Lancashire Women: The life-saving charity set up by women for women on Covid, equality, and pride in the work

It was about four-and-a-half years ago that Adele Helm first came across Lancashire Women.

Thursday, 4th February 2021, 7:00 am
Lancashire Women (Chalkie Bolton Photography)

"I wanted to get back into the world of work having had about a decade out after having my children," explains Adele, 47. "I'd always had good jobs, but I'd lost my confidence having not been in the environment, so a friend told me to go to Lancashire Women. I was skeptical, but it changed my life.

"In a matter of weeks, I was empowered to start volunteering and then a fundraising job came up and I applied," adds Adele, now the charity's Business Development Officer. "The rest is history."

A charity dedicated to a society in which all women are valued and treated as equals whilst being empowered to transform their lives, Lancashire Women traces its roots back to 1982, when women connected with the local Labour Party who were keen to raise awareness of, and seek to tackle, high infant mortality rates in Blackburn.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Adele Helm (centre) (Chalkie Bolton Photography)

A Well Women's Centre was subsequently opened in 1985 and what is now Lancashire Women - with offices in Accrington, Blackburn, Burnley, Blackpool, and until recently Preston - was born.

"It's a charity set up by women for women," says Adele, who lives in Accrington. "We're here to support women achieve what they want whilst also being treated and valued as equals, so there isn't a lot we don't do. It's holistic support that puts the woman at the centre of things."

Mandy Taylor, 47, Lancashire Women's Programme Manager for Employment, Advice, and Guidance, has worked with the charity for 12 years and firmly agrees.

"Helping's what we do, and if we don't know, we know somebody who does; it's about building trust," she says. "When I started as a volunteer, my team didn't even exist, but now we offer numerous person-centred services for people who might not only need help with employment but with things like confidence, substance abuse, or trauma.

Lancashire Women (Chalkie Bolton Photography)

"We want to help, especially given people are experiencing things they've never dealt with before like reduced incomes and furlough."

Representing all women - including those who are self-identified or non-binary - the charity provides a non-judgmental setting in which to offer services including mental health and well-being support, employment and skills advice, fiscal guidance through Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)-regulated counselling, and help for those navigating the criminal justice system.

During the pandemic, the charity - which has has 80 or 90 members of staff, 40% of whom are former volunteers or support-users - has taken its services online whilst also helping many of their service-users access digital provision and online support so they can stay connected in lockdown. But it's been tough.

"It's been a really challenging and difficult year as all our events had to be cancelled, which has major financial implications," explains Adele. "But lots of charities are in the same boat - we just need to get the message out about what we're doing.

"Mental health will be massively impacted by Covid and the need for our services will only increase, especially now we're in lockdown again," she adds. "Statistically, women are 81% more likely than men to suffer an anxiety attack and 22% more likely to feel down, depressed, or hopeless. Those stats speak for themselves."

And because of harmful gender gaps like that, the likes of Adele and Mandy do what they do.

"I'm so passionate about this organisation," says Adele. "If a woman can be brave enough to engage, it can be life-changing and often life-saving; I know that first-hand. We want to see that positive impact in Lancashire."

"There's so much pride in the work," continues Mandy, from Accrington. "I'll always shout from the rooftops about how much I love my job. I've seen the charity grow over the years but it's still all about what we can do for women.

"It's all about them."