The Irida Women's Centre is a community centre for women of all nationalities and backgrounds that has been operating in Thessaloniki since January 2018; it offers safety and comfort, while also providing its members with direct and indirect pathways to heal trauma, as the grand majority of our beneficiaries are refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking women and their children. Irida has been built on three pillars: protection, empowerment, and inclusion. Through education, indirect PSS (psychosocial support), and other community-building activities our visitors feel empowered to actively participate in the programming of the centre, and most importantly, to take ownership of their lives, and -eventually- of the centre itself. The workshops we organize, in response to the participants’ needs and requests, provide information, tools and support to deal with the everyday stress of displacement.
When in summer 2017 Softex camp, our main site of work at the time, closed and people were moved to urban accommodation, our dedicated team of volunteers started working on the idea of creating a community centre in the centre of Thessaloniki to keep supporting those populations. However, we soon found out that there were already too many active community centres in the city.
At the same time, we realized women’s need for support had increased. When people used to live in camps, they had formed their own communities, while they could also find all the services they needed (e.g. legal or medical support) at their doorstep. So, when people were moved away from camps, women found themselves in a very vulnerable position, without the needed support and without any community to rely on. Hence, we decided to create a community centre for women; women over 16 years old and of all national, religious, educational and professional backgrounds.
Irida is a safe, welcoming, participatory space, where women feel a sense of belonging and respect. We want women at the centre to have a voice, a sense of ownership, and the opportunity to contribute to make things happen. We have designed Irida with the objective of ensuring individuals and communities can access the information, support, social connections, space and resources they need to make choices, to meet their needs, to bond, to develop, to survive and thrive. We have managed to create an atmosphere of safety, trust, and diversity.
Irida is a Greek word meaning spectrum or every shade of colour that makes up light. We chose this name to reflect and celebrate the diversity of women that would be part of our centre, and to represent the idea of Irida being a place for women of all nationalities, backgrounds and skills to mix and grow together. InterVolve is making a long term commitment to running Irida for, and in conjunction with, the women of Thessaloniki.
The situation is more difficult for women than men, as they are less likely to have built skills and connections outside of camp communities, are less likely to have worked or undertook training in their home countries, and they find themselves having to undertake roles that are culturally unfamiliar to them. As a result of the current patterns in migration and the impact of war and violence, many women are without the support of a partner or a wider family or community network.
We are currently offering a safe, centrally located, open access space for women living in and around the city, where community-initiated activities and programs are provided, including:
- Wellbeing, Psycho Social Support & Life-Skills
- Learning, Employment & Training
- Community Involvement, Access & Outreach
- Children’s Wellbeing & Development Activities
- A varied events programme to promote integration
- Signposting and referral to information, resources and services
- Opportunities for cultural exchange, creativity, and independent and structured socialising
- Quiet space to relax, connect and socialise
- Accessibility support: e.g. provision of childcare, disability access adaptations