The faces of 21 remarkable women tirelessly working to bring a Welsh city together

‘Our city is powered by kindness, compassion, and care. We need to work together to leave a lasting legacy for those who come after us. When ordinary people do extraordinary things, lives change.’

“One of the best things about photography is that it can be used as a powerful tool to connect communities,” Kamila Jarczak tells me, reflecting on her latest exhibition documenting the lives of women in Newport. “If used in the right way, photography can be a powerful means of encouraging equality and spreading positivity and hope.”

Kamila, 42, from a small town in the north of Poland, stepped away from her work in healthcare in 2018 after moving to Ringland in Newport via Bristol. While photography was more than just a hobby for her, she had no qualifications to back up her skills with the camera. And yet six years later through her portraits she’s created a thriving community of networking women in Newport doing inspirational things every day. Her latest exhibition, open until April 1 at the Pierhead Futures Gallery in Cardiff Bay, is called Newport Community Champions, celebrating 21 women from varied backgrounds in one of Wales’ most diverse cities.

“I wanted to show how multicultural and interesting Newport is,” Kamila explains. “Newport sometimes gets a bad rap, but I found it is a very creative city full of proper people. I didn’t quite know what to make of Newport when I moved here. But when I started meeting more and more people here I started to fall in love with the place. There are so many people in this city doing amazing things, especially creatively. I can now say all of my favourite people in my life I have met in Newport, and many of them are documented in my photography.”

Each of the women featured have been celebrated with portraits in their authentic spaces. It’s taken hours of work, and the majority of that was not spent taking photos, Kamila says. “Most of what I do is not from behind the camera. A good photographer who wants to take pictures of real people needs to develop trust, and I like to take time getting to know someone before I take the shot. I want to get to know them in detail. One of them invited me to her house, she cooked dinner and we spoke for hours. They tell me their stories and what inspires them. There is no bigger privilege than to feel someone trusts you.

“I think I’ve got a good photograph when the picture tells a story, and the story is real. I don’t want someone pretending to be someone else in my pictures. I want them to feel: ‘This is me.’ I try to listen and capture them as they truly are.

“I’m genuinely interested in people and I think that’s how you develop trust, by giving something of yourself. I feel privileged to have learned a lot from all of them. One of the women is trans, others are from different religious backgrounds. They have all done fabulous things for our community in their own unique way. I feel honoured to have been able to portray them.”

With the help of funding from the National Lottery and others, Women of Newport has gone from strength to strength with thousands of followers. “It was a huge risk to step away from my job and go for it with photography,” Kamila says. “There have been lots of sacrifices. The early years of Women of Newport were tough and it put my family in a tricky position for a while. I was putting so much into it I lost quite a few photography jobs. I’ve managed to find a balance now, and the funding we’ve had has helped a lot. I really love my life and I’m thrilled Women of Newport is part of it.”

Women of Newport isn’t just a collection of photographs, but a community of women connected with each other in a bid to enrich each other’s lives and further the growth of their community. “My idea was initially the photography but then many of the women I’d photograph were asking for something more,” Kamila adds. “They wanted to feel more connected and part of one family. If we see members have things in common now we connect them.”

Last year Kamila was nominated for the Points of Light award for her community work, which will be presented to her by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak later this month. She will dedicate the award to the women she’s documented and all those who contribute to Women of Newport. “It is recognition for everything we have done. I have no qualifications on how to run an organisation and no experience in organising or photography beyond what I’ve taught myself. To see the work being recognised despite that shows proper education in the field shouldn’t discourage us from doing what we love. It has been a nice and unexpected surprise. It wasn’t something I ever expected when I set out on this path. It’s always been about highlighting, recognising and appreciating the power of our community spirit to support and promote our undervalued city.”

Ingrid Wilson

I’m an advocate for race equality, global education, and community cohesion chairing the Community House Project in Newport. As trustee of One World Week, I was the UK representative for 20 years and created intercultural development education and arts services in the 1990s, devising and organising programmes and collaborative projects like Roots to Torfaen in 40 schools in Wales and the Newport 200 Festival of Colour. A founder member in 1977 and chair of Gwent Community Relations Council, I oversaw its transition to Gwent Racial Equality Council in 1990 and helped establish Gwent Ethnic Minority Support Services. I was awarded an MBE in the 2022 New Year Honours.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)

Courtney Peige Purnell

Being young and disabled I found access to suitable services in adolescence and young adulthood is hard to navigate so I was determined to change my own future and inspire others to do the same. I held an International Women’s Day event on March 8, 2023, as part of my Beacons Cymru young promoters networking project. I wanted to hold an event that was accessible for disabled and neurodivergent people and the lineup be diverse in age, genre, ethnicity and gender. This progressed to creating my own events brand, called Shwsh, which is accessible and interactive, reaching audiences across south Wales and the west. I’m also an advocate for equality and diversity so create opportunities for gender equality as well as disability.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)2 of 21

Lucy Vers

Mother to Elliot, a six-year-old boy who has a fatal muscle-wasting disease called duchenne muscular dystrophy, I have found disparity in healthcare services. Duchenne is a disabling and life-limiting disease without treatment or cure, yet there is promising clinical research ongoing that has the potential to dramatically change the trajectory of the disease. This is unavailable in Wales despite UK-wide trials and I have monthly trips to Newcastle with Elliot to receive treatment. I have been campaigning and advocating for boys with DMD in Wales to bridge the gap in services and ensure a more equitable approach to treatment and resources because I believe that quality and longevity of life shouldn’t be a postcode decision.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)

