What have we been up to? Life at Women’s Health Matters during lockdown

Just over 9 weeks ago, we were all advised by the government to #stayhome #staysafe.  Our sense of normality, routine and structure all disappeared and we were all thrown into a bit of the unknown. We have all had moments where we have all felt a bit lost, not sure what to do with ourselves, or how we might get through this difficult and confusing time. So, we here at Women’s Health Matters thought it might be nice to share with the world what we have been up to, how we’ve been keeping ourselves busy and inspired, and most importantly how we’ve been looking after our mental health and well-being.

Aneira kicked us off by letting us know what she had been up to. With a 2-year-old toddler, life outside of work for Aneira has been very busy, keeping her little one occupied and entertained. As quite a creative person, Aneira has been spending much of her time doing lots, and lots, and LOTS of arty- crafty things with her little girl. They’ve been busy painting pebbles for the garden, making Elmer elephants out of milk bottles, painting using balloons and even made some dragons out of toilet rolls!! Busy busy!

Karen on the other-hand, has spent her time in lockdown missing her hairdresser – so much so that she took matters into her own hands! She and her husband watched a hair-cutting demo on the internet and then gave it a go themselves! Being the brave woman that she is, Karen asked her husband to cut an inch off the bottom….He took four! To add insult to injury, the only hair dye Karen could find left her hair the same colour as her garden fence! Challenging times indeed! Thankfully, our ever-optimistic Karen appreciates that, at the end of the day, it is just hair, and it will grow back.

Many of us here at Women’s Health Matters, much like everyone else out there, have been learning to juggle work, schooling, childcare, technology and our ever changing, up and down, emotions – adjusting to life on the “coronacoaster”. Our wonderful Leeanne, gave us a bit of an insight into how she’s been managing, taking inspiration from her new rescue cat – Ernie. The beautiful Ernie has inspired Leeanne to take time out when she can, to stretch, to sleep, to eat, to keep hydrated and to keep herself lovely and clean! As Leeanne says – when in doubt – make like Ernie!

Something else that has changed for our beautiful Leeanne is that she has taken to driving!! Go Leeanne! Leeanne passed her driving test at the end of January, but felt to nervous to take to the roads and go out and drive, making every excuse she could think of to avoid it. But when things changed, Leeanne ran out of excuses and took to the roads (all be it full of nerves and recuse remedy!) Rightly so, our Leeanne felt super proud of herself – she finally did something that scared her and pushed her outside of her comfort zone!

During these difficult times, many of us are focused on looking after other people, family, friends, colleagues – all too often we forget about ourselves. Our fantastic CEO, Rachel, reminded us just how important it is to take time for ourselves and has been sharing with us just how she has made time for her during this difficult, stressful time. Rachel has been making the most of not having to travel to the office on a morning, and has been using this time to practice yoga! As a newbie, Rachel has been making the most of free videos on YouTube – she’s already feeling the benefits and is already feeling a little bit more flexible! Rachel has also signed up to a free, live philosophy class which takes place online. Through this course Rachel has ‘met’ so many new people from all across the country and beyond – there’s even one lady from South Africa in her group!

And finally – our wonderful Lucy P. The first few weeks of lockdown were extremely difficult for our poor Lucy, with her daughter staying 300 miles away with her Dad. But on the 9th of May, Lucy was finally reunited with her daughter! Many a happy tear were shed after 8 weeks apart! The extremely self-disciplined Lucy has been quite strict with herself during lockdown, laying down some ground rules on how to be more creative, and ensuring that she makes time to stop, enjoy nature and have quality time with her family.  She’s taken to growing veg in her garden (and as you can see is an absolute natural at it!), is learning more songs on her guitar, and letting her creative side out by doing creative know work on jam jars! Multi-talented!

 

All of us here at Women’s Health Matters hope you are all safe and well. We hope that in sharing our stories with you, you are able to find some inspiration and maybe a few new ideas that you can try out yourselves. But above all else, we want you to know that you are not alone, remember that we are here with you through this difficult time. We are here for you, to support, and to listen. Remember –  You matter, You are important.

Catch us next time to see what the rest of team have been up to over the last few weeks.

Take care of yourselves. X

A Your Space update from Amareen

Amareen, our Your Space Community Wellbeing Space and Support Service Worker, tells us what she’s been up to so far in 2020.

I recently delivered a workshop on wellbeing and stress reduction for Leeds City Council Youth workers at TechNorth.  We had some really great discussions, and it opened up a space for the team to reflect, connect and support each other.  We got some great feedback and they told us they really valued having the chance to focus on themselves.

