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 and feed 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 so 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!

 

 

 

Spotlight on our team with a difference… hello and goodbye to Sarah!

This ‘Spotlight on our Team’ piece will be a little different.  It’s my turn and sadly also time to say some goodbyes.  I’ve been at WHM for almost 5 years and during that time I’ve worked on lots of different projects such as Footsteps, our original group for women whose children are in someone else’s care, Include – our project for young women who may be pregnant or who are parents, our young mum’s group YUMs and some of our domestic violence groups.  I have three roles at the minute – as Operations Manager,  Project Worker on The Key and as Line Manager for our Your Space Wellbeing Worker. Sadly, as two of these pieces of work are ending, I’ll be leaving WHM in April.

I’ve absolutely loved working at Women’s Health Matters, I did a student placement here over 10 years ago and then always kept an eye out for jobs they had going.  I’m a passionate feminist and have worked with young people for almost 20 years, so The Key – a project supporting girls and young women at risk of abusive relationships – has been my dream role.  If you’d have asked me to design the perfect project for me to work on, it would have been this, not many people are able to say they’ve had their dream job so I’m really very lucky.  In my Operations role, I’ve been responsible for things like our social media and website – which has worked really well as I’m a bit of a geek too.

I’ve worked with some incredible women and girls during my time here and I’ve been inspired over and over again by so many of them.  I can’t describe how proud I am of the work I’ve been involved with and that I know my lovely colleagues at WHM will continue to do.  It’s not a huge organisation, but it has the biggest heart.

Now, it’s finally my turn at the spotlight questions…

What does your role involve?

In The Key, I do group work and one to one support for 13-25 year old girls and young women around topics like healthy relationships, abuse, staying safe, managing difficult emotions like stress and anxiety, grooming and the impact of abuse on children.

As Operations Manager, I do all kinds of things including our online and technical ‘stuff’, so things like our social media accounts, the website and newsletter, plus managing our database.  I go to meetings and forums on behalf of WHM and lead on things like our data protection/ GDPR policies and procedures.

As Your Space line manager, I supervise lovely Amareen, making sure she is fully supported and work with the Your Space Project Manager at Touchstone.

So a big, busy mix!

What’s your favourite thing about WHM?

100% the women and girls we work with. There has been so much laughter (and a good amount of tears) during my time here.  I’ve loved encouraging them to think about who they are, how to understand and try to love their bodies, and realise how awesome they are. It’s been an honour to be a part of some of their stories.

What are 3 things you enjoy doing?

I really enjoy getting out and about in nature, particularly where there is cake and coffee involved, it really helps me breathe and clear my head.

I love being around ALL the floofs (animals for those that don’t know!), seriously, all of them. Not spiders though.

I love learning too, when I started at WHM I was also starting a Masters in Gender Studies, I finished a couple of years ago and this has been the longest I’ve gone without signing up to some form of education.  I think I’m mostly just nosey about stuff!

If you had a magic wand, what would you do with it?

Other than the obvious curing disease, poverty and hunger type stuff? I’d not only wish that all girls and women around the world were safe, but that they were thriving – living lives full of laughter and happiness, with very full self esteem buckets! Then I’d also wish that nobody every mistreated animals ever again, maybe that we worshipped them as magical creatures.  Too far, maybe?!

Huge thanks to my team here at WHM (including those wonderful women who previously worked here), to the women and girls I’ve worked with, and to the other professionals and partner organisations I’ve worked alongside over the last 5 years. Much love. x

Update from the Maternity Voices Partnership

We’ve had a busy time over the last 3 months at the Maternity Voices Partnership (MVP).

On January 13th 2020 the Clinical Commission Group (CCG) launched its Maternity and Neonatal Public Consultation.  The MVP parent representatives supported with engagement events across the city and promoted the survey to families.  The survey is for gaining feedback on families general experience on maternity services, to get opinions on the proposals to centralise all maternity services to the LGI and also to consult on the way hospital antenatal appointments are provided.  The aim of the consultation is to work out what future services should look like including a new midwifery led unit at LGI.  You can complete the survey here until 5th April 2020.

Engagement Lead Caroline Mackay said ‘Thank you for everyone’s commitment to the engagement and dedication to making service in Leeds the best they can be’.  This picture was taken at the final event with Julian Hartley; Chief Executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals.

In January MVP promoted and attended the ‘Whose Shoes’ workshop with Sally Goodwin Mills at Public Health as they delivered a fantastic infant feeding workshop.  The morning saw a mix of professionals and parents taking part in this fun board game which is designed to help professionals and service users listen to each other by answering different scenarios about support around different topics, this one was infant feeding.  It was really helpful for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and sharing your own experiences at the same time. As the event finished, we all pledged to help make information on breast feeding support accessible and consistent.  Sally is a regular attendee at our MVP formal meetings, and updates us on developments in this area, especially around breast feeding support information on postnatal wards.

We have also been supporting the NEST ambassadors around perinatal mental health, especially for dads and co-parents.  We’ve been successful in completing 9 face to face surveys, including at the Preparation Birth and Beyond antenatal course which take place in the community.  This was a good chance to also get dads views on the support they receive for their own mental health, as well as supporting their partner.

The Trust is soon to be going digital, so all your hand held notes are getting changed to Maternity Online Notes. The digital online survey about this is currently underway, we at the MVP felt it was also important to get face to face feedback to find out how many women use their notes.  We spoke to women in the community and out of 48 women this was the response:

How often do you check your notes?
After your scan and hospital appointment 27%
Before or after each appointment 38%
Every Day 2%
Never 23%
Once a Month 2%
Once a Week 8%

Any Parenting Apps
Yes 65%
No 35%

Age
Under 20 4%
21-30 40%
31-40 50%
Over 40 6%

Do you prefer Paper/Electronic/both
Paper 44%
Electronic 27%
Both 25%

In other news, after three years of being chair for the MVP, our wonderful Lucy Potter has handed over the reins of the chair duties of the MVP to Aneira, another member of the WHM team.  Lucy helped transition the (old) Maternity Service Liaison Committee (MSLC) to the new MVP in March 2018.  Lucy also worked with midwives to set up ‘Walking the Patch’, where each month a small team of parent representatives visit women and families at both hospital sites, and then feed back any issues the families may have to the team leader meeting.  During a recent Walking the Patch session we spoke to 10 families on the postnatal ward at St. James’s.  Most were very happy with their continuity of care when having an elective C-section.  This is a service previously operated from a smaller space, but it’s now in a welcoming, spacious environment.  This development has been led by Maternity Support Workers Margaret Bingham and Deborah Hampson with the goal of providing a comfortable area and the opportunity for families to meet each other before, during and after their operation.  After the feedback from the team leaders Lucy received a lovely bunch of flowers from all of the midwives to say goodbye and cake was served up.

Lucy wishes Aneira every success in being chair for the MVP and would like to thank all the parent reps who have supported the MVP over the years. Here at WHM, we’d like to thank Lucy for her dedication and passion for this project, you’ve made a huge difference to families in the city!

From left to right: Claire and Melissa Licence, Nicky Collins, Julia Kitching, Lucy Potter Sarah Joyce and Aneira Thomas.