Women centred services have benefitted tens of thousands of women and their families over almost three decades. WomenCentre Calderdale and Kirklees and other women’s centres and projects around the UK have been working in communities to support vulnerable women with multiple problems to make positive, long-term changes for many years.
What women say
Coming here gave me other options and has changed my life’
Service users testify to the positive impacts the women centred way of working has had on them. Here’s what just a few have to say…
‘I started coming here six or seven years ago… It really helps to relate to other women and have people to talk to about my mental health and eating disorder and addictions. I’ve attended therapy and different groups here, do sewing and have taken up exercise and it’s helped me to be who I am today – my whole lifestyle has changed for the better.’
‘I’ve tried to come off the heroin before but no one ever looked at why I got into it in the first place. Now I have left my partner and am coming to WomenCentre I am starting to look at my past. I have been on the methadone programme for longer than ever and feel that I am over the worst. I haven’t needed to steal and am really determined to stay well. I have never had support like this before.’
‘The staff are there to help if you want it but they don’t tell you what to do. It’s good to be able to talk to people in similar circumstances. There have been times when it felt like it would have been much easier just to go back to my partner even though he abused me, but coming here gave me other options and has changed my life.’
‘I feel like I can make better decisions for myself now. I feel more free to work through conclusions and it gives me confidence to do positive things I’ve never done before.’
‘I was on the receiving end of domestic violence for years and eventually just snapped and ended up with a probation order, so I came here and I take part in all sorts of different groups. If I hadn’t come here I would probably have been locked up. I was in a bit of a mess.’
What professionals say
I witness huge amounts of courage, care and resilience of women helping each other make positive decisions’
‘It’s warmer and more informal here, but in no way less professional. There’s a very high level of professionalism but it’s accessible for any women to come here. There are less barriers between workers and service users.’ WomenCentre counsellor
‘Problems are complex and people get overwhelmed having to go to lots of different places. Some people can have 15 different workers and be sent from pillar to post and that wastes time and resources and causes more stress.’ Administrator
‘Being a one stop shop really helps because people come here for all different reasons and whatever the issue is, there is usually someone in the building who can help. It’s often a big step coming here and we want to make sure no one goes away empty handed. We try to give every women who walks through the door something – we take that extra time and that builds up trust.’ Project worker
‘It is about getting to the bottom of a problem, and the trauma that often lies at the base of different problems, and getting below the layers to find solutions.’ Counsellor
‘Despite incredible pressures and barriers many women experience, I witness through all the work we do huge amounts of courage, care and resilience of women helping each other make positive decisions.’ Manager
‘Within the statutory sector, it’s designed to throw people and children, young people, from professional to professional.’ Professional who referred client for women centred support
What the experts say
The Way Forward – inspiring a better way of working with young women
The evaluation report on The Way Forward, a pilot project to support disadvantaged 15-24 year olds Calderdale, was launched at Leeds Beckett University on 4 November. The project, run by WomenCentre Calderdale and Kirklees, was set up in January 2013 as a new way of working to identify and engage with girls and young women who were slipping between existing services and would otherwise enter adulthood with severe and escalating levels of disadvantage.
Researchers from Leeds Beckett University have been evaluating the Way Forward pilot over the last three years. During this time, the WomenCentre Calderdale and Kirklees project identified and addressed unmet needs for 165 young women. Evaluation by the research team found it a success in providing a gendered, personalised and preventative approach to working with young women at risk.
Leeds Beckett’s Dr Louise Warwick-Booth, principal investigator for the project, said: “The Way Forward project set out to engage, support and empower girls and young women. It allows young women to express their own needs, anxieties and views and its unique approach challenges the invisibility of girls and young women in the current system of health service provision. Women are placed at the heart of the ethos and experience, with the project changing shape as it has responded to actual situations and need. It has provided some powerful insights into gendered approached to health and wellbeing support. Using evidence from focus group discussions, interviews and analysis of monitoring data and case notes, we can emphatically say that The Way Forward was a successful project that provides a good example of preventative, early intervention work with young women.”
The research team found young women using the project had trust and confidence in the service, which has potential to reduce incidents of self-harm, girls putting themselves at risk, crime, pregnancies and involvement with the criminal justice system.
Young women involved in the project joined academics and WomenCentre staff and managers to celebrate its success at the Leeds Beckett University conference.
One young women described how her involvement in the project enabled her find a way beyond a chaotic situation in which she was living: “I wasn’t passed from pillar to post like I’d been in the past. Having one person to work alongside you who never gives up is what really makes a difference.”
Another told delegates about her transformation from an anxious 17 year old, who was estranged from her family, into a independent woman thanks to support from Way Forward’s dedicated workers. “Life without the project would be unbearable for most of us,” she said.
Clare Jones, WomenCentre’s national lead for Women Centred Working, said: “The Way Forward is a inspiring example of the sort of women centred model that delivers results. Local agencies have had the foresight to work together in a way that enables professionals to shape support and around individual situations and needs and encourage young women who were falling between cracks in services to find their own way forward. Leeds Beckett University’s evaluation of the pilot, along with testimony from young women involved, demonstrates how this way of working can transform the lives of vulnerable young women. The Women Centred Working initiative was set up to share good practice. The Way Forward pilot is exactly the sort of approach that could bring enormous benefits for individuals, families, statutory and voluntary organisations if it were rolled out more widely in other communities across the UK.”
£1 invested in integrated, community based support generates £14 worth of social value
An impact report on women centred services by the Centre for Welfare Reform found:
- 80% of women accessing women centred support had substantial improvements in mental health
- women also identified improvements in relationships, work, housing, neighbourhood, money, physical health and parenting
- reoffending among those accessing women centred support was cut to less than 5%
New Economics Foundation research involving women’s community services found helping women make positive changes in their lives can help reduce demands on police, offender management, social services, healthcare and housing.
Researchers found every £1 invested in community-based support for low risk female offenders generates £14 worth of social value over ten years. They said: ‘There is a strong case for commissioners from criminal justice, health and children’s services to look at commissioning these services.’ Download A Wise Commission
Recent service evaluation by consultants DMSS looked at the life-courses of women and girls experiencing offending behaviour, homelessness, prostitution and exploitation, chronic mental health and substance abuse and found evidence to support the integrated women-centred model. Women and Girls at Risk summary
An evaluation of WomenCentre’s Maze project by the University of Huddersfield found it innovative and highly successful in tailored work with women deemed ‘hard to reach’ by other agencies. Read the Angela Everson and Sue Peckover journal article abstract.
An independent evaluation of the Mothers Apart project demonstrated the value of the women centred approach for 29 women in West Yorkshire who are living apart from their children and may have experienced sexual abuse, substance misuse, debt, health conditions and other complex problems. The report features case studies and insights into women centred working. Download here.
Staff, volunteers and partner organisations as well as the women who have benefitted from the project tell their stories in an evaluation of Reaching Out, an innovative women centred way of countering social isolation. Download here.