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

More endings – goodbye to Breathing Space

Breathing Space Project has been providing domestic abuse support for women in Leeds for the last two and a half years, ending on 31st March 2020.  The Department of Digital, Culture, Sport and Media funded the project through the Tampon Tax Fund.  We have been working towards the project ending but the Corona Virus has disrupted the last few weeks of delivery as we have had to replace group work with telephone support.  It is hard to finish a project at a time like this, and all the more important to celebrate the achievements of the women that attended.

We know that abusive relationships can take a toll on how we feel and act day to day, so the project developed a strong focus on the way we can look after ourselves and how we can take control back in important areas of our lives.  It has been a really special project with amazing women who have enjoyed the sessions and learnt about the importance of self-care during the most difficult times.  We worked on stabilisation with the women for the first 6-8 weeks.  These sessions looked at how to cope in difficult situations, how to improve sleep, dealing with nightmares and flashbacks; food and mood, breathing and guided meditations as well as understanding depression and anxiety.  Once the women completed these sessions they would move onto looking at issues related to abusive relationships.  This included thing like the impact of domestic abuse on children, why it can be so difficult to leave an abusive relationship and how to communicate more effectively with friends, family and professionals.  Women also helped us shape the project by letting us know what they wanted to explore in more depth.

We owe a huge thank you to Krissy, our yoga teacher who would come into the stabilisation sessions and teach us all how to use breathing to ground ourselves.
The women we have worked with have done some fantastic work and have gained an immense amount of confidence through Breathing Space.  Women from the groups co- produced (helped plan and organise) an event last March which aimed to tell people about the project and what it involved.  The professionals who attended told us they really enjoyed it, especially because the women helped run it.

This year women have co-produced a training video for professionals, sharing their skills and insights, to help the workforce be more trauma aware.  Our first screening was at the Women’s Health Matters celebration event where it went down really well.
Corona virus stopped a planned conference going ahead, where women from Breathing Space were going to be sharing their experiences and showing the film to qualified social workers.  It’s a great shame but looking forwards, the film and the voices of these women will be around after the current pandemic has passed.  Our team will be waiting to pick up the threads where we left off and take the legacy of Breathing Space forward wherever possible.

We are incredibly proud of everyone who attended Breathing Space.  Thank you all for helping us build such a warm and friendly environment so we could achieve so much together.

Exciting new video project with Breathing Space

Some of the women from our Breathing Space project are working with Tee Hogan of Teevision to create a film around their experiences.  We have two aims for this piece of work, firstly that other women going through domestic abuse will hopefully feel like they are not alone and are encouraged not only to get help and support, but are also able to work out what support is right for them.

The film will also be a training tool for professionals. The women were reflecting on what it feels like to be properly heard, or not, and what it’s like to have been through trauma and then have to work with someone you don’t know, such as a new Social Worker.

Some of their messages to professionals were;

  • Remember that we feel isolated and anxious
  • Please pay full attention to the person you’re trying to help
  • Professionals should work together when needed
  • Women would like full feedback from MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences), they felt they were being spoken about, but don’t know what is being said.

Group members also said that they felt professionals didn’t always understand how complicated being in an abusive relationship is, that saying ‘just leave’ or ‘just call the police’ isn’t always helpful.

One woman said –

“I couldn’t call the police to my house if he was violent because I knew people who would make you disappear.”

They also talked about the fact that in multi-agency meetings, women and men were often held to different standards. So, if the child’s dad attended one meeting, they felt he was really praised, but if mum attended all of hers, but then missed one, she was judged much more harshly.

“He’s treated like a prince in meetings.”

The film is still in its early stages, but we’ll keep you posted and are looking forward to showing it to the public!