Fatmanur Askoy

I am a young Kurdish woman born in London and for the past 11 years living in Newport. My confident, sociable, and enthusiastic nature is reflected in my active involvement as a Newport east representative on the Welsh Youth Parliament. I am a dedicated member of the Newport Youth Council, contribute as a member of the Home Office Young People’s Board and serve as one of the 10 peer researchers for the Our Mind Our Future Gwent project. I help asylum seekers and refugees with writing. I was awarded the leader of the future award by the Welsh Refugee Council in 2023.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)

Sam Dabb

I have been working and managing Le Pub for 25 years and it has become a top venue on the UK touring circuit, nominated for many awards including NME small venue of the year, in which it finished first in Wales and third in the UK. In 2016, faced with closure due to the building sale, I set up a cooperative and launched a community share offer, enabling Le Pub to move to much bigger premises to become a multi-use artspace as well as a venue. During the pandemic I worked as Welsh coordinator for the Music Venue Trust, helping venues negotiate the intricacies of funding and regulations during the pandemic, since which there have been numerous exciting and unique projects enjoyed by the people of Newport.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)6 of 21

Sarah Croft

I’m a refugee worker at The Gap Sanctuary Group where we build people and build community. I am passionate about enabling others to rebuild a sense of community and belonging when so much has been taken away by circumstances causing them to leave their home countries. As advocacy lead I give time to provide information to understand the processes and systems they are trying to navigate in the UK empowering them to make decisions which enhance their lives. The cultural differences of others, who so often get misunderstood, is a big part of my work and [I] endeavour to help others understand the richness of Newport’s diverse communities.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)7 of 21

Rusna Bengum

The CEO of Kidcare4u, an innovative Newport-based charity empowering marginalized communities through education, employment, and health initiatives, I’ve also successfully led a transformative oral health programme in Newport’s primary schools for 16 impactful years. Diversity is at the heart of my mission, and I thrive on building powerful partnerships to unlock boundless opportunities for our community. As a proud member of Gwent Police’s Independent Advisory Group, a magistrate for the Gwent area, a trustee for Newport Live and parent governor of St Julian’s Comprehensive School, I actively contribute to local initiatives that uplift and empower our community. I am always working towards building an extraordinary city that embraces diversity, unlocks potential, and paves the way for a brilliant future.(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)8 of 21

Jen Lloyd

My love of camping and the outdoors began my Girlguiding journey, soon becoming a sea ranger where I learnt to row a boat in Newport docks. After my Guide captain left I became a leader and began running my old Guide unit, then Ranger unit, something I’ve been doing for the past 50 years. I’ve supported hundreds of Rangers over the years through the Duke of Edinburgh award, and was fortunate to celebrate with some of them at Buckingham Palace garden parties and receptions at St James’s Palace. Holding several advisory roles at county and Cymru levels, I’ve twice been selected to lead groups internationally – including a UK group to the Turks and Caicos islands, and was appointed county commissioner for Gwent through centenary celebrations. I have seen many changes over 50 years and have supported thousands of girls to develop themselves through their Guiding journey into confident, independent young women.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)9 of 21

Rhiannon Brown

I started the Spectrum project eight years ago with my husband as he was once homeless too. We began offering hot food and drinks to the homeless of Newport. We became a lifeline not only for food but were able to offer clothing, bedding and help them access other professional services such as medical help. This was especially tough during the pandemic. We eventually drafted in more volunteers and I completed food hygiene safety and was inspected so I could use my own kitchen to offer food. The homeless people say they couldn’t do without our help and we too rely on the support of others such as friends of the rotary club and a pet care volunteer for donations; supporting others to support others. True community spirit.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)

Rhi Gritten

I’m a recovered cocaine addict and alcoholic after we formed the most tragic love story for 20 years. It was just us three and together they destroyed me, my family and almost my life, yet I loved them. In December 2019 I found recovery and I have never picked up a drink or drug since and began to share my story of my honest and raw account of addiction. In 2022 my partner and I founded Empowered Recovery which is a safe and private place for people to get help and support with their addiction. We see hundreds of people recover from addiction and it’s the most rewarding feeling we’ve ever had. It’s not just the lives of addicts that change but everyone around them also.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)

Julie Nicholas

I am chair of the Statue for Lady Rhondda group in Newport, part of the Monumental Welsh Women campaign fundraising for five statues of five real Welsh women. A fan for a decade, ever since I heard about her at the Hay festival in 2013 and celebrating her suffragette centenary post-box fire incident which made ITV news, I began fundraising for a blue plaque and campaigning for her to be formally immortalised in statutory form. Born in Newport, I’ve volunteered at various local charities and services over the years. I am a leader at the Newport Brownie pack I attended as a child, and enjoy many of the city’s social and cultural events. I hope that our Lady Rhondda monument – the first statue of a named woman of Gwent, will add to the cultural and creative landscape of Newport.

(Image: Kamila Jarczak Photography)

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