Women’s Lives, Influencing Change, Wednesday 21st October: a national conference

Nov 4 2015

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As women arrived at the Amnesty HQ Auditorium, the excitement was palpable – this was the first time that professionals, supporters, funders, academics and practitioners had been given the opportunity to inspire each other and share their work, experiences and stories. So what did all these women have in common?

Their common goal – to improve the lives of women and girls across the UK. There was so much to learn and share. We had a great line-up of speakers, right through from policy-makers and shapers, to front-line staff and the women they’ve helped through the years. From all walks of life, they came to celebrate our 30 years of bringing justice, equality and hope into the lives of our most vulnerable women. 

Each and every one of the speakers created a rich tapestry of stories, knowledge, research and insight. Diana Barran of SafeLives highlighted the need for work on the ground to be reflected in government practice. We were reminded that despite all the hard graft, it’s still a harsh fact that two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner each week in the UK. She is collaborating to create a ‘common sense plan’ to reach couples and young men to keep women safe. Baroness Lola Young is chairing AGENDA for Women and Girls to break gender inequality and influence our policy makers. Her aim? To create services that empower women and girls because emotional health is at risk and lives are in danger of being traumatised: ‘it’s a travesty that there are 11,000 currently in hostels here in the UK.’ She really inspired the audience to keep focussed on enabling women most at risk to reach their potential. Lady Edwina Grosvenor told us all about how she is making sure that the successful model created by Dr Stephanie Covington is now being adopted by women's prisons. She has been training every strata of our criminal justice system to understand the effects of trauma. 

Catherine Mayer told the story of how she (accidentally) set up the Women’s Equality Party to represent 51% of our population.

Our own Beth Hughes, Manager of our Residential Women’s Services gave an impassioned appeal for everyone to understand that ‘the war on drugs is a war on behalf of traumatised people.’ She talked about the effects of trauma and how she gives her women in our specialist women’s rehab unit HOPE. Her vision is that no woman is ever defined by her past. She wants to empower each and every woman to believe in herself and make a fresh start. Niki Gould, the manager of our Women’s Centre in Gloucester, goes into Eastwood Park Prison to support women who have lost everything. Many have been abused in childhood, got into abusive relationships and then used drugs to block the pain. They are trapped in the revolving door of prison. They are isolated and excluded from society. She works with probation to give holistic through-the-gate support to enable her women to turn their lives around, Re-Uniting them with their families. Our Gloucester Women’s Centre gives them a safe space to make friends, to re-frame their identity and to go on to help other women do the same. Kirsty Tate told us how pioneered a sex worker outreach project on the streets of Gloucester.

The penultimate part of the day came when the audience heard Women’s Voices, a BIG THANK YOU from all the women who have turned their lives around as a result of coming through the door of The Nelson Trust.

The passion of all the speakers and delegates was contagious. The inspiration and motivation to continue making a difference came from some of the stories from the women we’ve helped through the years. Despite the reduction in funding for this sector, everyone went away with renewed motivation to bring hope into the lives of even more women. There was overwhelming consensus that we need more women’s centres here in the UK, more safe spaces where women can re-build their lives, supporting and caring for each other. Here’s some of the feedback from our delegates:

I commend all the women who presented for all the incredible work they are doing with such love, care and passion.

Wonderful to join so many passionate women. Also, to learn about their projects and research.

An opportunity to network and continue to make links that will assist in holistically supporting women.

Listening to inspirational and powerful stories was extremely interesting and valuable. Thank you for sharing.

I have learnt a lot about both organisations, trauma-informed care and the positive impact on women’s lives.

This will help me to provide information which may lead to positive changes to women.

Really good to get perspectives on both the national level influencing work and local service delivery.

It’s been really empowering to hear about the persistence and inspirational work being undertaken in the field – wholly motivating.

Great day. Very inspiring.