Women of Worth (WOW)
Women of Worth (WOW) work with vulnerable women to reduce social exclusion and isolation, by helping them to build emotional resilience and become more independent. One of their programmes sees WOW work alongside Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and local retail stores to support women who have been caught shoplifting through addressing the underlying issues for their offences, such as domestic abuse.
These women are particularly vulnerable having been affected by domestic violence, and WOW were looking for ways to address their particular set of needs and help them feel better about themselves, and less marginalised.
Groundwork worked with WOW to secure an Ambition for Ageing investment, which allowed them to start a Wellbeing Therapies Programme. The programme offers the women they work with therapies like head massage, mindfulness and pilates to support their health and wellbeing.
The programme is aimed at women aged 50+, who were initially consulted on what therapies they wanted to try. WOW do, however, want the programme to benefit all the ladies at the centre regardless of age and believe this would also help with the sustainability of the project.
As well as benefitting from the therapies themselves, the ladies have built friendships and trust and have started to open up about their personal situations. This has helped them to feel supported while rebuilding their lives. One lady shared her story with others for the first time in one of the Wellbeing sessions, which had a huge impact:
“When I first came to the centre I would not speak to anyone, through the Friday sessions I have developed friendships and learning within the group. At home, life is horrible. I have to beg for a cup of coffee on my hands and knees and was always apologising for everything. I had come to think this was okay. I was referred following another suicide attempt. First I went for therapy then I came here. I look forward to Fridays, when I can have my head massage and see the group. It gives me a chance to escape, feel socially included and gives me the strength to get from one week to the next. I have stopped saying sorry as much in the group and I feel like my brain gets reprogrammed to see the difference between good and bad.”
Many in the group have had similar experiences and were able to offer empathy and support. The bonds that have built between the women through sharing experiences like these highlight the importance of the programme, and what it has done to make the women feel stronger and less alone.
The head massage sessions in particular have been a big success, proving so popular there is now a waiting list. Receiving positive physical touch has meant a great deal to the women, many of whom previously feared all types of touch.
“It inspires me to go the extra mile and try harder to achieve as it brings my stress levels down. I come out walking on air, without a care in the world. I know this feeling won’t last but it’s called heaven.”
The group were also offered pilates sessions. They all agreed it was good for their health to do some exercise but in addition commented how effective the sessions were in relieving stress and helping them to feel calm, an evasive state for many of them.
The centre leaders described the most significant impact the programme has had on the ladies, and why the project is so vital:
“Our ladies do not come from loving homes. We have seen the ladies grow in confidence and self-esteem, which is so important to them and enables them to carry on. The most amazing thing was walking in one Friday and hearing the ladies giggling, something we had never heard before but something that we want to get used to.”
Similarly, Inspector James Jones, GMP expressed that:
“The work done at the centre to build the trust of the women and increase their confidence which in many cases results in them leaving the abusive relationship cannot be underestimated. The funding provided by Ambition for Ageing to allow therapy sessions that would otherwise simply not happen is a key and significant part of the programme of support these ladies need to give them their lives back.”
Adding to the complexity of the project’s implementation was the fact that many of the women it targeted are afraid of physical touch. They are also not often given opportunity to prioritise exercise and looking after their own health and wellbeing.
WOW asked the women what kinds of therapies they would most like to try, and non-invasive ones like head and hand massage were chosen. These were considered less confronting than other therapies, enabling the women to relax and enjoy the sessions. A lot of work was also done with the group prior to them attending the sessions, to build up trust.
A small charge was required, to ensure the sustainability of the programme. Some of the women were not able to afford the sessions, and had to stop attending.
The group want to continue with the head massage sessions, and WOW are working to secure additional funding - in addition to the donations and voluntary support they currently receive. They are also looking for ways to do things more cost-effectively, and would like to be able to offer sessions free of charge to women who genuinely cannot afford to pay.
Work has also begun on a new project, producing a booklet providing basic details about how to use the internet. This includes how to set up shopping and social media accounts, as well as safely access shopping sites, online medical resources and other public services. It will also enable the WOW women to access free exercise sessions online, which they can do together as a group.
The booklet will be of benefit not only to the women WOW are currently working with, but to the wider community. A number of local residents have contributed ideas and insight.
Project Coordinator, Groundwork BBOR, Ambition for Ageing, Bury
T: 0161 785 7414 or 0161 624 1444