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Women and Girls: The Venus Centre

7 June 2016

The Venus Centre is one of 63 projects that has recently received funding through our Women and Girls initiative. Based in Sefton, they will be working with women who have lost their children to public care or adoption to empower them to manage their own lives.

In the latest of our Women and Girls blogs, Sally, 35, who has been involved with Venus since she was 16 tells, us how she’s now more in control of her life and her children’s. She has experienced a lot of trauma in her life including sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, substance misuse, poverty, poor housing and mental health problems. Sally has five children in care.

SallySally’s story:

“I feel more confident. I had help from Venus to learn to deal with stress.  I was taking tablets, drinking, my husband was violent and I had no family support at all. I had been sexually abused by my dad when I was young, my family wouldn’t speak to me and social services were involved because I was struggling to cope with looking after my children. I would shout and rant and rave at social services because I was scared of them and didn’t know how to cope with it.

I thought because my mum experienced and dealt with domestic violence that I had to too. I thought I just had to put up with all the terrible things in my life because that’s all I deserved.

Venus helped me to get my point across to social services, and understand what was being said to me. Even with that support it has taken me 16 years to learn how to deal with everything that has happened to me and understand the effect it had on me, my relationships and my children. Having someone I trusted to help me deal with social services, court proceedings, my poor mental health, drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, abuse in the past and everything else has made the difference for me.

Venus helped me see a psychologist. They helped me to be positive and happy, I can speak to people about what has happened to me and I am happy to share my story if it helps others to get through the same kind of situation. When you’re in that kind of situation, you don’t know who you can trust, so you don’t talk because you think everyone or anyone will snitch on you and get you into more trouble.

What I have learned, with support from Venus, is that it’s best to talk about it with someone you can trust. I learned to trust Venus because all the staff are welcoming, happy, friendly and they tell me straight if I’m making a mistake, even when I don’t like what they’re saying. I haven’t got family to tell me or give me advice, Venus is the only family I know.

If I was to advise someone in the same situation as me, I would say to look at themselves, look at the situation they’re in and think about their children and the effect all those issues have on them. I’d also tell them to listen to social services, don’t rant and rave like I did. Work with them to make your children’s lives better and stop them going into care. Just because you’re scared, doesn’t mean you can hide from it and it won’t happen; you can do something before it gets too late.

Venus helped me improve my parenting. I used to let my kids get away with so much, my eldest used to be the parent and I was the child. Venus helped me learn about good parenting and become a better parent. I used to think I could solve my problems with violence and Venus helped me look at that behaviour and realise it’s not fair on my children. I had a bad attitude.

Venus listens, accepts you and helps you without judging you or the situation you’re in. With Venus’ help I realised I wasn’t born to be bashed, to be kicked, I wasn’t born to be a slave. I deserve a good life, nice things and a nice family – Venus helped me see that.”

Through her own determination to make better choices and address the barriers she faces, along with tailored support from Venus, Sally has developed better parenting skills, improved her mental health and wellbeing, developed healthy coping strategies, stopped substance misuse, escaped domestic violence and learned to recognise and build better relationships. Since her 5 children went into care, Sally has had a further 2 children who both live with her. She has made positive changes and worked with social services to ensure that her children are happy, healthy and well looked after at home with their mum.


Celebrating Volunteers’ Week

3 June 2016

As part of  Volunteers’ Week, we are celebrating all of the amazing volunteers that support our funded projects.

Tamana Miah, volunteer with Rethink

Despite only being 22, student Tamanna Miah has already been an active volunteer for 11 years, supporting a range of services in youth and community organisations. Here she tells us about her work with charity Rethink, and their Big Lottery funded programme Step Up: Transitions, that supports young people living with mental illness

“I like volunteering on Step Up: transitions for several reasons. Firstly because it’s a mental health project that uses the knowledge, skills and lived experience of young people like myself to create training for other young people (16-25 years) to help them deal with the impact of change on their mental health through one off and 6-session training. There’s not enough of this peer to peer aspect for young people in mental health and that’s a shame because when I deliver our training in schools, community centres and other places it’s this ‘young people to young people’ approach that means we can connect very quickly, in a more powerful, empathetic way. You can see a real difference from the start when everyone’s not sure what to expect and wondering if they should have come and then in an hour or so everyone is so engaged and wanting to get more involved . It’s great to feel I am a part of that.”

