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!

 

 

 

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

Wellbeing Wednesdays have begun.

We’re so pleased to be able to say that our new wellbeing group has started!  It’s a monthly group for asylum seeking women, funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation.  The group brings women together to make friendships and reduce loneliness.  Each month we’ll share food, have a go at crafts, mindfulness activities and much needed relaxation.  It’s a fab way to come together and share our stories and coping techniques, have people to talk to and obviously, have fun!

In our first session we looked at what things we would like to do in the group, women suggested great ideas like going for walks, visiting local museums and trying new arts and crafts activities.  In our December session, one of the members is going to teach us how to knit while we come up with a name for our group.  It can be such a difficult, stressful and lonely time of year, so it’s lovely that we can all be there for each other while learning new skills.  We’ll keep you posted on the kinds of things we get up to!

 

 

Rosebuds gets arty with Mentally Healthy Leeds.

Rosebuds is one of our groups for women who are living apart from their children, meeting weekly at the Tetley Art Gallery.  It’s funded by Leeds Trust as part of their year long support of projects working in the community to overcome loneliness. 

                                                                                                                          

As part of this important piece of work, we have been working with Mentally Healthy Leeds who have provided us with a wonderful worker, Belinda Sawyer.  She has been in to the group twice and run really fun and thought provoking sessions on the nature of femininity in the world and self-identity.  The women have really enjoyed these sessions, and we had lots of really interesting conversations, thinking about who we are as women and how we present and communicate this to the world.  From eating chocolate mindfully to making masks, we have really enjoyed the fun activities that Belinda runs.  We are really looking forward to seeing what she has planned for us next!  Thanks so much to Mentally Healthy Leeds at Touchstone, we really appreciate your input.