International women’s fair held at Spitalfields Market

Pic: Alice Yehia

Spitalfields Market played host to the International Women’s Fair yesterday in celebration of the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The fair was arranged by Alternative Arts, an east London-based organisation that aims to make art accessible to the public, and featured a wide range of creative women, from designers and performers, to craftswomen and photographers, with over 100 stalls.

Lucy Brunt, 28, who attended the fair, said: “It’s lovely. It’s a bit more modern than I expected. We were recommended to visit. We’re in London for the weekend and decided to come.”

Paintings, clothes, food and accessories of all shapes and sizes were just a few among the multitude of products found on the small, but many, stalls around the fair that ran from 10am until 5pm.

One of the most popular stalls was the East End Women’s Institutute’s. Members Annie Johns and Heather Qualtrough offered samples of their home-made chocolate brownies and Victoria sponge cakes to the curious and hungry passers-by.

Johns said: “We do all sorts of charity events across Tower Hamlets. All our cakes here are home-made and we get very positive responses from people. We also came here last year.”

Selling baskets, aprons, dressing ropes and batiks all made in north Ghana was Flame Tree, a non-profit enterprise that helps women from Ghana. Lesley Sumers, 68, the enterprise’s founder, said: “I’m passionate about women. Ghana is very developed down south, but not the north. We’re trying to fund literacy classes and what we make from selling these objects goes to fund those classes.

Afua Asantewaa, 47, a Ghanaian member of the organisation, emphasized how all the baskets that they sell are distinctive.

“You’ll know what parts of Ghana they’re from,” she said. “I also support families and children. 25 years ago, when I came to the UK it was full of play groups, now there are not that many left. I am trying to create more.”

Many who visited the fair agreed its impact on empowering women was positive. Olwyn Ditchburn, 58, a children’s centre manager, said: “We enjoy the variety and the messages found here. There is a good female energy around. I came last year and now I came back for more.”

Another popular stall was Laughter Yoga. Its director Charlotte Eaton said: “Laughter Yoga is basically exercise to make you laugh. Instead of waiting for comedy, just exercise. We started in 1995 and we do a lot of workshops.” The East End Women’s Institute stall later gever her cakes for making them laugh.

Entertainment was provided by the LIPS Choir, Rosie Wilby comedy storyteller, singer-songwriter Missbee Made Jazz, performance poet Isley Lynn and the Blitz ballroom dancers. Free tours of the Women’s Library highlighted the current All Work & Low Pay exhibition.

International Women’s Day takes place on March 8 annually. More than 400 events took place in the UK alone this year.

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