Footprints Women’s Centre

Footprints Women’s Centre was established in 1991 to provide safety, empowerment and a supportive environment and encourage women and families to be socially active and participate. Footprints aid in resolving the inequities that exist especially within the multi-deprived Colin area in West Belfast. Footprints have developed services which both promote independence and social participation but allow its members to retain their dignity and freedom and build their self-esteem to realise their own potential.

Mentor: Women's Tec

We applied to the Elevate programme to have the opportunity to have a mentor to help integrate Footprints further into the community and have the opportunity to use food as the vehicle to bring those in the community together. 

Our Elevate funded project was to purchase mobile cooking equipment to have the opportunity to take Footprints out of the centre and into the community and integrate with other groups.  In particular, having the opportunity to work with the Syrian sisterhood to bring Syrian women into the community.  Sharing cooking recipes and knowledge with each other.  Another main aspect was to share cooking skills and knowledge with the younger generation with the hope to help influence trying new foods and eating healthily.  Through mentoring and the project, we hope to help with social inclusion, bringing different generations together in the community for social and learning experiences. 


We were able to involve 2x P4 classes (57 pupils and 4 staff) at St Kieran’s primary school in the project.  Cooking, talking, encouraging and tasting foods.  Discussing where our food comes from and being able to pick apples at the centre. 

In addition, 9 Syrian ladies took part in teaching me their Syrian recipes for me to produce dishes with them for the final Elevate food celebration. Introductions have been made at Pine Tree Manor, there are 29 residents and we were able to meet with 10 to build these relationships for future interactions and help to offer more social interaction for these residents to integrate more into the community. 

The overall Elevate food celebration will bring many together to celebrate food and bring the community together for more social inclusion for all. 

Comments from the children and teachers showed how valuable this resource was.  A new food policy has been introduced for schools and with resources stretched already having this opportunity to pilot a solution to help local schools was invaluable.  Children from the area come from many different backgrounds and some of which are very disadvantaged.  This programme gave the opportunity to show children some basic cooking skills, and encourage tasting and discussing nutrition.  Children were, all the same, most hadn’t tried some of the foods and were worried but with encouragement and the experience of working with the food and producing a recipe you could see the children take brave steps and try.    

We observed that children were apprehensive to try and taste new foods we were able to have discussions about the foods and what maybe they didn’t like about foods but some great examples I feel that show how useful it was having the opportunity with funding to do this with children was the mange-tout with all saying oh yuk I don’t like this (barely tasting and saying about the floppy texture) to then when shown how it is a pod and there is tiny peas inside just really brought out the excitement and then they were almost fighting to get one to try.  Many comments were funny lots of “yuks” and “why is it green (pesto) and no I just don’t like it it’s green and stinks”  to then once it was mixed with the chicken and pasta some were so excited to tell others in class how tasty it is once mixed that it’s just like “pasta and sauce”.  The excitement to pick apples from a tree and a few asking were these “real apples” and “can I eat this” even a “this has been the best day of school ever”.  Many of this really showed in this community there is a need to raise that excitement about healthy foods, share cooking skills and allow a safe space to try new foods.  

The Syrian ladies were so excited at the chance to share their recipes with me, especially with the knowledge that women in the community will get to try their food.  Having this opportunity to cook with the ladies really helped to have conversations about the different issues affecting the Syrian ladies here in NI.  Even for me to see the difficulties in accessing the Halal meat important for their religion gave me a deeper appreciation of the difficulties that are basic needs we can sometimes take for granted.  The Syrian sisters were so grateful repeatedly commenting about having a safe space to come together and cook, this for them was one of the most important aspects of Syrian culture that they can find difficult to do now.  What is perceived as a barrier between Syrian culture and other members within the community from discussions I have had from this project I believe will be more of an opportunity now for helping to bring everyone together more. 

We found really good value in the mentoring side, both in group sessions where we had guidance but also in sharing experiences and findings with other mentees and in the individual sessions.  The support helped to motivate me.  I felt the mentoring improved my understanding of communications.  Communicating within the organization and with community groups has grown.  This has grown my confidence in working to develop the community.  Meeting in the sessions has grown my knowledge and awareness greatly to recognize health inequalities and understand existing health inequalities in other areas and ideas on how to work through this with the communities.  Understanding tools that are useful within the sector for measuring the inequalities and impacts was a really important gain from this mentoring too.   The theory of change in particular  I really enjoyed learning and connecting within these sessions Women’s Tec were motivational and forward-thinking in their sessions.   

It was valuable hearing others’ stories and helping to discuss topics together to help deeper understanding.  Hearing about other community health disparities gave me a wider perspective and understanding of health inequalities.  Existing community efforts and perspectives helped me understand community development more and realise my journey has only started to ‘scratch the surface’ of existing inequalities within Northern Ireland. 

We believe this opportunity showed the ease of food and cooking to help open communications, where it allows conversations to be had regarding existing inequalities much more fluidly.  Helping to build knowledge, confidence and social aspects with the use of food felt very positive.   We will continue to look for collaborations and bring Footprints out into the community.  It is hopeful now with this new equipment we can further offer support, engagement and learning opportunities to the wider community.


"I have been amazed at what could be achieved with £5000 and the knock-on affect this has had in building extended relations into the community.  We deal with health inequalities everyday in this job and yet it felt like through food and the Elevate mentoring was a journey of discovery of many inequalities and the impact on those now I have better understanding with continue to grow."

Nicola Foster, Food skills and Sustainable living coordinator, 

Footprints Women’s Centre