside her corporate career.

A mid-career realisation about Vanessa’s deep-rooted need to unveil and be proud of her femininity, helped her to discover things she never knew, and introduced much-needed support that had been glaringly missing throughout her career. Her talk will be packed to the brim with tips, advice and practical steps based on real life experiences, to not only survive the corporate jungle, but stand some chance of thriving in it!

Trafficking of people for illegal purposes was the subject of East London’s September 2013 open meeting.

Guest speaker Jean Lambert, London Green Party Member of the European Parliament told the meeting that the UK is a major venue for people of all ages being trafficked into forced servitude and slavery and London is the trafficking capital of the world. All the money raised from the evening will go to the Eaves’ Poppy project which supports victims of trafficking.

Across the EU some 880,000 people are forced to work in slave labour conditions.  It is the fastest growing crime internationally, second only to drugs and arms and is one of the most lucrative generating around £21billion across the EU in 2012.

Ms Lambert told the meeting attended by Soroptimists from clubs in Ipswich, Chelmsford, Southend-on Sea and Enfield, as well as representatives from Redbridge Borough Police and groups in East London working in this field, that women and children are the most vulnerable.  Children are forced to beg, women are forced to work as prostitutes and domestic slaves and increasingly the labour market is being exploited with men and boys, in particular, being forced to work for low wages.

Most of the people trafficked in Europe are from Eastern Europe, but the map is changing with large numbers coming from Africa and the Far East.  United Nations statistics show that one-third of victims are children under the age of 18.

Ms Lambert works on a range of issues including asylum and refugees, employment and social affairs and human rights and civil liberties.  She said that although there is strong EU Legislation against trafficking in persons more is needed and currently being addressed.    There need to be tougher sanctions on traffickers and improved workplace/labour inspections.  There is also a need for far more protection for children and for victims willing to testify.

Of the 28 EU member countries, current EU legislation has been fully put into national law in less than one-third.  The UK is currently debating the situation.

To celebrate International Women’s Day SIEL had an open meeting on 5 March 2013 with inspirational guest speaker Elin Haf Davies .  Elin talked about how a farm-girl from Wales turned into a world-record-breaking ocean rower. As a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital, something she had dreamed about doing since she was a child, she set herself an amazingly brave challenge to cross the Atlantic.  In December 2007 she set off to cross the Atlantic in the Woodvale Rowing Cup.  Astonishingly, before she made up her mind, she had never rowed or even been out to sea. On the sea caught up in a 77-day and seven-hour schedule of constant rowing alongside her colleague. Elin said “It was an absolute killer. We would sleep for two hours then row for two hours over a 24-hour period”. Never one to rest on her laurels, she having conquered the Atlantic, she then joined a team of 4 girls to tackle the Indian Ocean. This was a dangerous 3,200-mile, 78-day journey with brutal conditions, including a cyclone as they approached Mauritius. The team was the first ever all-women crew to cross the Indian Ocean and, of course, had raised vital finds in doing so. Elin started to get itchy feet again and trained for a new experience on the seas – this time in a sailing boat across the Pacific Ocean, to complete a hat-trick of oceans. This was a journey of 5,680 miles which took around 33 days. When she returned from the Pacific, Elin had the distinction of carrying the Olympic torch and running with it through Wales.

The evening was very successful and the raffle held raised helped us raise funds for the London Anglia Regional project – Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust Nurse training in KwaZulu, Natal South Africa.

A regular annual charity event for SIEL is our collection of Christmas boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. This year we joined with a local group, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association (AMWA) (North Redbridge Branch) in their Xmas box collection. Both groups have similar aims and objectives in relation to women and children and have similar programmes including visits, projects, fundraising, speakers etc. Both groups are quite small so we pool resources where possible and join in projects. In total some 50 boxes were prepared and filled. They were distributed not only to Samaritan’s Purse but also to Whipps Cross Childrens’ Ward, King George’s  Childrens’ Ward and our local Old Peoples Home in Clayhall. The amount of work and effort put in by AMWA was incredible.

