From humble beginnings to powerful force – Redbridge Disabled Women’s Welfare Association turns 20

Former Redbridge Cllr Jim O'Shea sitting next to Abida Iqbal, right, during a visit to the Redbridge

Former Redbridge Cllr Jim O'Shea sitting next to Abida Iqbal, right, during a visit to the Redbridge Disabled Women's Welfare Association - Credit: Archant

On a cold December morning in 2002, grandmother Razia Qureshi left her husband at home and travelled to Ilford train station.

Members listen to a talk by the Samaritans after the suicides in 2003

Members listen to a talk by the Samaritans after the suicides in 2003 - Credit: Archant

The 66-year-old mother of four walked to the platform, waited by the tunnel entrance and jumped in front of a high speed train.

A note saying “adios” was found in her purse.

The tragedy was repeated three months later when Sneh Devgun, 52, left her husband and two children and threw herself in front of a train at Seven Kings station.

Inquests revealed that both women had suffered from depression and anxiety before their deaths.

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Mrs Qureshi had battled depression for almost two decades and Mrs Devgun was off work with stress when she took her life.

They were both members of the Redbridge Disabled Women’s Welfare Association (RDWWA), then known as the Redbridge Muslim Disabled Association.

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Chairman Abida Iqbal said their suicides galvanised the group’s efforts to reach out to women suffering in silence.

The RDWWA had been founded in 1993 to help disabled and elderly women in the area, but expanded its work into mental health and campaign issues.

It now offers counselling, therapy, regular meetings and outings, as well as yoga and physical exercise.

This year has seen celebrations for the group’s 20th anniversary, including a party, but Abida said there is still much work to do.

She believes women in Asian communities often feel cultural, religious and family pressures, and can suffer from isolation, loneliness, low self esteem and abuse.

When she moved to her home in St Albans Road, Seven Kings, she quickly made friends with other Urdu speaking neighbours who, like her, had moved from Pakistan.

Abida, 63, said: “Many of them would ask my help for letters in Urdu to their families at home – they could not even write.”

Now, the RDWWA refers women to English courses, education and training. But the new-found independence does not always sit well with members’ husbands and male relatives.

“I have to be sure my character is perfect,” Abida said.

“Then they can trust me and will let their wives and daughters come out.”

And the group’s outings are not confined to Redbridge or even London.

On Monday, they had a day out at Clacton-on-Sea and later this year a holiday to Tunisia is set.

It is a long way from the group’s humble beginnings in Eton Road, Ilford, in 1993.

Abida got together “five or six ladies” to start helping disabled and elderly women after volunteering at a day centre in Walthamstow.

Now, the grandmother of six is at the head of a group of more than 100 members that campaigns on a wide range of issues alongside its day-to-day work.

She was made an MBE in 2010 for her work, including fundraising for St Francis Hospice, where her husband stayed before his death, and for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and 2005 Pakistan earthquake.

Although she hopes to hand the reins to another member of the group, Abida believes the RDWWA’s work can continue for another 20 years at least.

She said: “I believe that if you do voluntary work, you get a special happiness inside you that you can’t get any other way.

“I have a motto – ‘To receive god’s help, you must first help each other’.”

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