Central Education & Training (CET) in Derby is an adult education service who has been working with the Council for over five years, evolving from a small women’s project engaging with women broadly from the local community, into offering this specialist programme addressing concerns around extremism.

The project offers an 8-12 week programme delivered by skilled and trusted tutors, with clear course content supported by a workbook and lesson plans.

A powerful feature of the programme is the one to one mentoring support offered through the course tutors and peer support offered by volunteers. There are also up to four forums held per year to encourage wider inclusion of the community to debate key community issues.

Two women who have both been attending the Centre for a number of years and had different experiences of radical ideologies, tell their own story of how it has affected them.

Their stories are adapted from interviews they have recently given to BBC East Midlands Today; their identities disguised for their own safety.

Sophia had been a victim of domestic violence, and by chance saw a poster at the Centre advertising a leadership and women’s safeguarding course.  This is her story in her own words:

At the time, I was upset, miserable, and I was at a vulnerable stage at that time – I was confused.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do at the time.  I was on social media web sites, speaking to Imams online, I wanted to get closer to my religion and my culture … I saw the poster here, a women’s leadership course and a safeguarding course and I decided to give that a go.  I came into the Centre and Tazim was friendly, approachable, and I could express my views.

In her vulnerable state, Sophia had been in contact with people she did not know on Facebook, where she had been contacted, and where she was offered a new life, a better life, married, in Syria.

They talked to me about religion, and how in our religious culture men are supposed to value women and that I wasn’t being valued enough, and they said to me, come and live in Syria, come and get married and they offered to give me some presents for me to go over there and they would make a better life for me.

Sophia didn’t know who they were, but was prepared to talk to them, as they were offering her a different life, different to the one she had known in this country.

They said they would make a suitable life for me and they would make a perfect partner for me, they would look after me. There wouldn’t be any domestic violence.

By deciding at that moment to go inside the Centre and find out more, Sophia effectively turned her life around.

I came to the leadership course here [at CET] and spoke to Tazim about my situation and my problems here, and how I could be radicalised and I mentioned about the Imams talking to me on line, so I could have been in a situation when I could have gone to Syria.

When I came to the leadership course here I was told that I could express my views and opinions here and I could speak to people if I had problems and from there, that stopped me from going to Syria.

When I came on to this course, I had spoken to Tazim, in general the atmosphere was welcoming, and I was prepared to express my views and opinions in a welcoming atmosphere.  And it’s from there on I realised that how I had been communicating with people on the internet, the dangers of that, and how it was wrong of me to actually communicate with them.  I learnt about internet safety, I learnt about vulnerabilities, I learnt about how isolated I was and I realised that they were painting a wrong picture of that really, and how this country would be safer for me rather than Syria.

Reflecting back on what happened to her, she says,

It makes me feel that I didn’t have much knowledge of Islam at that time, and a wrong picture had been painted to me.

Of the fact that she came so close to leaving, she says simply,

It’s scary, really scary.

Tazim, one of the course tutors, says of those women who attend the Centre:

These women are stopping people from being exposed to radicalisation. They are also making a difference within their families as they are more aware of the many issues and concerns that their children could face, or raise with them, and which they can now discuss and overcome as a family.

The course has looked at social media and internet aspects of radicalisation, extremism and ideology which especially affect young people and the women are aware of the risks posed to vulnerable people and communities.

She goes on to say,

Through these discussions and completion of the workbook we are able to evaluate the positive progression in the women’s understanding of these subjects, their ability to expound what they have learnt and to see how their knowledge and understanding has developed over the course and what areas may need more input.

Another woman, Zukina, wasn’t targeted directly, but she was worried.  As a mother herself, one of her friends had told her about how her son, previously outgoing with lots of friends, had started to lock himself in his room, not socialising.

I wasn’t actually targeted no, I just wanted a bit more information because actually, it was one of my friends she was a bit worried about her son.  He was spending a lot of time on the internet, he wasn’t socialising as much as he used to so that was a bit of a concern for her.

Zukina decided in much the same way as Sophia, to go inside the Centre to find out more about the courses they offered.

Once I had come to this course I went back to her, this is the kind of things the tutors talked about – how to spot the signs if they are becoming isolated.  If you are worried about your kids, they are not socialising as well as they used to, or if they are locking themselves away in their room.

He’d gone from being really confident to not coming out of his room, not coming out as much as he used to, wanting all his meals upstairs, so that was a bit of a concern for her.  I mean, he could have just been socialising or he could have been doing something different.  So I just went back to her and invited her in here and she spoke with a few of the tutors who are involved in these circles, and they told her how she can better spot the signs.

Now Zukina has the knowledge to tell others and she can prevent her own child from being radicalised.  It’s a worry for a lot of parents, from all walks of life, and it’s not just about radicalisation, it can be any kind of grooming online.

I think every parent is [worried] to be honest.  I mean if their children are spending a lot of time on the internet, I think as a parent you are concerned.  It could be radicalisation, it could be child exploitation, grooming, it could be anything really.

Zukina now has more information, more knowledge about what can happen, and also about more complex issues of religious ideologies that can be confusing especially if you are only hearing one side of the story.   She talks candidly about hearing about Syria on the News, how many people are going there for a new life but because it’s on the TV, you can’t ask any questions, you just hear that report.

I hadn’t much knowledge of anything before but I’ve learnt so much about things since I’ve been here.  So the News only really gives one side of the story but here you get to see everything.  The programmes, they do explore different issues, but to come here I feel confident. On the TV I can’t ask any questions, but here there are qualified people so if I have concerns, I can ask.

The women in these groups develop confidence in their understanding of how they can be more active in helping to stop radicalisation in the communities they live in and they now have the skills to tackle the range of issues relating to radicalisation and identity, as well as the knowledge of the support and help available to them or their communities.

These stories are not confined to Derby, but are reflective of the experiences of women in every town and city in the country.  There is help and support out there for anyone who has similar concerns or experiences as Sophia and Zukina.

If you want to find out more, or to raise your concerns and get advice, you can contact any of the following organisations – Derby City Council, East Midlands Prevent, Derbyshire Constabulary, NSPCC, and ChildLine.

If you have concerns about any individual in immediate danger, please dial 999.