By Trustee Annie Waddington-Feather.
International Women’s day (IWD), 8 March, is the global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
IWD has been celebrated for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people.
From the Ark staff, and women who use the Ark’s services, to visiting health professionals, and a team of around 60 volunteers, the women of the Ark are an inspiration to women everywhere.
While this year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, homelessness, probably is the least bias and most inclusive. Everyone is two pay checks away from being homeless, or so the saying goes.
Homeless doesn’t recognise gender, disability, religious belief, sexuality or socio-economic status.
It doesn’t recognise illness, or education, hair colour, clothes, or anything else which might be used to differentiate us from each other.
Women experiencing homelessness
However, for women experiencing homelessness or rough sleeping there is the added danger of gender-based violence and abuse. Escaping harm can mean women are hidden from, or afraid to seek help, and are often missing from homelessness services and statistics.
According to Government figures, in Autunm 2021, people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn were male. In 2021, there were 2,080 men (85 % of the total) and 320 women (13 % of the total) sleeping rough on a single night in autumn. Gender was ‘Not known’ for 40 people (2 %). The gender breakdown of people sleeping rough was similar across all regions in England and was similar to previous years.
At the Ark, over 50 women in Shropshire regularly visit the Ark to use its services, and each one has a story to tell; they are inspirational in their own right, working through and overcoming the immense challenges life has thrown at them. At the end of last year, Julie, who uses the Ark’s services, shared some of her challenges in a BBC interview here.
The Ark’s volunteers are the proud recipients of the Queens Voluntary Service Award.
Whether it’s cooking up a treat in the kitchen, helping with the back-end admin, serving customers in the Ark’s shop, lending a listening ear, taking people to essential appointments or organising a fundraiser, there is an army of inspirational individuals, many of them women, contributing to make positive changes in people’s lives.
And the services go beyond the Ark’s four walls. Lorna Hinde is one of the many women volunteers who quietly supports people with the challenges of running a house, and helps them remain connected and engaged with the community.
Caring for women’s health
Giving people access to essential healthcare, Dr Nicola Roberts and her team from Riverside Medical Practice run a weekly medical clinic at the Ark
“The clinic is definitely my favourite day of the week: they are often chaos with no real timings, but I’m able to listen and advocate for the patients, which is really humbling,” she says. “The difference you can see when you listen, treat them respectfully and then do your best to help is so rewarding. One lady was telling me about getting accommodation; sharing in these moments is just fantastic.”
Learning new skills and discovering creative talents
The Ark services go beyond meeting basic needs and offering practical support; in partnership with other organisations, services and dedicated individuals, it runs activities to help with learning basic life skills and personal development, and very often there are women involved.
Recently, Ronni Stirton from Shropshire Libraries and author and poet Bethany Rivers, ran a creative writing session, where one attendee Jade felt inspired to her life experience, and her connection to her animals.
Behind the scenes
The Charity’s Board of Trustees is headed up by Emily Bell, and is supported by nine other volunteer trustees, four of which are women. Each one brings with them a wealth of different experiences and expertise from both their personal and their working life to ensure the charity meets its aims and objectives, operates smoothly and professionally, and is compliant with the latest legislation.
An all-female staff team
Perhaps unusually for this type of service, all six staff at the Ark are currently women, and each woman plays an essential role in making a positive difference to people’s lives.
It takes a strong and exceptional leader to bring the Ark’s services together.
The person at the Ark’s helm, is the multi-talented manager, Wendy Faulkner. Resilient, compassionate, organised and resourceful, are just some of the many words which describe this inspirational leader.
Wendy has steered the Ark through the troubled waters of the pandemic, working with local agencies and businesses, in very challenging times to ensure those who needed it, could still access essential support.
Having recently coordinated the move into the new premises at 32 Castle Foregate, Wendy, together with the Trustee board, now has her sights on taking the Ark’s services to a new level as the charity enters a new era.
‘'That one gesture, that one smile, that one spark of kindness can save a person's life; care, compassion and understanding, however small can make a huge difference,'’ says Wendy.