West End Women and Girls Centre has been a vital part of the local community in the West End of Newcastle since 1981. The original girls club was organised by community activists and local mothers after two girls were raped in the local park. On the first night there was a queue of girls with 2p subs. The following week the same girls came back with their little sisters and on the third week the room was full of mams, nanas, aunties, cousins and babies. From this one night we have developed 20 different sessions a week, based on the expressed needs of the local community, who are reflected throughout our Board of Trustees, staff team, volunteers and membership. Five generations of families hold membership of the centre.
We run group work sessions for women every morning and youth clubs for girls every night which are covert training schools for future female leaders, for girls to grow strong, become resilient and empowered. We run 10 week courses including Self-Esteem, Assertiveness and The World of Work which were developed with women who wanted to work but had left school with no qualifications or confidence and had no idea what they wanted to do or what they were capable of.
Our award winning Domestic Violence Peer Educator team run The Safe Project, a community-based, holistic, domestic abuse service which supports women on their journey to safer life. Our prevention and early intervention work trains and supports young women, many of whom have themselves experienced domestic abuse, to join a network of Domestic Abuse Champions across community groups and schools. We have over 250 volunteer Domestic Abuse Champions delivering this work.
We see unprecedented levels of poverty in the West End of Newcastle and amongst our membership. Women are struggling to feed their children, light and heat their homes. We have the biggest food bank in the country around the corner and we give out numerous vouchers to access it every day. We respond to this situation by offering food at all of our sessions including all youth groups. We use our community garden in Elswick Park and our community kitchen to start conversations between women who have lived on the same street but never talked to each other, providing a safe space for women to ask inquisitive questions of each other, sharing commonalities and growing community across cultural differences. We plant edible landscapes on estates and support women to grow on windowsills, balconies and backyards to create a free food supply. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have run ‘Scran 4 the Fam’ and daily provide 100 vulnerable people and families with healthy, home-cooked soup.
We provide a space for women and girls to share experiences, to be together, listen to each other and to find ways to reclaim space together. As we have seen again and again, women create community, and the Centre is a symbol of the collective power of these women and girls.