At a Margate church hall the sound of song reverberates around the room as a group of women join together singing and laughing.
Their familiarity suggests the group had grown up together as lifelong friends but the camaraderie is all part of a shared incentive to develop English language skills and make new friends.
United Mothers was founded four years ago by Dr Sheila Macdonald – director of the language charity, Beyond the Page – and in creative collaboration with Wantsum Arts which is headed up by Jodi Watson.
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, it has seen 150 women from 37 countries join together to bolster the language learning and enhance their community.
“Every session we laugh, it really is so much fun and we start with singing at the beginning of each class.”” explained Sheila.
The twice weekly sessions are held at Garlinge and Margate – some mothers travel from Ramsgate to attend the class seeing it as an integral part of the social life with some sharing profoundly, moving and emotional stories.
Sheila explained: “We had one mother who tragically lost a baby (at the QEQM hospital) and not being able to communicate the emotional trauma affected her hugely.”
Teaching English is also vital in maintaining family relationships. Sheila said: “We have a Chinese woman who attends and she said to me,’I’m losing my children’ as English became their predominant language. They want to be able to communicate with their kids.”
The classes are involved with the school community and held in an inclusive environment with no set standard of English – native speakers are also encouraged to attend which builds their confidence when talking in the group.
Sadaf has lived in Margate for seven years and is originally from southern Pakistan. When the mother of two moved to the town she was moved by how equal society was compared with her native country.
She said: “I could not believe how similar the houses were, there did not seem to be any difference at all, not between rich and poor – it is very different in Pakistan.
“I have found people here to be polite and helpful and the group is very nice. I like the cooking we do and to make friends.”