As I leave Nottingham Women’s Centre after 6 years, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve seen as some of the success and challenges.
I could talk about some of the more tangible successes, such as securing funding to deliver more services, renovating the library, extending our reach into Nottinghamshire or the groundbreaking campaign to make misogyny seen as a hate crime. I’m really proud of all of that, of course, but there are also the less obvious things, like the way we’ve held onto our values against a backdrop of increasing pressure on our services and on women in society – and that’s what I wanted to share with you before I go.
Operating a person-centred, open-door service can be challenging. It means we have to be flexible to change our ‘offer’ as the environment changes around us. Unfortunately we’ve seen some pretty big policy shifts in the last 6 years which have impacted negatively on women’s lives, particularly the austerity agenda. It’s well known that cuts to public services impact on women more than men. One study estimates that since 2010, women have borne 86% of the cuts – £79bn compared to only £13bn by men.
This has changed the work that we do here. We now see an increasing number of women coming through our doors that are struggling financially, hungry, often on the brink of homelessness and dealing with complex mental health issues. Because of the cuts, there are fewer places to signpost women to for help in these situations, meaning that our staff sometimes spend hours on the phone trying to find a service with the right criteria, the right threshold for support, and sometimes – very rarely – we have to be honest and tell women there is nothing more that we can do. That’s the hardest thing of all.
We’ve developed our own services as a response to this – such as Help through Crisis which is delivering welfare rights advice to women across Nottinghamshire – but as a small charity which doesn’t receive any government funding there’s only so much we can do. We’re also mindful of our responsibility as a charity to try to affect change. We cannot, and should not, stay quiet about the injustices we see.
I can honestly say that working here has changed my perspective on the world and on the society in which we live. I will share with you one quote from a woman here that’s stuck with me:
“The film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ isn’t realistic. It’s actually a lot worse than that”
What I’ve also seen here is the tremendous resilience of women to survive – and to thrive. It’s been an absolute privilege to be just a small part of some women’s individual journeys. Seeing women reach their goals and achieve things they never realised they could, that’s been amazing.
We talk about the Centre as a ‘family’ and that’s something else that’s core to our ethos here. This is a vibrant community where every woman has something to contribute and I’m really pleased that some of the women who volunteer and who use our services were able to be part of the interview process for the new Chief Exec.
I leave here proud of what we have achieved since 2011 and hopeful for the future. Women are resilient – Nottingham Women’s Centre is resilient.