A BRADFORD organisation, which aims to start conversations between the city's different communities in order to tackle radicalisation, grooming and hate crime, held an award ceremony at City Hall last week to celebrate local women.

Empowering Minds, run by Sofia Mahmood, held the ceremony on Thursday, to recognise those who have completed its Empowering Mothers Against Radicalisation programme.

Those in attendance - the programme's participants and partners, as well as representatives from West Yorkshire Police and Bradford Council - praised the project for its work in promoting community cohesion.

Empowering Mothers Against Radicalisation sees women from across the Bradford district discuss the misconceptions they may have of each other's communities, as well as the signs of radicalisation and grooming - whether it is by a religious extremist group, a far-right group or by any other group.

"Our Empowering Mothers Against Radicalisation project tackles controversial subjects and is very raw. A lot of people want to ask questions to people of different communities and don't know how to articulate those questions, but we create a safe space for people to do so", said Sofia, who founded Empowering Minds in 2015.

Sofia has worked at a national level with young offenders, vulnerable women and girls and other groups in the past, and argues that grooming and radicalisation can happen in any community, and is not limited to just one demographic.

"It is not just one community that is a perpetrator, or a victim, of grooming and radicalisation, despite the stereotypes that may exist.

"When people don't get the answers they're looking for, they can get drawn in to radical groups who give them those answers, who prey on them and give them a false sense of belonging. Every community is feeling victimised - we have to asses how we can deal with this.

"We're in a difficult time. There's a rise in Islamophobia and racism, but I think Bradford is a leading example of progression.

"The ceremony is recognising these women, who share so many similarities. We have more in common than meets the eye."

Syca Rafiq, from Undercliffe, and Louise Horrell, from Shipley, were just two of the women awarded for their participation in the programme.

"It's really brought me out of my shell. A lot of South Asian women lack a voice, so it's nice to have groups like this", said Syca.

Louise added, "We have a nice mix of South Asian and white British ladies - the first conversations we had were like, 'so hang on a minute, Islam doesn't say that you MUST wear the Hijab?', and they'd ask, 'so, you don't HAVE to go to Church?'"

"We had really honest discussions and, all of a sudden, it wasn't Muslim ladies and white ladies, it was just a group of ladies. It really helps to break down barriers - I was speaking to one Asian lady and it turns out we both have children with special needs.

"I used to think, naively, that radicalisation only happened to Muslims, but then I realised I was really wrong on that. I know people who have, essentially, been groomed and radicalised by groups like Britain First - now I challenge prejudice a lot more, and I feel like I'm making a difference.

"Myself and my 7-year-old son heard someone say a racial slur recently, and I felt like I now had the tools to be able to have that conversation with him, about why that language is wrong, more effectively.

"Myself and Syca would never have met without this programme, but I love her and I think she's brilliant.

"I agree - we're all from different ethnicities, but we get on really well", Syca added.