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!




An Update on Breathing Space

Lucy our Projects Manager gives an overview on Breathing Space and how things have been going since it began last year –


In 2017 Womens Health Matters were grateful recipients of funding awarded by The Department of Culture, Media and Sport via the Tampon Tax fund for a project called Breathing Space which aims to support women who have experienced complex trauma as a result of domestic abuse.

We run two groups each week. One offers a short programme of sessions aimed at improving wellbeing. After completing this course, the second group is open to women who then wish to explore issues related to domestic abuse.

The project has quickly established itself and in the last 3 months we have worked with 30 women. In addition to the group work programme women have co designed and co-produced a publicity leaflet which aims  to encourage other women to access group support.

Huge thanks to all the women who have come along to Breathing Space groups since the project was launched in November last year. A few weeks ago our evaluator interviewed 8 women who have taken part in the sessions and then put their responses together in a report of “Early Findings” so that we can shape and develop the work in line with women’s needs and wishes.

Having read the report our first response is to say thank you to all the women who have come along to group and helped each other feel safer, stronger and more in control. Every smile, every connection is contributing to another woman’s wellbeing. One of the best things about working at Womens Health Matters is being given to opportunity to witness and encourage the incredible empathy and compassion that we see shared by the women taking part in our projects.


Through small acts of kindness and respectful support women told our evaluators that they begin to feel stronger:

“It helped me feel positive about myself, stronger in myself, it gave me lots of confidence because I started to realise, you know, I didn’t deserve the things that happened to me and it was them that was wrong. So it helped my confidence.”

They feel safer:

“ It’s made me to make myself safer just like if I’m out and someone wants to take advantage then now I know I can see what is wrong so ignore it and do what I want.”

They feel more relaxed:

“I don’t walk round like that no more with my shoulders up to my ears. I’m more laid back, more relaxed.”

And they know they are not alone:

“I’ve got my girls here, all the same girls, they’re going through it .They’ve got to make decisions that they need to make to keep their children safe. That’s what I need to do too. So it’s not like I am going through it on my own.”


It is a moving experience to reflect on the quality of support women in all of our groups offer to each other. Across the projects, from Breathing Space, Rainbow Hearts, The Key and Feel Good to Yums, LDVS support groups and Best Start, our workers are regularly lifted by the impact that warm hearted women have on one another. Here’s to all of you. Keep on looking after yourselves and looking after each other. You are game changers.


We have an exciting new project – Breathing Space!

We are really happy here at WHM to be launching a new project this autumn, offering a safe space to women who have experienced domestic violence and abuse. “Breathing Space” has been funded by the Department for Culture,Media and Sport through their “Tampon Tax” fund for three years. Groups will begin in November 2017.

At first we will work with women in small closed groups for 6 weeks so that we can build a sense of safety and develop some techniques that help deal with stress and cope with difficult feelings.  We know that many of the women we have worked with over the past 10 years have felt really anxious about meeting new people.  We don’t want anyone to worry about having to tell their story or explore complicated feelings in public, so these closed groups will just concentrate on helping everyone feel better on a day to day basis.

When women have been in these groups they may feel like joining an open group to explore ways to keep safe and explain some of the things they have experienced.  We will offer a rolling programme of sessions which help answer the questions women often ask us like “How could this happen to ME?”, “ Why don’t I feel like myself anymore?” and “ How will I ever trust anyone again?”. We will work with women to help them feel better in themselves and have more choice and control in their relationships .

Although being in a group can feel uncomfortable at first, we have seen over and over again how much better women feel after supporting each other to get to grips with some of these issues. The ideas that shaped “Breathing Space” came from women we have worked with in the past so thank you to everyone who has contributed in our groups and shared their thoughts and feelings with us! We will make sure that the ideas and insights that women bring to “Breathing Space” are also used to help make things better for others in similar situations in the future.

Please get in touch with us if you’d like to know more about this project or any of the other ways we support women and girls who have experienced domestic violence and abuse.