Our weekly LS8 Chocolate, Chat and Chill session has continued to be a valuable community resource for visitors, offering friendly vibes and tasty snacks, and we’ve seen our regular attendees grow in number, welcoming a few new faces.  The Chocolate, Chat & Chill sessions are a relaxed space to come and sit, get to know new people and have interesting conversations with food and hot drinks included. Recently some members have started cooking for the group, so we’re trying to be very creative in a small space!

 

I’ve been working in partnership with the lovely Mimi from Koby Dance Studios to offer dance and wellbeing workshops for women in East Leeds.  The workshops are free, there is a crèche available, snacks and wellbeing support offered.   The first two sessions were a huge success, and thoroughly enjoyed by participants.  Frustratingly, due to the current public health situation, we’ve had to close them temporarily, but we are working on offering these online in the near future. Watch this space!

 

With the lockdown, the Your Space team are getting more creative in how we reach out to and support people virtually.  We are offering check-ins via phone, WhatsApp and Skype to our participants, and setting up groups online.  In these challenging times, it’s more important than ever to keep connected, support our neighbours and look after ourselves.  Keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates of our plans.  Hope to see you at an online session soon!

Just in time to celebrate our work!

A week before the Corona virus starting keeping us all apart, we brought almost a hundred women and girls together!  Each year we have a big celebration of our work, the women and girls who attend all of our projects come along, we invite funders and other professionals that we work alongside from across the city.  It’s always an emotional, inspirational and fun event, and this year was no different.

                                       

 

The event took place at the Leeds City Museum who were kind enough to host us.  There was a big display of bunting that the women from each of our groups had been working on in their sessions.  We started off hearing from Rachel our Chief Exec with a bit of an overview of our year.  She told everyone about the projects that were coming to an end, but also about exciting new pieces of work like Your Space, our partnership project with Touchstone and Holbeck Together.  We than had a fantastic performance from incredible Leeds poet Khadijah Ibrahim who inspired and entertained us all.

 

Next Lucy introduced the video Breathing Space have made which shows women from the group giving tips to professionals on how to support people who have experienced trauma, which included being aware of triggers, not judging and thinking about eye contact.  One of the things people always tell us they love about our celebrations is hearing Rainbow Hearts sing, this was next up and as usual, it was incredible.  During the performance Sally read out messages from some of the women about what coming to Rainbow Hearts has meant to them.

 

                                      

 

 

Sarah followed this with an introduction to the animations that some girls and young women from The Key have worked on with Children & Families Services.  The young women were asked what it was like growing up as a girl in Leeds and they talked about whatever was important to them.  We watched the animations on healthy relationships, mental health and abuse.

 

 

Finally, and most importantly, we heard from women and girls from across our projects about their stories and what coming to their group has meant to them.  There are always some tears around the room during this part of our celebration, but a lot of uplifting messages too, and it often means a lot to the women and girls to have their voices heard.

“Coming to these groups helped me come to terms with what had happened in my past wasn’t my fault. Being around women who were like me helped build my confidence and self-esteem.”

“My mental health has improved a lot…I feel a lot safer and a lot less lonely. I don’t make friends at my group, I make family and it just keeps growing.”

“Today I stand alone this strong because I am no longer a victim, but a survivor. I survived what I went through to live & protect my children, that along takes strength & courage like no other. I’m at the stage in my journey where I realise I will never fully recover from what I went through, because sustained trauma affects every aspect of a person’s life, whether it be living with the aftermath with Social Care, or battling through depression & suicidal thoughts. But I can and I will heal because of the determination I have in me to show my children it’s never ok to be alone and fighting silent battles.”

“Group has made my confidence grow and improved my mental health. I have overcome most of my fears and I can now see a change in myself, so thank you for helping me be a better persona & believe in myself when no-one else did.”

“I came into this project feeling desperate for somebody to speak to & listen to me, not just judge me for being a ‘stroppy teenager’. (Workers) made me the woman I am today and I am grateful for that, so thank you.”

 

                                        

 

At this point, we all needed a little break, so it was time for lunch and for the relaxing part of the day to begin!  We had a couple of henna designers, a fantastic photo booth from Getaway Girls that was VERY popular and creative types could have a go at making memory boxes with The Key’s Moving on Group and paint a section of a community canvas with Amareen from Your Space.  We were so very thankful to the staff and students from Leeds City College’s hair and beauty department, who offered hand massages, braiding and ‘hair up’ styling for anyone who fancied a bit of pampering.  Finally, after having some gorgeous cake baked by our very own Bridget, it was time to head home.

The celebration is always a highlight of our year – looking around the room at such incredible women and girls, seeing them face their fears and tell their stories, then being able to just spend some time enjoying themselves together.  Massive thanks to everyone who made the event happen, particularly Ranstad for the crèche, Leeds City Museum for the venue and Leeds City College for the pampering.  Lastly, as always thanks to the girls and women from our projects who came along, opened up and showed what Women’s Health Matters is all about – women supporting women.  Same time next year?

