Covid-19 and the Women and Girls Initiative

Covid-19 and the Women and Girls Initiative

The first of 5 blogs about COVID-19, which shared some of the achievements of projects as they quickly and effectively mobilised to support women despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.

For everyone, Covid-19 has forced changes to working practices and delivery. Alongside our health and care sectors, the women and girls projects funded through the National Lottery Community Fund’s Women and Girls Initiative (WGI), have experienced massively increased demand.  At the same time, they have needed to reorganise and, in some cases, restrict certain services, to keep staff, and those they work with, safe.

For those of us offering support to projects through the WGI Learning and Impact Services, we have also had to re-think what we can offer, and what might be of most use to the sector. Therefore, our original plans for a WGI conference this year have been postponed until 2021 and Action Learning Sets are now meeting online. In addition, we have set up two sets of bi-weekly, hourly community calls. These are offering a space for staff across the WGI to come together, share what projects are doing in response to Covid-19, the successes, challenges and specific barriers faced by the women and girls they work with. Community calls are also offering a space for mutual support when staff are themselves facing the personal effects of the current crisis.

We are also capturing the work being undertaken by WGI projects to still support women and girls who may be incredibly isolated, within abusive relationships, facing severe poverty and/or living in insecure and unsafe housing. Many women are without access to technologies, and services cannot be delivered purely online. It is incredibly moving to hear of the adaptations WGI projects are making to their work. For instance, One25 in Bristol is continuing its night outreach work with women who are trapped on Bristol’s streets, through its van, and using PPE and social distancing measures. One25 staff organise delivery of food parcels, craft packs and mobile phones to help women keep connected, and are continuing support for ongoing housing, medical and other needs. Likewise, Bromley and Croydon Women’s Aid (BCWA) are providing food parcel deliveries and doing daily check-ins with women living in abusive relationships. Support within refuge accommodation continues, following public health guidance, with rotas in place for the safe use of communal areas. ‘On-call’ hours have been stretched in order to meet recent spikes in demand whilst keeping staff safe, and BCWA continues finding ways to support young women and girls online whilst groups are unable to meet in person. Another example is of Stitches in Time in East London, who have been translating government guidance and information into Bengali for their clients and have set up a telephone network of support, offering regular contact and routine.

We are pleased to launch a series of blogs and briefings over the coming months, that will highlight more insights and learning from WGI projects. In particular, we will be sharing stories from work on the frontline, the learning from projects around supporting women and girls at the time of lockdown and coming out of it. In addition, the Action Learning Sets will produce briefings on issues specific to parts of the sector, such as: those providing residential accommodation, those working with young women and girls, and those addressing sexual exploitation. And we will also explore other, ongoing areas of interest, such as: partnership working, the impact of the funding for WGI projects and supporting staff with the emotional demands of the work.

In the process, we not only hope to share resources useful to organisations that provide specialist support for women and girls, but to also share with the wider world the critical work being undertaken, that often does not get seen. We hope this will also help those funding and commissioning services in working out how best they can mobilise their resources to support the sector and ultimately women and girls who have been made even more vulnerable through Covid-19.

Heather Stradling
Project manager, WGI Learning and Impact Services

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