‘I Am Ready’: The Cottage Family Centre Project

Published on 21 December 2023

A collaborative project between the University of Dundee and the Cottage Family Centre in Kirkcaldy, Fife that brought expectant mothers together to explore their journey of motherhood using creative arts.

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Facilitated by Shabnam Wasim, (Research and Innovation Services), the project brought Dr Sushila Chowdhry (School of Health Sciences) and Dr Vicky Armstrong (School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law) together with community leaders at the Cottage Family Centre, to co-create a six-week programme for expectant mothers in the ‘Bumps to Babes’ group. The team worked in partnership with Dundee singer songwriter, Be Charlotte. 

Project Partners

The Cottage Family Centre provides a range of advice and practical support to families and individuals within family units who are vulnerable to social exclusion as a result of factors such as poverty, unemployment, poor housing, relationship breakdown, drug and alcohol problems and health related issues. Their family support programme is aimed at strengthening relationships and helps individuals to make changes in their life by building on their strengths and abilities.

Be Charlotte is a professional singer/songwriter and music producer from Dundee. She is passionate about artist development as well as overseeing art direction and music production.

Dr Sushila Chowdhry (School of Health Sciences) researches pregnancy and early motherhood using arts-based and narrative methods, involving individuals and groups whose embodied experiences are often ignored or neglected.

Dr Vicky Armstrong (School of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Law) is an HCPC registered Art Psychotherapist, and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Psychology interested in how cultural spaces and arts engagement can be mobilised to improve wellbeing.

“For the service, it was also really valuable for us to work alongside different professionals with an array of different experiences and be able to use these to support our mums as well as develop our own skills and learning.”

Lesley Patrick, Team Manager, Cottage Family Centre

“It was great to work alongside Shabnam from the University as she did a brilliant job of bringing us all together and organising every aspect of the project.”

Be Charlotte, singer/songwriter

Getting started

The project partners met initially to explore aims and priorities in depth with consideration for the community group that would be involved. 

Drawing on the expertise around the table, a six-week programme of activities was established, including art sessions, creative writing, and music workshops. A day trip to the University of Dundee Botanic Garden was organised, to demonstrate how connecting with green spaces, or bringing nature into your everyday life, can benefit your mental and physical wellbeing.

“The University staff were very approachable and made us feel included and involved at every stage and provided us with opportunities that, without their support, would not have been possible. As a service, it also made us feel valued that the University was interested in the work that we carry out with our children and families and wanted to work with us to enhance that.”

Lesley Patrick, Team Manager, Cottage Family Centre

What we wanted to achieve

The aims for the project were to:

  • Create an experience that the group values.
  • Improve health and wellbeing of the group.
  • Build community and university connections, to allow future work together.
  • Provide an opportunity for each member of the community group to have a voice, share their experiences and be heard, using creative methods.

Measures of success for the project were:

  • Participation of the group continues throughout the six-week programme.
  • Reduced social isolation and increased confidence of the group.
  • Increased engagement of the group with Cottage Centre and the University beyond the scope of this project.
  • Production of shared cultural resources including artwork and a professionally produced piece of music that everyone has contributed towards.

How the project developed

Dr Sushila Chowdhry held art sessions with expectant mothers in the ‘Bumps to Babes’ group at the Cottage Family Centre. These sessions explored pregnancy and mothering, and what it meant to be a woman during these life-changing times. Themes expressed included body changes, emotions, and wellbeing in pregnancy, as well as their identity as individuals and as mothers.

Be Charlotte held creative writing sessions exploring descriptive and expressive words, later combining these with music for song writing. Having built a good rapport in the earlier art sessions, the group were more comfortable getting involved in these open discussions. A creative session was also held at the Botanic Garden with Dr Vicki Armstrong and Be Charlotte to help inspire the group whilst in a beautiful natural setting.

There was a need to remain flexible throughout, being ready to change the course of the project to suit the needs and wants of the community group. Having a mid-way informal evaluation meant that activities were adapted to ensure the group remained at the heart of the project.

“It was lovely to be introduced to the Cottage Family Centre and all the brilliant work they do, they made me feel so welcome in their place and I could tell the participants were extremely grateful to be involved.”

Be Charlotte, singer/songwriter

“Everyone involved was keen to come along and the friendships made have given the mums confidence to come to groups. We have now extended the group for a postnatal period to allow the mums to share their journey and meet all the babies.”

Michelle Barrie, Infant Mental Health Practitioner


The project concluded in a celebratory event at the Cottage Family Centre, to ensure the group feel valued and take pride in their work, with Be Charlotte performing the song live. Participants were able to showcase their creative outputs to family, friends, and organisations that work closely with the Centre. 

Be Charlotte also gave a live performance of the song to invited guests during the ‘Light It Up’ event at Festival of the Future 2023.

A selection of face masks painted in bright colours with stickers of positive statements

Through this project the women created a collection of artworks, and a song – I Am Ready – produced and recorded by Be Charlotte. 

Positive feedback received following the project highlighted several outcomes:

  • The ‘Bumps to Babes’ group valued this experience. The Cottage Family Centre reported continuous engagement from the expectant mothers across the six-week programme, even committing travel and time to attend a trip extending beyond their usual meetings. 
  • Participants increased in confidence and developed friendships with others in the group. Taking part in the project gave the group a voice to express their challenges, but also their hopes and ambitions for the future. The women made new connections and gained confidence to attend, ultimately seeing an improvement in their mental wellbeing.

Shabnam Wasim, Community Engagement Officer, commented:

“[The group’s] determination and their courageous spirit soon emerged as their confidence started to develop, and watching that transformation in these women throughout this project has been my favourite experience in this work.” 

Reflecting on the project, Lesley Patrick, Team Manager for the Cottage Family Centre said: 

“This group more than met the co-produced aims and outcomes we had set prior to starting the ‘Bumps to Babes’ group. Evidence of this was in both the continuous engagement of the expectant mums to be and their feedback throughout the sessions where they spoke about how they felt the group had given them a voice, also how their mental health had improved through attending the group as well as their understanding of their pregnancies and the emotions connected to it.”

Legacy and future work

The song, ‘I am Ready’, will continue to support the Cottage Family Centre in future endeavours and has already been used in their 2023 Christmas fundraising appeal video.

The project has established a strong collaborative partnership between Dr Sushila Chowdhry and the Cottage Family Centre, and has created future opportunities to continue working collaboratively. It has also provided an opportunity for Sushila to conduct further research in pregnancy and early motherhood.

Additionally, the project has opened doors for new interdisciplinary collaborations within the University.

“I was really grateful to share in the opportunity to work with professionals who have experience in art and music, these tools were useful to allow the mums to relax in a group setting and be able to produce work they ordinarily wouldn’t have the opportunity too. This has allowed me to have ideas for future groups.” 


Shabnam Wasim

Public Engagement Officer

+44 (0)1382 386660