Asha’s Prerona volunteers are breaking barriers

Over the last 30 years, the Asha Neighbourhood Project has been supporting women from Beeston to live more fulfilling lives and achieve their potential. The organisation recently celebrated its 30th birthday with a pink and orange extravaganza in the Hamara Centre. Members of the community and volunteers came together to celebrate Asha’s work and share their stories, experiences and talents.

One of Asha’s current projects is the Prerona Project, a volunteering project funded by the Peoples Health Trust and Health Amaze. Prerona means inspiration in Bengali and that is exactly what the project is achieving amongst Bengali women in Beeston.

Photos from the volunteers’ residential training at Northern College.

Prerona is a project which really puts volunteers at the centre. Asha recruited 24 women from the local community to run their own volunteering scheme. The Prerona women then decided that they would use their time with the project to run a befriending scheme with older Bangladeshi women in Beeston.

Many older women amongst the Beeston Bangladeshi community came to the UK in the late 70s and early 80s to join their husbands who had migrated to Leeds to work in the mills. Now that their own children have left home, older women can often become socially isolated and lonely. The befriending scheme run by Prerona volunteers has meant that these older women have been able to take part in a whole range of activities such as day trips to Lotherton Hall, Leeds Art Gallery, the Royal Armouries and Blackpool.

They have also been able to attend exercise sessions and learn about how to look after their health and well-being. Volunteers have supported them to do things such as taking public transport, something they previously wouldn’t have had the confidence to do before by themselves. Having been in Leeds all of their lives, these older women have been discovering areas of the city that they have never seen before and gaining skills to enable them to become more independent in their day-to-day lives.

The older women are not the only ones to benefit from the befriending scheme. By running the scheme itself, Prerona volunteers have become advocates and organisers, valuable skills which they can go on to use as they look for work and further training. The volunteers have received support and training in mentoring and confidence building and were also able to complete a Health and Social Care course, gaining a qualification that will make applying for jobs in the caring sector much easier. Being involved in Prerona has opened the door to lots of different opportunities as volunteers have been able to take part in activities such as safeguarding training, ESOL classes, mental health support and swimming.

Befriending schemes such as Prerona have a valuable role to play in our community, building connections between different generations and reaching older people from different communities who might struggle to access mainstream services and activities due to language and cultural barriers. The scheme has enabled both the volunteers and older people to make new friends and have their mindsets and perceptions challenged by their exposure to different ways of thinking.

All the Prerona volunteers have extended families and children that they have to take care of; some have additional caring responsibilities, looking after disabled members of their family, but they feel that being part of the scheme has really given them a sense of belonging and in many ways, has provided the emotional support and confidence they needed.

Volunteer Fazana said, “This scheme has helped to break down barriers and helped me to realise that we are strong community. It has been a great opportunity to learn new skills and I believe it will open doors for employment for me. I have gained in confidence through doing the scheme and believe that I can do a job in the future.”

Prerona is managed by Asha’s volunteer co-ordinator Tahena Ahmed, who is Beeston born and bred and has a long association with the organisation. Tahena has a good deal of experience of informal adult learning with Asha, and recently spoke about community learning at the Standing Conference on University Teaching and Research in the Education of Adults. If anybody would like to find out more about Prerona or any other volunteering opportunities, please contact Tahena at or call (0113) 270 4600.


This post was written by Becky Dalton using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.