It has changed the lives of women on the brink of despair.

More than 100,000 people have come through the doors of the Huddersfield and Halifax branches of WomenCentre since they were established just over 30 years ago.

Those suffering from domestic violence or remanded in custody, women who have lost their children and asylum seekers are amongst those who have turned to the charity, which is said to be the biggest of its kind in England.

Not just that, it has also made a national name for itself within various sectors for its forward thinking approaches.

These concern women risking imprisonment and the offering of what staff call women-centred working, basically a one-stop shop approach where women can get help for complex issues in just one place.

The beginnings

The charity was born out of two separate centres, one in Huddersfield on Lord Street and one in Halifax’s Silver Street, where current CEO Angela Everson first worked.

“It all started in 1985, when 200 women attended a public meeting to discuss women’s well being”, she said.

“They lobbied the health authority and got a grant to set up what became the Calderdale Well Women Centre.

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“I’d been working as a social worker in Calderdale and became a probation officer in 1995.

“Through this I decided to set up a domestic violence support group, which was based in the Well Women Centre in Halifax.

“I joined centre full time in 2000 to be able to work more closely with women to help them find their own solutions to their problems.”

Expanding the centre

The centre merged with Huddersfield’s WomenSpace, in 2008, to become WomenCentre where Angela became joint chief executive with Clare Jones, who herself had a long history of working with vulnerable children and women.

As well as its two fixed bases, it does outreach work in Dewsbury with one-to-one support and advice.

“We’d been linking in with them for a while before to deliver joint services because two are stronger than one”, said Angela.

Staff and volunteers from the Calderdale and Kirklees Womens Centre celebrate the 30th anniversary of the service with an event in the Byram Arcade, Huddersfield (left to right) note: some just gave their christian names. Gemma Morley, Alison, Angela Everson, Pat, Hayley Roebuck and Emily Druce.

“We brought different projects together, some of which had been started in Halifax and others in Huddersfield due to different needs in each area.

“In Calderdale we’d had a lot of funding for mental health and wellbeing and domestic abuse, whereas in Kirklees a lot of work had been done with refugees and asylum seekers.”

The projects

Since then, dozens of joint projects have blossomed, which women from around the towns can access at one if not both of the centres.

“One of our biggest successes has been our work on women in the criminal justice system, which Clare (now the charity’s national development lead) won an MBE for.

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“We were one of the first organisations to begin an initiative to divert women from custody to community-based sentences by working with organisations such as the National Probation Service.

“We’ve had some fabulous results from that, which have improved the wellbeing of women and their families and through it have affected changes at a national level.”

The women-centred approach

One such project they run is called Evolve, which offers “women centred solutions” through wraparound support to help them deal with complex issues such as addictions, debt problems, homelessness and sexual abuse.

The women are helped through one to one and group support and other activities, such as confidence building and craft making.

Other services work in the same holistic manner, such as the asylum seeker and refugee project Women in Exile and the Mothers Apart From Children, which has brought together those who have to live apart from their children.

“Both include support groups where members offer support to each other.

“With the Women in Exile, they do this despite speaking different languages and through the other the women are initially supported but then go onto become mentors for other mothers who are new to the centre.”

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The wraparound support plays a big part in the centre’s way of working.

“A holistic approach is at the centre of what we do”, said Angela.

“We look at the whole woman to help them feel safer, healthier and more confident and address what may be multiple issues, not all of which they may come to us about initially.

“We don’t just get funding for one to one or group support but for counselling, alternative therapies, such as music and training to help them learn new skills.

“It all helps our women feel listened to and empowered.

“It also gives them the opportunity to resolve their issues in a place where they don’t feel judged.”

Challenges

Two of the challenges the centre faces are funding and volunteers.

“More people have become aware of what we do through word of mouth and we are constantly looking to see how we can reach new women but we need funding to do this.

“We are very proactive so have over 40 different funding streams but we’re constantly looking for more and it can be hard at times.

“We’d also love more volunteers to help.

“But we will continue to be here for women even if our funding changes as it’s important to keep our doors open for them.

“With more funding we’d like to start working with more younger women on relationships and family problems.

“What gets us up in the morning is that whatever we do and however we do it we’re doing it to try improve the quality of life for women.”

To find out more about WomenCentre or to volunteer, go to womencentre.org.uk.