“I also really like being involved in Step Up: transitions because it’s a co-production project so I can really get hands-on experience in the whole process and drive it based on the issues I see all around me. I’ve been heavily involved in the planning, designing promotional materials, sitting on panels and of course delivering the training to young people across Islington, Lambeth and Hammersmith and Fulham so I feel like I really have ownership over this project and what we do with it. It’s also a very creative process, we often use drama or dance to connect with young people which I enjoy and I’m also coproducing the evaluation materials with the Tavistock Institute so that’s another set of skills I get to put into practice.”

“The final reason I enjoy volunteering on Step Up: Transitions is that it lets me integrate a lot the underlying causes of mental health that I am passionate about into our trainings such as bullying and racism, mental health support in BAME communities, the importance of early intervention and the impact of big changes such as starting university on your mental health.”

“The potential of co-production is that is becomes like a domino effect: if I can help one person then in turn they can help another and in the end we can create a culture shift. That’s what I’ve been spending these 11 years advocating for.”

Rethink helps people affected by mental illness by challenging attitudes, changing lives you can learn more by visiting their website (to be placed in as a link

Women and girls: The Girls’ Network

30 May 2016

In the latest of our series of blogs from people at projects recently funded through the women and girls initiative, Autumn Valentine tells us how The Girls’ Network supported her through her GCSE’s and beyond by matching her with a mentor when she was in Year 11.

My name is Autumn Valentine, this time last year I was finishing Year 11 and awaiting to enrol at Havant Sixth Form college to study English Language and Literature, Psychology and Religious Studies. At the beginning of Year 11 I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in a scheme called The Girls’ Network.


Autumn (left) and her mentor Claire. 

The scheme involved each of us girls (mentees) to firstly attend a matching event where we speed networked with a selection of five inspirational women. The Girls’ Network had already interviewed us girls a few weeks before whilst the mentors were going through training and made ideal matches. At the training event I remember talking to a women called Claire and thinking how amazing she was. Our conversation flowed with no pauses or loose ends.

Over the past year me and Claire have met once every month for an hour. We were given tasks to complete such as practising our interview skills, positive failure and exam revision techniques. Most of the time, Claire and I would be so wrapped up in conversation that our time would over-run. Claire’s approach was the perfect balance; she helped me with my maths revision, looked through college prospectus and helped me decide on courses. She taught me about university, whilst always taking the time to ask me about my social life.

At the beginning of year 11, I wasn’t as focused or  revising as much as I should have been. In fact, I was very much more interested in hanging out with my friends and having a laugh. My attitude was to live in the moment and worry later. A few mentors and staff at The Girls’ Network remember me saying at the start: “I don’t really care, I just care about my friends.” This seems so strange to me now because there’s so many things and people I care about; I care about becoming a better person and making my mum and others proud.

Over the past year, I have gone from someone with a casual attitude, to giving a speech about myself and the effect The Girls Network has had on me. My Head teacher actually mentioned me by name as a shining example of someone who’s ‘turned it around’! This makes me so happy and proud of myself. At the end of the day, this change comes down to: having someone believe in you, support you and say “actually you can do this.” This is exactly what you get from The Girls Network, a real sense of community, commitment and belief, which every young girl around the country and world should be entitled to.

The Girls Network is such a great scheme to get involved in. For me, it has helped me to develop my strengths and focus my attention. As a teenage girl it is so hard to not get distracted by boys, parties and social life; it’s so vital  we don’t get distracted at this crucial time of our lives when we are transitioning out of school. The Girls’ Network helped me see that these years are the building blocks of our success and achievements, and are what determine our future. It is so easy to ignore what your teachers and parents are saying because you think it’s just them nagging. Instead, it’s so beneficial to have someone like Claire who has been through it all, who isn’t your parent or teacher and who can give good advice.

It has been almost one year since I graduated from the programme, but I know I will still be a part of The Girls’ Network. Through the Ambassador Network, I know I can call on The Girls Network to help me with all manner of things, such as university applications, CVs or anything else you may need assistance with. I am so thankful and grateful to have been involved in such a life changing project that along with my wonderful teachers and amazing family have helped me to become who I am today.

