Girls who read, lead: Sisterhood launch bookshop and storytelling lab in London

25 Jul 2021

Soooo we know it’s been a while since our last Space for Ideas competition... but yeah, 2020.

Amazing things come to those who wait, though! We’re psyched to finally announce (this year) the inspiring winners (from last year) of a brand new category, Space for Change: Sisterhood. The social enterprise launched Strong Lead – a bookshop and storytelling lab on Slingsby Place in Covent Garden.

Rachita Saraogi and Rebecca Thomson first met in 2015, while working on design for social good projects at Central Saint Martins. They became fast friends, flatmates, and eventually co-founders of Sisterhood – a social enterprise focused on empowering young girls through creative programs. In their own words? Sisterhood is “where all girls can design their place in the world”.

It all started when they noticed a steep drop in the number of female peers who entered the world of work after the classroom. “There just weren’t as many women going from higher education to pursuing creative careers. So we were like, why is this happening?” says Rachita.

Their (extensive) research pointed in one direction, just how influential those formative years of early education are. That’s when they realised: a job in the creative industries shouldn’t just be for the lucky few. “We knew that design and creativity unlock confidence building, and both personal and professional development, so we essentially packaged what we did at university and have taken it to schools across the UK,” says Rachita.

And so, Sisterhood was born. What started as a research project is now a full-blown social enterprise with a dizzying array of initiatives: from an education program delivering social action projects to a community-led design studio.

So, why enter the competition? “The Space for Change category really resonated with us, because we knew we could go beyond just selling a product or service… by improving girls' education through meaningful interactions with the public. It’s about a space to nurture the current and also the next generation of storytellers,” says Rebecca.

Stories – and the question of who gets to tell them – are central to Strong Lead, their bookshop and storytelling lab. Among the underrepresented authors on display, they’re most thrilled about promoting Find Me Among Them, an anthology written by eleven teenage girls on the Sisterhood program. Their pieces of prose and poetry explore issues of identity, equality, and justice – all through the lens of growing up in East London.

The location of the shop, smack dab in Central London, also takes on a special significance. “For us, visibility on the high street was really important, because we realised that [it’s] very organically a place of gathering,” says Rachita. “High streets can be for more than just traditional retail. There are so many community-based exchanges that happen in these shops. We don’t want to be in a remote office building, we want to be visible and accessible. We want to demonstrate that we need safe spaces where girls can be themselves and thrive, where we can champion them and their work”.

Above all, it’s clear Rachita and Rebecca care most about the impact of the space on the girls who attend Sisterhood School. “[On our opening night] it was incredible to see them volunteer to stand up and read their poems, to memorize their lines and deliver them to a room of parents and professionals and people that have supported the program. And that’s what change looks like. That’s what a space for change looks like. That’s really how we knew we had achieved what we set out to do… because they love the space as much as we do, it’s theirs,” says Rebecca.

As far as reactions from the general public wandering by? Sisterhood has received a mighty warm welcome.

“People ask: ‘How can we make sure you stay on the high street and never leave?’ And I think that’s really confirmed to us… that we’re exactly where we’re meant to be. And we’re going to keep working to make sure that we can stay on the high street, and grow into more spaces around the UK and beyond. We have really big ambitions,” says Rebecca.

Want to learn more, or get involved? Get in touch about a programme, or purchase a copy of Find Me Among Them. Support Sisterhood’s mission: to help girls with a dream become women with a vision.