A voluntary women’s support organisation that has helped thousands of Teesside women over the last 32 years, is calling for support after seeing rising demand for its services post-lockdown whilst being hit hard financially over the last 14 months.

The Tees Valley Women’s Centre (TVWC) is calling for help to cover short-term running costs not met by most funding streams given it has been forced to reduce its 34 activity courses down to just three per week in order to maintain a safe environment for its users.

This has been felt massively by those using its services, especially during lockdown when volunteers were able to provide only outreach and online support, still very much needed by local women suffering from depression, loneliness, mental health, or needing a outlet to discuss or overcome personal issues.

Run by women for women. the volunteer-led, grass roots venture in South Bank is one of the longest-serving charities in the area, meeting the needs of the community and those it serves. As well as being a lifeline to many facing personal challenges including mental health issues, isolation, addition, bullying and abuse, there are also a large number of women who make use of the much-valued childcare facilities in order to improve their life and job prospects, gain new work and social skills, or take advantage of the creche to eliminate barriers to employment.

£5,000 was recently donated to the Centre by The Bernicia Foundation, a charitable trust set up by Bernicia housing association to provide North East community projects, charities and individuals looking to achieve personal goals with funding, and as Kathy Lloyd, CEO of TVWC explains, the money came at a crucial time.

“Centres like ours are hugely relied upon for many different reasons, providing services which can literally change a person’s life, maintain their positivity, hope and optimism, and help them on the road to recovery or a new career. The lockdown has been extremely hard for everyone, but to have this outlet, in essence, removed from the women’s daily routine and lifestyle, has been devastating.

“The Bernicia Foundation donation enabled us to fund our ongoing staff costs when no other income was forthcoming, and this allowed our employees and volunteers to maintain regular contact with those needing it the most. It was essential.

“You’ve got to live it to realise it, and for those women that have formed friendship groups and new support networks thanks to the Centre, we simply cannot afford to be in the situation we are in. Prior to Covid, we had 500+ women a week coming through our doors to take part in activities. Now we have, at most, 80 due to the safeguarding we need to impose, but the finances and overheads don’t stop, and it is this area that doesn’t receive external funding.

“We’re working in arguably one of the most deprived areas of Teesside and the North East, so we need to do all we can to help these women re-ignite and prosper. Many are facing huge difficulties and relying heavily on us, so we can’t let them down.

“As we come out of the pandemic, we’re seeing a drastic rise in the number of women now looking to re-educate themselves, calling us constantly to come back into the Centre to retrain, and this is fantastic as we could help break the cycle of deprivation and low income for many families, as well as change old-fashioned attitudes towards women.”

One Teesside women who has used the services of the Tees Valley Women’s Centre for the last five years is Katie Coates (28), who became a mother to her now ten year old child, Louie, when studying at college aged 17. Now a Safeguarding Lead at a local secondary school, she describes the Centre as having ‘set her up for life, not knowing where she would be now without their help’.

She explained, “I found out that I was pregnant when completing my A’levels and little did I know how stressful it would be to continue, or how impossible it would be to return so soon once Louie was born. Childcare costs were extortionate and juggling motherhood and full-time studies just wasn’t manageable. While it was a very new chapter in my life, it also seemed that a lot of other doors had started to close, and that was demotivating.

“I discovered the Tees Valley Women’s Centre when I was 18 and straight away, the staff were supportive and totally empathetic towards my situation. They helped me to enrol onto a basic entry bookkeeping course which was amazing as it started to give me the lift and confidence I’d been lacking. It was then, with their help, new doors began to open.

“I attended two afternoons each week, signing up to a teaching assistant course. Louie was able to use the onsite creche facilities too which meant that he was being well looked after in the same place that I was studying. Things started to pick up again and I was the offered a two days a week placement at a local school, but again the childcare costs were becoming a real barrier.

“Centre staff straight away offered me a creche place for Louie at a very small cost as well as access to the IT facilities to help me work and complete my assignments, and this allowed me to take a huge step forward without having the stress or worry of how I was going to cope. I was then given an offer of employment by the school, but still relying on the Centre for childcare.

“I’m now a Safeguarding Lead at Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough. Every one of my qualifications I’ve achieved thanks to Kathy, her staff and the Tees Valley Women’s Centre, and I couldn’t have done it without them. It wasn’t the life plan that I’d imagined but they got me back on track, and for that I’m eternally thankful. I’m a full time working mum who doesn’t fit the often misjudged, dismissive ‘young mum’ stereotype, but I’m also proof that any woman in my situation can do it if they find the help of right people at the right time. Centres like this are a lifeline and I can’t praise them enough.”

Kathy added, “There is so much potential and vibrancy in the women we see here, not just from the younger ladies but also those in their 70’s, 80’s and older. It’s so important not to lose sight of that as many of the older women would otherwise become very isolated, with nobody to turn to, talk to or socialise with. They’ve made real friendships so we’re desperate for normality to return, and the Centre to, once again, be back at the heart of the Teesside community.”

The Bernicia Foundation has allocated more than £465,000 in funds over the last 18 months to projects across the North East including £5,000 to Tees Valley Women’s Centre, and has recently opened another round of funding to ease the hardships now being felt post-lockdown by local charities, community groups and volunteer-led initiatives.  Applications close at midnight on 16 August 2021 and Teesside organisations are being urged to apply.

Jenny Allinson, Director of The Bernicia Foundation, said, “Kathy and her team deliver remarkable work on Teesside, and its been an absolute pleasure to be able to help them. We’re directing funds to where it is most needed, to regional projects and charities, not necessarily big or well-known names, but those who are making a huge impact within their local area. We’d seriously encourage other similar centres, groups or individuals to apply to the Foundation for funds.”

Additionally, any company, entrepreneur or fundraiser wishing to support Tees Valley Women’s Centre and assist financially should contact Kathy Lloyd on 01642 296166 or kathy.lloyd@tvwc.org.uk