It was American philanthropist Melinda Gates who said, “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman.”
To have a voice you have to have a choice and championing the cause for women’s services in the north west for the last 30 years has been charity Lancashire Women.
The charity underwent a re brand last year, formerly known as Lancashire Women’s Centres and chief executive officer Amanda Greenwood says it was an important shift to help better encompass and represent the 6,500 women they have supported, encouraged and enabled through their work.
Ultimately the vision has not changed since the charity was founded in Blackburn in 1985 and that is simply working towards a Lancashire where all women and girls, regardless of their background and upbringing are valued and treated as equals.
The re brand came in the same year as the 100th anniversary of the Suffrage movement and an important time where promoting greater gender parity in the workplace has again been at the fore.
International Women’s Day 2019 will be celebrated on March 8, and this year’s theme behind the event is #BalanceForBetter
Amanda says it’s not some revolutionary concept – women’s centres have existed as far back as those early suffrage rumblings.
But fast forward to the 21st century where a world of instant technology and social media dominates perceptions and how people live their lives there now is a greater case than ever for women from all communities to have access to provisions for their mental health and emotional well being.
Decades later despite medical advances, social improvements and community facilities, many women still find themselves facing the same crises that existed a century ago.
Amanda, who has served as CEO since 2017 and previously worked with Barnardos, says: “The re brand to Lancashire Women not only reinvigorates the organisations identity, it also focuses attention on who we primarily work with – women and girls.
“It seeks to reflect where we have come from and the foundations set by our predecessors and founders but it brings us firmly into the present with a modern and positive look that also says we are moving forward and we have a dynamic and positive outlook that can support women and girls with all that they face now and in the future.”
Amanda says to do this their mission has been to build a one-stop shop so any woman or girl over the age of 11 can walk through the door of one their community hubs in Preston, Chorley, Blackpool, Accrington, Burnley and receive support for a multitude of reasons.
The case for the re brand was to reinforce the message and raise awareness Lancashire Women is there not just for women of particular vulnerabilities whether that be domestic violence or those involved or at risk with the criminal system but for any woman who needs a safe space and opportunity.
Amanda adds there are lots of perceptions as to what people believe or understand the charity to be and part of the challenge for the team has been reaching out into the communities and being pro-active and innovative in their approach.
This is no mean feat across a county as diverse as Lancashire where town to town, borough to borough, the issues individuals face are at times worlds apart.
Yet at the core of those communities and families are women, from inside the home to the boardroom, Lancashire Women are there to support the idea that gender matters and their doors are open to anyone.
The charity’s main objective, is to empower any woman through choice to be the best version of themselves.
This is done in various ways from therapeutic support through to a broad spectrum of creative disciplines, education and training.
Read about Lancashire Women's IWD2019 production here: https://www.lep.co.uk/whats-on/international-women-s-day-2019-lancashire-women-to-star-in-fundraising-production-bryan-the-ditch-and-the-wardrobe-a-journey-for-better-gender-balance-1-9630703
She says: “From a high flying career woman who is struggling with mental health, to girls who fall out of the education system, those on the edge of the criminal justice system to the mum who needs to up skill, a woman who needs money advice or support in finding a job or vulnerable young girls to those living in oppression, to someone who just needs that space to have a chat.
“Whether it be in-house or working with our partner organisations and agencies, people need to know we are there as a first place. No one is turned away, we have the best team of support workers and volunteers and we’ll do everything we can to help those women make steps in to their own futures.
“This is why the charity has now opened up to young girls, we’re recognising the challenges they’re facing and in the last 18 months particularly have been working on meeting those challenges working on issues of self esteem and self confidence.”
Amanda and the team are passionate about their work,their abilities and expertise in helping empower local women to make their own choices.
Whether that be in the home, education, work, lifestyle but importantly giving women the confidence in those choices.
She says: “I think MP Jo Cox had it spot on – we are far more united and have far more in common than the things that divide us – it’s so true.
“Our doors are open to everyone – there is commonality in that the very heart at what we are about is in supporting women through choice.
“We prefer to call the centres a safe space because we need women to feel comfortable with finding the courage to walk through those doors whatever the reason be. There is no judgement and people don’t have to justify themselves.”
It was in 1982 a small steering group of local women belonging to the Labour Party Council came together initially concerned by infant mortality rates in Blackburn – this led to a dedicated ‘Maternity Day School Workshop’ which invited a cross section of the community and professionals.
The day was a success and there was a consensus the area needed a service supporting health and well being for women. The first wellness centre opened in 1985.
Through successful fundraising and grant funding the charity’s offering has grown to serve cross county with a multitude of projects expanding way beyond its original remit.
Today there are four main principles behind its provision mental health and emotional wellbeing, skills, training and employment, money advice and justice and safety.
As well as a team of professionals from case workers to therapists, the charity has more than 130 committed volunteers from all walks of life supporting their delivery of services.
One of the latest projects has seen the introduction of a new gardening group, there are also arts and cultural opportunities and Lancashire Women Players will this week be hosting a special performance in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Amanda adds: “We have an amazing staff and team of volunteers who are so driven and have a great energy in wanting to make a difference and support people transform their lives for some that will be bigger steps for others.
“It’s cliche but for some it really is a journey from the moment they come through that door and it’s special to be part of that process.”