Making and Talking Menopause with the MenoMakers

Welcome to the Menopause

It used to be a secret

But now…

It’s too big not to talk about.

[Nelissa Mendy, 2022].

The MenoMakers discussion and craft group has been running for two years in North Kensington, London. It has given us a much-needed space to talk about our menopause, one that we didn’t have before. Being in touch with like-minded, non-judgemental women is so important. Having a regular safe space to articulate personal experiences is invaluable, and these conversations often spill over into our project WhatsApp group in between sessions. It’s made us think about how important peer to peer support is, and meeting regularly has created a new network: friendships have evolved.

We hadn’t really talked about menopause before, definitely not like we do here. We’d not sat with girlfriends, maybe because it is a difficult subject. But here it didn’t feel like that. It’s a different type of space. Coming into a space where we didn’t know anybody was a big step for some of us but when you get to this point in your life you’ve got to be open and just say well you know what if we don’t do this we’re going to be stuck in that hole forever, so come out of the hole and just do it. We’re so glad we met and we don’t know what the future is but we feel connected. That is special.

Within the group we have been open in our discussion topics and it has been relaxed with no pressure, often discussing menopause but sometimes not. We have really valued our conversations, both meno-focused and other subjects; our families, jobs, hobbies, holidays…. It can be serious, light, humorous and problem-sharing. To be able to keep a group together, that level of commitment that everybody has to the group has been phenomenal. It’s not an easy thing to commit to something for two years. We have dedication.

Being able to engage with each other face to face has been really positive. No matter what’s been going on in our lives outside of coming into the group each time we came in we’ve always felt uplifted. These wonderful ladies, sharing, holding space, all of us being able to be ourselves, take the mask off and leave it at the door. We know we’re going to go to the group, and we don’t know what we’re going to do, but we know we’re going to do something, and that something is just for us, just for me. And when we are there we can speak or listen, but most of all we are acknowledging that this is menopause. Even the fact that it’s organised, that there is someone leading the group, making the space and nailing down dates, it’s a seriousness that really feels like: this is important.

Craft made a comfortable space for talking. We could start using creativity and then find the words to come together as a group. Sometimes we don’t want to talk and if we don’t want to talk about menopause this month we can just focus on our crafts, we can just enjoy the sewing or the printing or clay. And then the conversation might evolve into something you do want to talk about, and then suddenly you do end up talking. That worked really, really well, it took the pressure off. It was really conducive to relaxed conversations, especially in the early days when we were all feeling like, well, we haven’t talked to anyone about menopause let alone a load of strangers, is it better or worse that we are strangers, we don’t know! So to have that creative work that we can look at and we can be doing that whilst we’re talking, and we don’t have to be worrying ‘should I be talking, should I be making eye contact…’ It took away any awkwardness, it just felt so much easier, it felt enabled by the creativity.

For some of us the creative process of doing felt more important than finishing and having made something. Some of us didn’t finish a single thing! But the doing elicited a feeling that we don’t get in day-to-day life and our normal routines. We just don’t have that feeling of being lost in our body, where nothing is right or wrong, it’s a lovely space and it’s space with others, creating together, and giving our making and talking significance. Making something can give us a sense of achievement, even if we don’t like how it looks there is something in the world that wasn’t there an hour ago. But even if there isn’t an object, if it’s something half-finished or hardly begun, we have still done something. We haven’t just moaned, and we think that takes away some of the negative feelings about menopause. Before long just walking into the sessions we felt that joy.

When you see other people’s work you feel really proud of everyone and everybody does such different things. And that’s another way we communicate as a group, seeing what someone has come up with makes you know them in a different way. Sometimes we can express something creatively that we couldn’t put into works. It’s sort of intense, it gets straight to the point. It’s not just what we’re making but what everyone else is making too, it all adds to the experience. We really loved that.

You can find out more about the project on the MenoMakers website.

The MenoMakers Team:

  • Lisa Nash is a socially engaged artist/facilitator and arts programmer. She is embedded in the North Kensington community and leads on wellbeing programmes in her role as Curator, Social Practice for ACAVA.
  • Jessica Hammett is a public historian of modern Britain, researching women’s experiences of mental health and wellbeing. She has worked with a wide range of partners in the arts, heritage and mental health sectors.
  • Vanessa Beck is a sociologist of work and employment, researching menopause in workplace settings. She has worked with a range of trade unions, charities, statutory and private organisations.
  • The North Kensington MenoMakers have co-produced all project activities and outputs, both creating and curating the exhibition-in-a-box. They are a diverse group of non-artists currently experiencing the menopause, who reflect the social, cultural and ethnic diversity of North Kensington.

Illustrations by Toya Walker (2021)

The project has been funded by the Brigstow Institute and the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account scheme.