Two weeks ago I visited Clinks member Anawim, a women’s centre in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, to attend their very first awards ceremony. I arrived to find their main hall beautifully decorated and packed out with people, all there to celebrate the achievements of women coming to Anawim.
I heard so many inspiring stories of the transformational change taking place in people’s lives, aided by the staff and support services that Anawim offer to local women. The awards being given out on the day were certificates for completing a range of courses and programmes at the centre, it was also a chance to recognise and applaud their wider aspirations and achievements: including one woman voted Adult Learner of the Year at Solihull College, having taken courses in English and Maths; and another who has become a qualified chef, cookery tutor, and is now setting up her own catering business which had provided lunch for the event.
“7 months ago, I was in jail, and the world outside just seemed to be a scary place… working with Crisis and Anawim reminded me of who I am – that I’m valid, that my dreams are valid, and to have some dreams… Now I’m starting a sports therapy degree in September!”
Anawim award recipient
There was clear evidence of the strong partnerships Anawim has built with other services, with presentations from Geese Theatre Company and Crisis – both of whom run courses at Anawim – and a glowing praise from local probation staff. Collaboration is vital to provide effective and holistic support, so it was encouraging to see organisations working positively together. Throughout the morning it was the women themselves who were centre-stage, including a performance by graduates of Geese’s 'Forward' course, and a presentation given by Crisis' volunteer ambassador who is also an Anawim client.
Some swept up to the stage to receive their certificates, flamboyantly playing to the crowd as their friends cheered them on; while for others, the act of coming forward in front of such a large crowd looked to be a major step in itself. It was great to see all their different personalities shining out, and that everyone was included and celebrated, no matter how far they’ve come.
“Without Anawim, I would have been lost… I’d probably still have been sat on the sofa, drinking”
Anawim award recipient
It was also abundantly clear that each woman had her own story to tell, yet as different women took their turn to speak, a number of themes emerged from their varied stories. Almost all the women mentioned how attending the centre or taking part in different programmes had transformed their self-belief and confidence, many expressed appreciation for both the Anawim staff and the friendship they had found with other women there. I was particularly struck by those who commented that when they were first offered support, they had needed to step out to meet it, to ‘come halfway’ – an important reminder of the courage it can take to accept support, and begin the personal journey towards desistance.
Amidst all the change in the Criminal Justice System and wider economic climate, the work of organisations like Anawim is as important as ever, quietly getting on with making a tangible difference to so many women’s lives. I hope that we can continue to celebrate their success, and the success of the many women's centres, and women specific services across England and Wales.
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Here's the link to the White Paper launched today 'A Smarter Approach to Sentencing'. Clinks will be responding on behalf of voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system. #Sentencing