When Tony gave each member of the Viva team 16 hours per year to volunteer at a local charity of their choice, I knew straight away where I’d be heading. The Pankhurst Centre in Manchester is known for being the former home of suffragette and founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), Emmeline Pankhurst. However, I soon discovered that the Heritage Centre is just one element of the charity.
After a series of emails with volunteer co-ordinator Clare, I attended an induction morning at the centre on Nelson Street, along with around 12 other women. It was here that I learned of the other work carried out at the Pankhurst Centre.
The building is also used as a women’s community centre and is home to Emmeline’s Pantry – a foodbank and pantry supporting vulnerable women and their families in Manchester. The charity also works closely with Manchester Women’s Aid to provide refuge to those experiencing domestic violence.
After my induction, Clare and I agreed that I’d be best placed in the Heritage Centre. I arrived at the humble terraced house in the middle of a modern city on the Sunday morning, unsure what to expect.
I met two of my fellow volunteers (a lady who was semi-retired and a student from the University of Manchester) and they happily showed me the ropes. Before long, the first visitors arrived. I joined them in watching an introductory video about the media portrayal of the Suffragist movement, involving a smear campaign and the negative reporting about the women involved.
The Suffrage movement has always fascinated me. I partially attribute this to the fact that I come from a family of strong, feisty females. My grandma fearlessly stood in the face of controversy back in the 50s and one of my earliest childhood memories is standing on a picket line with my mum during the Margaret Thatcher years.
Throughout the day people from all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities came to see memorabilia, art work and the building itself. I got talking to a few of them and one thing that seemed prevalent in these conversations was just how much progress we’ve made in a relatively short space of time, thanks to the actions of brave women who refused to be seen as less than equal to their male counterparts in the world of politics (and beyond).
I found it overwhelming to be stood in such a historically significant place. You see, it was on 10 October 1903 that the first WSPU meetingtook place in the Pankhurst Centre. This consisted of six women, including Emmeline and her daughter Christabel, and was the beginning of the tireless militant campaign that resulted in women gaining the right to vote.
My time at the Pankhurst Centre had a big impact on me. So much so that I’ve decided to carry on my volunteering indefinitely alongside my role here at Viva. After all, it’s deeds, not words that count.
If you’d like to get involved, they have a wide range of roles that volunteers can hold, from cooking or supporting service users to showing visitors around the Heritage Centre and you can find more information here.
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