If you’d like to know more about The Girls’ Network, visit their website

Women and girls: The Pathway Project – where it all began

27 May 2016

Today we hear from Kathy Coe, CEO of Pathway Project, about the personal experience of domestic abuse that lead her to set up a charity that now supports over 2000 people a year to enjoy a life free from fear. 

It was 11pm, my children were sitting upstairs on their beds with their night clothes in carrier bags. They knew we may need to leave very quickly. I wanted to give my husband an opportunity to finally do the right thing and leave the house so we could have somewhere to live. After seven years of abuse and violence we were scared, we were exhausted and we were about to find ourselves suddenly homeless.


Kathy Coe

The request to leave was met with scorn and more abuse. Our only option was to fight our way out of the front door and we managed to get into the car and lock it before he reached us. Friends gave us somewhere to stay whilst we got everything sorted out practically, but emotionally it took a lot longer. However, out of all that pain and anxiety came a new start. Not just for us, but for thousands of other families that Pathway has supported through their time of crisis.

Facing a life threatening and life changing experience is a great motivator and gave me a passion and drive to do something that would make a difference to others. I thought I was going to set up a small refuge and that I would dedicate myself to doing that. It took seven years to set up that first refuge but it wasn’t going to stop there.

Today I am the CEO of a charity that supports over 2000 people a year. We offer a range of holistic services that would have seemed unimaginable when I needed help. Our support ranges from refuge and helpline to counselling and group training, and from children’s and outreach services to drop in and legal clinics.

I am so very proud of this charity and most of all, the wonderful team we have here.  Pathway saves lives. Our team is totally committed to working with domestic and sexual abuse victims. We work with the immediate crisis, but we also make a long-term difference by helping people to find hope, and a future. We turn victims into survivors.

Sadly the need for our services has continued and grown but our focus is always on people not numbers. It is stunning to see how many women we have supported, but even more profound is to know the names, and the situations those women and their children have had to face. Behind every number is a real person who has faced the most devastating fear, and loss, but who has found the strength to keep going and to find a new way through life, and that has been a constant inspiration to all of us.

It is almost 25 years since we registered as a Charity and we have been there day and night for people who need help. With the support of our Big Lottery Fund grant we look forward to reaching our 30th anniversary and being there for many more women and girls.

If you’d like to know more about the work of Pathway Project, please visit their website or follow them on twitter


Women and girls: women@thewell

24 May 2016

Last week, Changing Pathways told us about their new project supporting women who have been stalked after an abusive relationship. Today women@thewell, based in Camden, London gives us an insight into their work with helping women move on from street prostitution.

Caroline Hattersley, Head of Services, women@thewell tells us more.

Caroline Hattersley of women@thewell

Caroline Hattersley of women@thewell

women@thewell was founded in 2007 to support women involved in or at risk of becoming involved in prostitution, particularly street based prostitution, to find credible and sustainable pathways to exit prostitution and to build a life free from abuse and exploitation. We currently support around 250 women each year.

The funding from the Big Lottery Fund women and girls initiative will enable us to develop an outreach service to compliment and extend our existing services. Through this we will reach out to at least 300 women over the five years of the project, focusing on helping women come to us who don’t at the moment – either through fear, lack of awareness of where to find help, mistrust of statutory agencies or the police, or because they feel so trapped they lack a belief that there is another option.

The women we support will be involved as partners in developing our services in three ways.

  1. Working with the outreach team to share their knowledge of the streets, the hidden problems and some of the barriers to engagement that we may face ·
  2. Working with staff at the Centre to help us to identify and develop a safe space for new women to come and feel supported and part of a community ·
  3. Helping to inform our development of credible pathways and strategies for exiting prostitution, including supported employment

It will also allow us to support women like Maria, a Romanian women brought to the UK by an organised network of traffickers. She believed she was coming to the UK to work in a restaurant, but on arrival her passport and valuables were taken and she was placed in a house with other women. From here she was forced into street based prostitution.

When she came to us at women@thewell, she was very frightened and reluctant to talk about her situation. Her knowledge of English was very poor so our support worker made use of translation services to try and engage her and help her to tell us her story. We supported her to ensure that the individuals she had previously been in touch with would be unable to make contact with her. After a cup of tea and a chance to sit quietly with our support worker, she began to tell us her story. That night she was taken to a safe house in London from one of our partner agencies and the next day she was taken out of London to a safe place where she is in the process of recovering from her experiences and accessing a range of support to reclaim her life.


women@thewell website

More about our recent investment in women and girls projects


Policy blog: what works for wellbeing?

