“The Women Leaders South West training programme has been a unique experience providing an opportunity to extend my networks, knowledge, learning and broaden my understanding of the culture sector within the South West. It has surrounded me with empowering and inspiring women and non-binary folks which has given me life changing mentorship.

Whilst being on the programme I have become one of the directors for Taunton Pride, this has meant that I am able to give back to my hometown and co-produce a festival that celebrates both the arts and LGBTQIA+ representation. This is important to me; to see a rural town coming together to form a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community. To not only create a safe space but to equally use our platform to celebrate diversity and use the arts as a means of that celebration and connection.

My aim is to create safe spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community and work to highlight LGBTQIA+ issues as well as LGBTQIA+ artists based in the South West. One thing I have worked towards within this programme is by running workshops and an exhibition through Q Collaborative. This time has allowed me to see the value of my intersectionality and how sharing that story with cultural organisations can help provide other opportunities for LGBTQIA+ artists based in the South West.

I have worked closely with The Arts Development Company working as a co-producer for the Act for Change Together Festival. This has been a tremendous experience and opportunity to work and co-produce with young partners from organisations that are actively youth-led and leading social activism campaigns across the UK. Being a young adult myself and hearing a wide range of young voices from many walks of life fighting against societal barriers is truly inspiring. It is deeply important that more youth-led social activism projects are being funded! They deserve a space to voice their own messages and a seat at the decision table. I am proud to say that I believe the Act for Change Together Festival is collaboratively working to provide true consultation, co-embedding, co-facilitation and co-production.

Another great opportunity that I have had is becoming a Trustee of Creativity Works. This has meant that I have been able to offer my insight of my own lived experience whilst working in an exciting cultural organisation that radiates passion for the arts and how the arts can aid one’s own wellbeing and mental health.

This journey has been a transformational one and the further I go on it the more I create incredible connections with women and non-binary people. The more I open doors into cultural organisations the more I see that there is often a group of inspiring women and non-binary people leading the change. This is what this programme has given to me. I’m surrounded by powerful, strong, intelligent women and non-binary people. Surrounded by hope, by love and by leadership.

A special thank you to the Women’s Leadership South West training programme, Rosie, The Arts Development Company, GoCreate CIC and Creativity Works.”

Zahra Hoccom is one of our two Women Leaders South West Associates