The Women Centred Working initiative has originated from the role WomenCentre Calderdale and Kirklees has played in pioneering women centred solutions and influencing national policies affecting women and families.
WomenCentre in West Yorkshire is one of the largest women’s centres in the UK. It provides a vast range of projects and services for some 3,500 women each year who are dealing with domestic violence, poor mental health and physical, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, substances misuse and offending behaviour.
Visit the WomenCentre website for further information.
Celebrating 30 years of women supporting women
Women whose lives have been transformed through women centred support joined practitioners to share inspiring success stories at a special event marking the 30th anniversary of two pioneering organisations.
West Yorkshire’s WomenCentre and The Nelson Trust, which runs ISIS Women’s Centres in Gloucester and Swindon, teamed up for a conference to celebrate 30 years of supporting vulnerable women and instigating grass roots change. Women’s Lives, Influencing Change, which took place in London last month, showcased examples of cutting-edge projects and expertise. It was also a chance to reflect on the future for much-needed gender responsive services at a time of extensive budget cuts.
Watch edited highlights from the Women’s Lives, Influencing Change event
‘This is a celebration of women supporting women’, said Rose Mahon, Women’s Services Manager at The Nelson Trust. She described how the organisation grew from a single alcohol recovery centre in 1985 and now offers wide-ranging multi-site, personalised, therapeutic and practical services. Its two award-winning ISIS women’s centres provide life-changing support for women experiencing complex inter-related problems including poor health, addiction, domestic violence, offending behaviour and financial troubles.
Needed more than ever
‘As an organisation we are needed now more than ever before’, Angela Everson, Chief Executive of WomenCentre, Calderdale and Kirklees, told conference delegates. WomenCentre was born of a merger of Womenspace Kirklees and the Calderdale Women’s Centre. As well as responding to the needs of some 100,000 women in crisis over the years, her organisation collaborates with statutory and voluntary agencies and draws upon its practical knowledge to advocate for policy change. WomenCentre’s one-stop-shop model has been replicated national. Independent evaluation demonstrates the value of its wide-ranging services in enabling women in crisis to build capacity to help themselves - and each other.
Examples in practice
Delegates at Amnesty International’s Headquarters heard from women who have turned their lives around as a result of women centred support and some of the professionals who are making it happen at local level.
Mothers who are living apart from their children described how being involved in WomenCentre’s Mothers’ Apart group has helped them cope with pain and stigma. Project Lead, Siobhan Beckwith, explained how group members share sorrows and triumphs in overcoming troubles that have parted them from their children and have worked together to produce In Our Hearts, an illustrated book of stories and reflections.
Young women reported how involvement in WomenCentre’s Way Forward project stopped their family and mental health issues from spiralling out of control. The Way Forward is a multi-agency project based on holistic understanding of young women’s lives, which has dedicated professionals working alongside them to build up confidence and resilience.
- Nelson Trust’s Residential Services Manager, Beth Hughes, described positive results achieved through adopting a trauma-informed approach which recognises the abuse many service users have suffered throughout their lives. ‘Women who have been told by social services they will never get their children back now have their children with them as a result of delivering interventions that work’, she said.
- Kirsty Tate, of the Sex Worker Outreach Project at the Nelson Trust’s Women’s Centre in Gloucester, described how an outreach project with sex workers is engaging with women who get stuck in a vicious circle of drug addiction and sex working to pay for drugs.
- Niki Gould, Manager of The Nelson Trust’s Women’s Centre in Gloucester, discussed the difficulties female offenders encounter when they are released from prison and have lost their homes and families. She described the intensive support that the Through the Gate scheme provides in the crucial 24 hours after women come out of prison.
Calls for better services
Alongside insights from service users and practitioners, prominent campaigners for better services for women discussed how future efforts to influence change can be targeted nationally.
Diana Barran, CEO of SafeLives, stressed the importance of multi-agency work in tackling domestic abuse, which still claims the lives of more than 100 women a year.
Prison philanthropist, Lady Edwina Grosvenor, told of her work to promote trauma-informed approaches in women’s prisons.
Baroness Lola Young, chair of Agenda, the new national alliance for women and girls who have experience multiple difficulties, explained ‘systems and services need to be designed with women and girls at their heart.’
Encouraging holistic solutions
‘Women’s centres get it right for women, but we are ahead of our time in some ways and need to continue convincing commissioners of the value of gendered working’, Clare Jones, WomenCentre’s National Lead for women centred working, told the Women’s Lives, Influencing Change event. ‘The Women Centred Working initiative has grown out of insights gained from working with women on the ground to enable them to build their own capacities and find their own sustainable solutions. These powerful solutions usually sit in the midst of a number of services, so we want to encourage statutory bodies to adopt more holistic, multi-agency approaches.’
Women Centred Working, funded by Lankelly Chase Foundation, is currently focusing on encouraging local authorities to respond to good practice evidence and enable more women centred solutions to flourish in the future. Over the past year, Ms Jones has advised new women’s centres that are being established across the UK: ‘I am delighted to see new centres implementing core principles that have been developed at women’s centres over the decades. Women with complex needs are finding it hard to keep going with so many cuts and services being dropped and these new centres will really help.’