I had the radio on all day yesterday, listening to programmes that had tailored their content for International Women’s Day (IWD). I listened to the stories of women who had shaped history, often without recognition, the women who on the private or public stage had shaped the lives of the women interviewed in the programmes. As I listened I thought of the many woman who have shaped communities across the UK, making big changes happen locally, changing the context for other women, men and children around them.
I thought of Elsie, a woman from Gateshead who I met the week I started as Chief Executive of a homelessness charity. Elsie had worked at a home for mums and their babies experiencing homelessness for over 20 years. She had carried the black bags and suitcases they brought with them up the stairs and helped them settle in; supported these mums to recover in the days after the birth; taught them to look after their tiny children; looked for the signs of a struggling new mum or distressed child and remedied them; spotted the signs of coercive and controlling relationships and called them out; helped the mums to deal with a myriad of changes along the path to being resettled into their own home to start their life as a family. 20 years of generous and expert support.
I thought of Stella*, a young woman from Eritrea who was 16 when I met her. She had arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied minor and I was her support worker. Her English was still very basic, she was traumatised and grieving. She had been placed by social services in our supported housing and somehow had to begin her life again. I remembered how 18 months later I went to visit her and her baby in her own flat, the Eritrean feast and home roasted coffee she made me as she told me that she cooks for other Eritrean’s every week. I remember watching her become the centre of the community, supporting others who had arrived in the country, through her own life showing that life can begin again.
I thought of Lyn and the community hub she imagined and then created in Grangetown. I remembered the first time I visited and walking around the circumference of the site looking at the graffitied building. I remember the anger I felt at the boarded up properties and the lack of amenities that local people had access to. Lyn had vision and grit. She brought the council, the funders, local people and business owners to the table and created a plan for change. Two years later I went to the opening of the centre. She showed me round, each room thoughtfully planned and fiercely executed. At the Virgin Money Foundation our strapline is Big Changes Start Locally. They can and they do and through these three women and countless others, they have.
Virgin Money Foundation