                                     

Reflections on The Key

We set up The Key in 2013 for two main reasons – firstly women in our domestic violence groups told us they wished that someone had talked to them about relationships or offered them support when they were much younger – often their first abusive relationships had started in their early teens.  Secondly, because our group work in schools showed that girls and young women not only wanted to learn about healthy relationships and staying safe, but lots of them NEEDED it, whether because they were in an abusive relationship, or they witnessed or experienced abuse at home.  We knew it was important to remove as many barriers to young women accessing the service as possible – we wanted to support people from across the city, so we didn’t have to turn people away if they didn’t live in a certain area.  We knew we needed to provide transport – some women were anxious about making their own way there, or getting a bus, or wouldn’t be able to afford to get there themselves and we didn’t want problems with travel to stop people getting to the support they needed.  At WHM we always try to provide a crèche where funding allows, because we know lots of women can’t attend groups if there isn’t a safe space for their children provided, we wanted interpreters for the same reason.   Thankfully, the lovely folk at the National Lottery Community Fund completely agreed and funded the project, initially for three years.

Originally, The Key had three strands – long term group support for girls aged 13–17 that would fit around school or college, long term group support for young women 16-25 during the day that would have a crèche so those with children could attend, and intensive one to one support for those who needed it, or who couldn’t attend group for some reason.  Group sessions covered things like identifying different types of abuse, learning how to recognise our early warning signs – our gut instinct or feelings in our body that tell us something isn’t ok and the impact of abuse on children – for young women this focussed on how living with relationship abuse could impact their own children growing up and for the girls, we looked at what the impact may have been on them growing up around abusive relationships.  Alongside these sessions around abuse, we looked at what helps us avoid future unhealthy relationships – sessions around what a healthy relationship looks like, what we as individuals want from a romantic relationship, how we can increase our self esteem and also feel stronger in ourselves.  The one to one support we offered depended on what the girl or young woman needed, it could be emotional support or practical support – such as attending court or reporting to the police, or with some we would go through a healthy relationships programme with them that would fit what was going on in their lives.

This worked so well, girls and women came to group loved it (even those who were really nervous at first!), shared their stories, sometimes cried a little, laughed A LOT and worked through what was going on for them.  They also really supported each other, with ideas and suggestions about how they managed to deal with certain issues shared with everyone.  We were clear that it needed to be a really safe environment where there was no judgment, and everyone stuck to that and looked after each other.  If there was a specific issue coming up for a lot of people, we’d add a session on it – such as a self harm session for the girls group and a sexual violence session for the young women’s group.  In our third year we held a Key event that group members planned with us, to celebrate the project and tell everyone how great it was!

When the first three years of funding ended, we had seen how important the project was and what a difference it made for girls and young women in Leeds, but we also knew we could make it better.  The long term support was still the main focus, but we also wanted to add short term healthy relationships programmes in schools which would help us reach more girls, but also help prevent some of them from finding themselves in unhealthy relationships.  Our evaluators from Leeds Beckett University also had a recommendation – that group members who had completed the programme struggled to leave our project as they often still had things going on they wanted support with when.  We totally agreed with this, so wanted to add another aspect to the project – a Moving on Group. This would be somewhere group members could go when they finished their initial group programme to still have support, but it would be every two weeks rather than weekly, would be a bit more flexible around how the group was delivered and those attending would have more involvement in how the group was run.  we went back to our funders and they gave us a further three years.

This time round we also included more sessions around dealing with difficult emotions such as anxiety, stress and managing anger and around our bodies, sex and consent.  We delivered the short programme in schools across the city and added some one-off sessions on recognising abuse in places like youth clubs and colleges.  In our final year we worked with Leeds Children’s Services to produce animations on what it’s like growing up as a girl in Leeds where the girls and young women spoke about what was important to them, including interviews on periods, puberty, sexual violence, difficult family relationships, bullying,  pregnancy and abusive relationships.  These animations will be released to the public soon so keep an eye out for them!  Last year, The Key was recognised at the Children and Young People Now magazine’s national awards in London, where we were shortlisted in three categories, read more about that here!

This month, we’re saying goodbye to this ground-breaking project.  We want to say a huge thank you to the support from the lottery and also to our evaluators Louise and Susan at Leeds Beckett University.  Thank you to the WHM team who have worked on the project – Lucy, Marianna, Nic, Sarah, Aneira, Leeanne and Karen.  Our biggest thank you goes to the girls and young women who have been part of The Key over the years – your support of each other, bravery, kindness and strength has amazed us every single day.  You made the project what it was and it’s been fantastic!