Lancashire Women - The charity helping others keep going through hard times
PUBLISHED: 08:28 08 September 2020
© Chalkie Bolton Photography
Growth, development and empowerment... Here’s how Lancashire Women is transforming the lives of women in the comfort of a safe space.
The biggest boundary for women is stepping through our doors and asking for help. That’s what they tell us.’
The ‘us’ marketing officer Amber Wells is referring to here is Lancashire Women, a charity set up by women, for women, more than 35 years ago. And it’s just as relevant today. Because data suggests that in June this year, women were 81 per cent more likely than men to suffer an anxiety attack, and 22 per cent more likely to feel down, depressed or hopeless – something the hit of Covid has only worsened.
The University of Exeter paper, which refers to data collected on June 19th, also says that when compared to men, women are more concerned about getting and spreading the virus; are more likely to expect a new lockdown or virus outbreak by the end of the year; and are more likely to hold more ‘coronavirus-risky’ jobs. They’re also 96 per cent more likely to have lost their job because of the pandemic.
‘We’ve had to look at our services and how we can really adapt to those changes and the peaks and trends that women are coming to us for,’ Amber says. ‘We’re all about giving women choice. How can we do that in the best possible way?’
The charity currently offers four programmes: mental health and well-being; employment and skill support; a programme supporting women with money, benefits and debt advice, and one that supports women in the criminal justice system. There’s telephone and Zoom appointments – and for those who prefer (virtual) face-to-face contact, there’s the mental health groups, including the new life skills group, helping women to reach their goals by making a positive change.
‘If women are lonely – perhaps living on their own or suffering with a long-term physical health condition – it can be so helpful for them to be in a group and to hear from other women feeling the same way. It’s about knowing they’re just at the other end of the phone,’ Amber says.
‘It’s really flexible. We focus on a different topic each week so women can just drop in and out depending on their needs, and we work on this whole system approach. We know that women might come to us suffering with their mental health – they might have depression or anxiety – but actually maybe some of that is because they have got debt.
‘Helping them with that debt then supports their mental health. There’s a lot of cross-over which is why we think it works so well, and it’s all under one roof so women don’t need to keep repeating their story. We’re about moving forward.’
Lancashire Women’s network of centres (which are still closed due to the pandemic) expands across Accrington, Burnley, Preston and Blackpool, and there’s outreach spots in Blackburn, Lancaster and the Lake District. And sometimes, Amber says – ‘we’ll come to you’.
‘We support women with anxiety, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and loneliness – all of which has been heightened during these times,’ Amber says. ‘We’ve found that sometimes going to where women are – whether that be a library, for example, or a different organisation – if they’ve already built up a relationship there, it reduces that expectation of women having to come to us. It’s working really well.
‘A lot of women are in low paid and part-time jobs, and a lot of women have found themselves either furloughed or made redundant because they are on those contracts. We know that women are primarily care givers, too, so the closure of schools had a massive impact on their time, which then has a knock-on effect on money advice and those people coming to us.’
The staff at Lancashire Women have adapted to the unprecedented situation – they’ve learned new skills, become more flexible in their work approach (and working hours) and are now more tech-savvy. They’ve done YouTube self-help guides on how to use Zoom, how to use their YouTube account and there’s been a lot of work on FAQs.
And there’s also an army of volunteers, many of whom have come through Lancashire Women programmes and now support the charity as group facilitators with one-to-ones, in admin or in a meet-and-greet role at reception. ‘We’re constantly having that conversation with women to make sure our services are as women-centred as they possibly can be,’ Amber says.
And the charity’s groups are actually now having a better engagement rate than pre-covid, with its ‘not-attended’ rate falling from almost 40 per cent in February to 21 per cent in April. Feedback is revealing that more women would prefer to keep some services running from home, too, as they’ve seen a number of benefits, including that women with anxiety about leaving the house feel less alone.
‘We’re looking at how that will affect us,’ Amber says. ‘We know there will always be a need for women to come to us and for us to create that safe space for them – that is never going away. But it diversifies our offer a bit more.’
That charity’s latest offering is a pet café, where women are encouraged to bring their own pets for animal assisted activity and to discuss how they support their mental well-being. Amber says: ‘When we first went into lockdown, we asked our women if they had a support network. Many came back saying they had a dog who gets her up in the morning and helps her keep a routine, and that she’s active because she has to take the dog out.
‘The importance of that emotional support was heightened even more when we held a competition on our social media asking women to send pictures of their pets. We had reptiles, we had chickens; there were cows, goats, as well as rabbits, cats and dogs. We knew we had to explore it a bit more.’
Lancashire Women offers a space of empowerment, of creativity and collaboration. Amber adds: ‘There’s no expectation; there’s no judgement. Just come and be.’
There’s a group for everyone
Lancashire Women is still open online and by phone, with all groups available on Zoom.
Mindfit (launching September 3rd): Build your self-esteem, confidence and reduce your worry and stress.
Mental health and well-being support: One-to-one therapy, courses and peer-led groups.
Employment and skills support: A tailored service to help you gain employment, go into education, volunteering or find a job.
Money, benefits and debt advice: Budgeting, benefit applications and back-to-work calculations.
Justice and safety: Support for women who are in contact, or at risk of contact, with the criminal justice system.
C.O.O.L. (Coming out of lockdown): Covering topics such as fears, thoughts, emotions, and unhelpful thinking habits.