HLN Meets… Sarah Bell and Dr Clare Vaughan, Building Futures East
We caught up with the Local Programmes Officers behind the East End Women project, which supports vulnerable women in our community.
Since the pandemic, there’s been a 33% increase in domestic violence reports and a 28% increase in unemployment among women. But who is helping to support them?
That’s where the lovely ladies behind charity Building Futures East’s project East End Women come in. From creative, wellbeing and practical skills workshops to social activities such as walks and outings, over the past year, the team have supported more than 1,500 women in our community with access to education, advice, signposting and emergency food support.
And their support is a lifeline to so many women in our region. A local lady who attends some of the East End Women sessions tells us how it has changed her outlook on life:
‘I go for friendship, support and to have fun. It’s like a community. I know, if I hadn’t been coming to the groups, my mental health would have overwhelmed me. But I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and I no longer have those dark thoughts.’
We caught up with the project’s Local Programmes Officers, Sarah Bell and Dr Clare Vaughan, to find out more about all the dedicated and inspirational work they do to support vulnerable women in our community.
Can you talk us through the work that you do?
Sarah: The role of a Local Programmes Officer is to develop, promote and recruit for our range of programmes, that each offer the opportunity for women to build skills and confidence. A large part of what we do is supporting women to access our programmes by supporting them to remove barriers that might impact their experience, both before and during their time on the programme.
In what ways do you support women and their children?
Clare: We offer a programme of support and training for women in Newcastle, including: the domestic abuse recovery course, the Freedom Programme, creative arts-based activities, our sewing and pattern-cutting course Sew Sisters, and our gardening and growing project, Riverside Roots. We also offer an emergency food bank for those in crisis in Byker and Walker, which provides food, toiletries and period products, household essentials and baby items. East End Women has been developed over several years according to the needs of women living in the local area, so we can respond to emerging challenges, such as the pandemic.
Sarah: Our women’s programmes often provide connection and peer support to women who are otherwise very isolated and lonely. We have women who might not otherwise leave the house and this is the first step for them to become more active and to build their confidence by doing something they enjoy. We pride ourselves on engaging the women we support with dignity, compassion and understanding.
What inspired you to get into this line of work?
Sarah: My background is in working with young people, but I knew many of the skills and experiences I had were transferable to supporting women, too. After having my own son and dealing with the challenges of life as a woman and parent, I had grown increasingly interested in helping other women. I believe in, and have experienced, the impact of what happens when women connect – they do great things, both individually for themselves and with those around them. I wanted to be a part of something that offered that to women.
What do you love the most about your job?
Clare: The best thing about being a Programmes Officer is getting to meet so many brilliant women in the East End, from such a range of backgrounds. Women are such a force for good and having the opportunity to learn from and support them is a privilege. Offering a wide range of activities also means no two days are ever the same and we get to work alongside some amazing organisations.
Why is the East End project specifically targeted at supporting women?
Sarah: We often get asked this. We provide women-only services as we know women in their various roles in life face very specific issues and they want safe spaces where their needs and wants are understood. The world favours men; we still see roles of power and influence dominated by men, whilst women face barriers to everyday life choices and decisions.
These are issues that are so deeply rooted in society that we’re only beginning to scratch the surface. But, by providing women-only services, we’re telling women we see them and hear them. Many of the women we support have been victims of abuse at the hands of men. We want to provide the space where women can explore these issues in a way where they feel free and without judgement or repercussion.
The support offered through the East End Women project is available to any ladies within the East of Newcastle and Wallsend. But women living elsewhere may also access these services, too. If you’re in need of some support or know someone else who is, see the project’s course programme here.