Brighton Women's Centre marks 45 years of caring for and empowering women

22/11/2019

On Tuesday, November 19, one of the oldest women’s centre in the country marked their 45th birthday. Brighton Women’s Centre celebrated by hosting their first conference ‘Time for Unity’ bringing together women they have helped over the years and other support services that they have grown.

The special day of celebration at the Brighthelm Centre featured entertainment, workshops, stalls and panel discussions on gender equality and women in the criminal justice system.

Brighton Women’s Centre is the only holistic women-centred organisation in Brighton and Hove and today has 16 employed staff and over 40 volunteers.

Their message to women in the community is, “when you come to us, we’ll start by getting to know you: your challenges and your hopes. Wherever you’ve come from, whatever you’re dealing with, we’ll only ever treat you with respect, understanding and compassion.”

They have developed community hubs around this ethos, offering counselling services, peer group drop-ins and an alternative safe place for women in the system to meet with their probation officers. They also have crèche facilities and help with accommodation support.

Over the years, they have also inspired the development of services for women such as domestic abuse service RISE and the women-only drugs service Brighton Oasis.

Since 1974, they have helped tens of thousands of women with many vulnerabilities and complex needs. Lisa Dando, Director of BWC reflects back on the centres achievements and how they have reached this landmark: “I am delighted that our PCC has supported BWC to host this landmark celebration of our 45th Birthday and our first ever conference. ‘Time for Unity’ set out to showcase how in partnership we can all make a positive difference to the lives of women, their families and our communities. BWC’s legacy is built on our long standing understanding of what works for women by putting her at the centre of her care and working with partners to ensure all her needs are met in a timely and tailored way.”

Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) Katy Bourne has helped fund the centre over a number of years including a grant to set up their Inspire project in 2017 for women offenders to access specialist support. She kicked off the celebrations on Tuesday with an opening speech about her support in their fight to reduce re-offending.

Mrs Bourne said: “Since being elected as your PCC, I have met many women, suffering from past trauma and teetering on the brink of reoffending. Many become addicted to hard drugs, grown up in care or see their own children taken into care and often they are committing crimes to support the drug habits of others.

“The vast majority are being convicted of non-violent crimes and despite facing the consequences of offending, the pattern for many is like that of a revolving door.

“Brighton Women’s Centre is fighting to break this cycle, encouraging empowerment and offering a vital lifeline to families in their darkest hour. I am proud to support them in this fight.”

Sarah is one of the many women the centre has helped over the years.

Mother-of-two, Sarah (not her real name), has been receiving help from the Brighton Women’s Centre for the past 15 years. She has battled with drug addiction and served a short term prison stay. She was introduced to the Inspire Project at an incredibly difficult time in her life. She shared about how the centre has helped her to turn her life around.

“I had serious trauma as a child which led to drug addiction. You believe that when you are stuck in that life with no family support or anybody to build you up, that you are just going to carry on living that way forever.

“The 6-week prison sentence I was given did not help me at all. It was just short term rehabilitation. Brighton Women’s Centre are different, they actually get right down to the core of the problems and helping to rebuild women like me who have no self-belief or self-worth.

“Without them I wouldn’t be here today and I don’t think I would have felt strong enough to get through my addiction and stop offending. I don’t have any family so they built me back up and gave me the support I never had. It’s all about wanting to change, if you want a better life that’s when Brighton Women’s Centre can help you.”

As a result of the positive changes Sarah made through her work with Brighton Women’s Centre, she has now moved on to co-facilitate a peer 2 peer support group where she supports other women facing the same challenges.

She is also due to start training to become a peer support mentor with the Community Rehabilitation Company probation service.

She adds: “I can’t wait to be able to help people, like me, rehabilitate their lives.”

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