20 May 2016

City Gateway 3Big Lottery Fund’s Wellbeing and Wellbeing 2 funding programmes aimed to support the development of healthier lifestyles and improve wellbeing.

Following the recent publication of the Wellbeing 2 final evaluation, Ewan Davison from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing reflects on the funding, the evaluation and what it might tell those who work in this area.

Wellbeing 2 followed the £160m Wellbeing funding, continuing to support communities to create healthier lifestyles and improve their wellbeing. It funded interventions to improve levels of healthy eating, activity and mental health, but wellbeing is much wider than one particular aspect or determinant.

Wellbeing means a lot of different things to different people, at What Works Wellbeing we’ve been talking to people across the UK about what matters to them. At a high level it’s their quality of life. So improving quality of our lives and our wellbeing should be the ultimate aim of policy.


For those of us interested in policy making, the wellbeing 2 evaluation report is important. I want to take a look beyond the numbers and start to identify what works, and what doesn’t in delivery and measurement.

What can it teach policy-makers?

The report shares a real wealth of qualitative data, insights from projects on what worked across delivery, promoting behavior change, achieving systems change and sustainability.

The key points to take away from it are:

  • The importance of ensuring engagement in design and delivery (such as using peer educators).
  • Taking asset-based approaches which work with local settings.
  • Developing the skills of staff and partners along with volunteers.
  • For some portfolios, working with local systems to enable sustainability and change to those systems, such as basing staff in local authorities and working with authorities (and communities) to meet outcomes identified in their Joint Strategic Needs Assessments.

Gauging success from how people feel

A really encouraging part of this study was the use of personal wellbeing as a measure; simply put it was asking individuals how they feel using the ONS 4 wellbeing questions. Across the Wellbeing 2 portfolios adults reported an increase in their levels of life satisfaction from 6.2 (on a scale of 0-10) at the start of the interventions to 6.5 at the end to 7.0 at three months post intervention. Life satisfaction is a key measure for us. There were also positive change reported in feelings of being worthwhile, happiness and anxiety levels. For example: 54% of young people reported a positive change in their mental wellbeing.

The importance of time when evaluating

For me, another key finding from this report and the follow up round table was that time is a very important factor (perhaps a luxury which this funding has allowed). It enables a test, learn, and adapt approach in delivery and in terms of measuring impact. Policy makers need to make time to engage people in the design of delivery and evaluation to keep activities relevant and effective.

There is some great work going on out there (as shown by this report) and as a nation we’re spending a lot of money and effort on activity so we need to learn from it collectively and in a systematic way. We need to measure with enough consistency to enable a meaningful comparison across interventions which looks at impact and cost, and reflects the strength of evidence. We can also use existing activities and management data to make running trials easier and cheaper, which in turn make the research findings more useful to practice and decision making.

We’ve also been examining what works for policy makers when using research, the science of using science knowledge, and how decision makers use evidence.

We all need to get better at capturing learning on wellbeing impacts and growing the evidence base. This is the start.

What Works Wellbeing is currently running calls for evidence on aspects of wellbeing. It will start to publish findings later in the year. It has just launched a forum to connect practitioners, academics and policy makers.

You can read the full final evaluation on Wellbeing 2 here. We have a series of blogs following the evaluation, and they are available through our Big Blog.

If you have any questions about the programme, the evaluation or the policy implications of this work, please get in touch by email

Women and girls: Changing Pathways

19 May 2016

To celebrate the 63 projects that are just starting work on their projects helping women and girls across England regain and retain control of their lives, a number of projects will share their stories with us over the next couple of weeks.

Jessica Barclay-Lambert, chief executive at Changing Pathways (formerly Basildon Women’s Aid)

Jessica Lambert -Changing Pathways

Last year Changing Pathways dealt with another insidious case of domestic abuse where the perpetrator impacted the lives of many people. This case was not particularly unusual in the VAWG sector – a perpetrator commits heinous violence and abuse against his wife (Abi) and children for years, eventually he is arrested and convicted.

From prison, the perpetrator arranged for Abi to be stalked and threatened by his network. But, it wasn’t just Abi being stalked, her family and friends became targets too.

