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Helping women become financially independent


Our Community Investment team works with national, regional, and local organisations to deliver various projects and activities in our neighbourhoods. One of our current partnerships is with the social enterprise Kundakala, which provides tailoring skills programmes to help women from under-recognised communities become more financially independent.

Published: 08/03/2024

Founded by Poornima Kirloskar-Saini, Kundakala delivers Make and Mend and Upcycle Project programmes at our Pembury Community Centre in Hackney and recently commenced a similar Make and Mend programme at our Stamford Street Space in Lambeth. 

We asked Poornima why she started Kundakala, its purpose, and its importance to her.  

"I started Kundakala in memory of my late mum. My mum was an artist and wanted to empower women through her art. She was a feminist before it became fashionable and along with my dad, encouraged me and my sisters to be whatever we wanted. 

"I wanted to do something in her name, which started as a gem of an idea during the pandemic. I did some research, and I found that ethnic minority women during and after the pandemic and now with the cost-of-living crisis are struggling to put food on their tables. Around 42.9% worry about being able to feed their children." 

Providing skills and purpose 

Kundakala's mission is to help women become more confident and financially independent through programmes that provide tailoring skills and business enterprise support for women from under-recognised communities.  

Poornima explains: "With some self-funding and donations, I decided to trial a one-off workshop to train ethnic minority women in tailoring to help them develop a skill that allows them to work from home alongside their caring responsibilities and cultural considerations. 

"The workshop was a success, and it was clear a longer-term approach was needed. The Smallwood Trust provided funding for a pilot, but we also needed a venue. I knew someone from the Pembury Community Centre team - we talked and agreed on a six-month Make and Mend programme. That was in 2022, and we've been at Pembury ever since.  

"We've delivered about three Make and Mend programmes and one upcycle project, supporting over 50 women so far. With Peabody's support, we've also started a Make and Mend programme at Stamford Street in Lambeth. Peabody is very flexible in how they support us and always tries to do what's best for the community." 

Being part of a community Kundakala's purpose isn't just about providing skills, it's also about helping women build confidence, improve their mental wellbeing, and feel they’re part of a community. Poornima describes how many women who attend are quite isolated: "A lot of the women who join our programmes are hard to reach by mainstream support organisations. For example, in the Stamford Street programme, we've got a lot of Eritreans who are completely out of the system and can feel quite isolated. They either don't trust it, or it's not accessible to them.  

"Although the main idea for starting these programmes was to enable women to learn sewing skills and create an avenue of income, we're also a support network. Our Kundakala Champions - who are graduates of the programme - provide outreach support within the community and assist in our classes." 

This inclusive approach is Kundakala's strength, as Cheila, currently enrolled in the Make and Mend programme, shares: "The programme has helped me with the skill I've learnt and all the other doors it has opened. From the opportunity to open a business, to better help myself and my family, to reducing waste and upcycling or simply as art therapy." 

All the women who complete the six-month Make and Mend programme are given a sewing machine as a graduation gift and offered a place on the Upcycle Project. The last stage is the Kundakala Collective, where they help graduates take their first steps into starting their own micro business. As Poornima explains: "The whole idea is that from start to finish, we give them an avenue of income generation along with any other support they need. 

"All our programmes are delivered in a cultural context that allows women to express themselves and their cultures. Our interventions are non-judgemental; it's a very kind and safe space. We're inclusive because everyone can retain their cultural identity and make their own choices." 

Learn more about Kundakala

Kundakala is a social enterprise that enables women to develop tailoring, employability, and enterprise skills. Learn more about its mission and other programmes on their website.  

Find out about other projects and programmes  

We've got lots of events, activities and projects happening in our neighbourhoods. Visit our events calendar to learn more. 

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