Members were delighted to welcome Caroline le Barbier to our October 2012 meeting. Caroline, a chemist with the European Medicines Agency, is a passionate trekker and photographer.  Whenever she can Caroline travels to the Himalayas and the Andes.  We were treated to an interesting talk about her weeks in the mountains and the people she meets on her travels.  This was illustrated with superb photography.  Although not a professional photographer, many years of enthusiastic amateur shooting has left Caroline with an amazing collection of images – some of the most memorable ones being those of portraits. Those unable to attend the meeting can see for themselves at the link below. Caroline very kindly requested that the money raised from the raffle on the evening go to our Soroptimist fundraising.

event. We were very fortunate to have a representative from Maternal & Childhealth Advocacy International (MCAI) to talk on the SIGBI3E Project: Healthcare. This is a three-year fundraising challenge which will save the lives of countless critically ill women, babies and children in the Gambia

The speakers were Dr Alison Earley (MCAI Trustee) and Rita Allen (SIGBI Project Liaison). Members of a number of Clubs in the Region attended as did members from clubs in a neighbouring Region. Colleagues and friends were also present. The aim was to raise awareness of the MCAI project and to raise funds (£300 was raised which was sent to the project).

Alison explained that they want to ensure healthcare workers feel confident in managing emergencies in pregnant mothers, newborn babies and children. For effective healthcare improvement there has to be an efficient healthcare system with well trained staff at every level from hospital to village. Their Strengthening Emergency Care programme (SEC) is a sustainable whole system programme for the emergency care of pregnant women, newborn infants and children.

Whilst acknowledging the importance of maternal and child health care improvements through primary prevention, inevitably emergency situations will arise that may be poorly managed, especially in the early hours of their presentation, leading to avoidable maternal and child deaths.

SEC addresses these issues by:- establishing a sustainable training programme for health care professionals and community workers in emergency care for mothers, neonates and children; ensuring the availability of essential drugs, medical and surgical supplies and equipment, renovating existing hospital premises and making the “emergency chain of care” functional by developing communication and transportation for the critically ill or injured.

At our open club meeting in June 2012 Redbridge Borough Commander Chief Superintendent Sue Williams gave a thought provoking talk on violence against women, an issue at the heart of our programme action work at home and overseas.   Sadly women from all communities, rich and poor, are affective irrespective of age, culture, race and religion.’

‘Doing nothing when someone discloses they are a victim of domestic violence is not an option said the Chief Superintendant; let the victim know you are there for them, make sure they know where to find agencies that can help, discuss safety and exit plans from the situation and please tell them to contact the police,’ said Chief Superintendent Williams who has many years of experience of domestic violence issues.  ‘Domestic Violence is a serious crime. We encourage victims to come forward and speak with the Community-Safety Unit and we will and do prosecute perpetrators.’

The Borough Commander who is one of the top 20 women in the Metropolitan Police, told the meeting, which included guests from several agencies in  Redbridge concerned with domestic violence,  that 1 in 4 women in the UK are abused,  1 is abused every 6 hours and  2 die each week as a result of domestic violence.

Throughout the UK Community Safety Units deal with some 100,000 incidents classified as domestic violence every year and 25 per cent of murders are domestic violence-related. Redbridge Police Domestic Violence Unit works closely with other agencies in the Borough including Redbridge Women’s Aid, Victim Support and the One Stop Shop.

The proceeds of a raffle held on the evening went to the Redbridge Women’s Aid Refuge.

Our meeting in July 2012 took a different form as several SIEL members took the opportunity to visit Wilkerson House the London Teen Challenge premises in Ilford where the Outreach Director David Tarr showed us around. David had previously given a talk at one of our meetings about the work of Teen Challenge London and had invited us to visit. At Wilkerson House, the Teen Challenge faith-based 18 month mentoring programme is run. This is for marginalized people who are caught up in a cycle of drug, alcohol addiction, homelessness and other such issues. People are reached through Teen Challenge London’s Information Bus which goes out 6 nights a week to areas most affected by these issues such as Whitechapel, Stratford and Hackney. Wilkerson House is for men only and is very impressive and can accommodate up to 28 clients. We were able to see where the men lived and relaxed and spoke to a number of them who were at different stages in the programme. Nearly all the members of staff have been through the programme themselves and particularly in the early phases of the course there is intensive mentoring on a one to one basis. Although the dropout rate of those on the course is quite high -50-60%, the success rate of those who pass the course and who subsequently do not relapse is about 70%. This compares very well with other agency run programmes.

Unfortunately Teen Challenge UK have only one centre for women, in Wales, but Teen Challenge London does have premises in East London and hopes to find funds to be able to run a centre for women in the future.