When the perpetrator was released from prison, as you would expect, there were conditions set whereby the perpetrator was not to go near Abi or their children. Agencies came together before the prison release to safeguard Abi and the children. Abi said she had accepted that her fate was death; she knew he wouldn’t stop until he killed her, but she agreed to move hundreds of miles away with her children. She said she’d do it for everyone else, but not herself as she had accepted inevitability.

Agencies worked well together, the Probation Officer kept practitioners informed. We arranged for safe accommodation and support for Abi and her children by another Women’s Aid provider.

He still found her. At the time, nobody knew how. Despite all the disruption tactics and conditions in place, he still found her. He told his probation officer that his determination to see Abi would never waiver. It transpired that a member of his network had fitted a tracking device to Abi’s car. Having breached his conditions by travelling to Abi’s location, the perpetrator was arrested. He was released hours later.

After much harassment of Abi’s family and friends (including threats to their children), Abi felt the only way to keep everyone close to her safe was to return back home. Fortunately, Abi summoned the strength not to, but her decision hung in the balance, and to this day, it still does.

As a domestic abuse support service, Changing Pathways is restricted in terms of the support we can provide to all victims who are not an immediate member of the intimate/family relationship. We don’t have the staff capacity or funding to reach extended relationships, nor do we have the depth of stalking specific practice knowledge or understanding of legal remedies. Abi, her mother and her friends all needed our support but this was an impossible challenge, weighing all the more heavy as no other agency existed in our locality who could offer this specialist dedicated support either.

Recognising the impact of stalking and how we felt so limited and restricted, we submitted an application the Women and Girls Initiative to establish a dedicated stalking advocacy team based in South Essex. We have made connections with the national organisations Paladin, Protection Against Stalking, Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Veritas and we are looking at how we collaborate as effectively as possible to develop this much needed service for all victims of stalking regardless of their relationship with the perpetrator and their postcode.

If you would like to find out more about the other projects funded today through our women and girls initiative, please click here 

What we’re thinking about this Dementia Awareness Week

18 May 2016
Castlehaven Community Centre (24)

Ways of helping people to live well with dementia have been on our minds recently, so Dementia Awareness Week seems like an appropriate time to share some thoughts! Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has been an emerging theme on our UK Accelerating Ideas programme, which aims to get great ideas and practice for our ageing society more widely shared and adopted across the UK. A variety of organisations doing great things with people experiencing dementia have approached us about their projects. We’ve supported some already, such as Learning through Landscapes, who are transforming care home gardens to support people with dementia. We’ve also awarded The Reading Agency, Six Degrees Social Enterprise and Life Story Network development grants to work on their project ideas.


We’ve heard about different activities that have been shown to have a really positive impact for people with dementia – from reminiscence to sport and music. We’ve learnt that sometimes the activities themselves are incidental and it’s the social element of a project that really makes difference. We’ve been reminded that everyone is different and some things work for some and not others. We also think that approaches that move away from designated activities and are incorporated into everyday life and care are particularly interesting. For example, not just thinking about nutrition around set meal times, or looking at the role that all carers and people in communities can play to make big and small changes throughout the day.


It’s clear that plenty of people are funding and doing a wide range of good stuff across the UK already, so this has got us thinking – what should our role be? We’ve been considering this from the starting point of our strategic framework, which is all about people and communities being in the lead. We think our funding could help to raise the voices of and empower people affected by dementia. Initiatives like Dementia Friendly Communities and Dementia Action Alliances are trying to make communities inclusive and improve the lives of people with dementia, so it’s crucial to ensure that they have an active role to play in shaping these initiatives. Networks and organisations like DEEP and Innovations in Dementia are already offering opportunities for engagement, but there’s more work to do. Continuously ensuring that practice is driven from the bottom up could really start to shift attitudes and behaviours in communities. It seems that there’s still plenty to learn about what really helps to create inclusive communities too.


On Accelerating Ideas, we think there’s a real opportunity to focus on learning across the UK as well, to support organisations doing good work to share and collaborate more. We’d also like to support great practice from overseas to get a foothold in the UK, for example, the Dutch Meeting Centres Support Programme is one model currently being tested.


What do you think about where Big Lottery Funding could make a difference for people living with dementia? Know anything that fits the bill described here?

Please share your comments below or get in touch by emailing us at