Enfield Women’s Centre History
The centre has gone through many changes over the years but has remained true to its commitment to support women and girls and their families via a variety of services and activities.
Set up in the 1980’s, by a group of women at the then Middlesex Poly (later University) led by Vicki Scarlett, Enfield Women’s Centre as we know it, was registered as a charity in 1991. Vicki was instrumental in obtaining the current premises for the delivery of activities and services to women.
Our vision then was the same as it is now – to support vulnerable and disadvantaged women and girls and their families living in the borough of Enfield by providing a range of activities and services which they feel able to access and which will enable them to have fun, make changes in their lives, through learning new skills and working towards economic independence.
Enfield Women’s Centre has gone through a number of changes including a fallow period leading up to the spring of 1994 at which time two new volunteers set about revitalising the centre. This resulted in a re-launch and subsequent grand re-opening on the 24th September 1994 by the then Mayor of Enfield, Rita Smythe, marking the beginning of Enfield Women’s Centre as it is today. At this event we asked women to complete a questionnaire seeking information on services and activities they would like and also asking for women to volunteer their skills. These responses then informed our planning for future development and also set the pattern for our future way of working in responding to requests from individual and groups of women within the community for services and activities to meet their needs and wants.
The most requested service was for low-cost, accessible counselling informed by the needs and experiences of women. At the same time a significant number of women offered to provide Counselling services on a voluntary basis. This congruence was too strong to ignore and we called a meeting of the women who had volunteered to counsel to help us plan and set up a counselling service. We applied for and received a small grant from our local Social Services and immediately set about recruiting a suitable Clinical Supervisor. We were fortunate in being able to find Hillary Ratna who was with us from February 1995 to February 2016 and was a key figure in the development of this highly respected service. We also at this time became members of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
In the early years, we worked in partnership with the Enfield College ESOL Unit (which was next door) offering vital crèche facilities to women whose first language was not English. This enabled them to learn or improve their English language skills through courses run at the Unit, thus helping them to integrate more fully in local society. Without the crèche we provided it would have been impossible for the majority of these women to do these classes as they had no local support networks.
From the start we worked to support local women and, alongside the crèche facilities, we met with and offered space to a couple of women seeking to set up a support group for black women.This grew and was established independently as Nehanda Black Women’s Support Group. Another group of women we have offered space and support to are the women’s section of a local Bangladeshi group (Community Aid) whom we hosted for over ten years. They also now have separate premises locally. Another group who accessed the centre from time to time was the Enfield Lesbian Group. They now meet as part of the local LGBT Network of which we are a member.
We began to offer support to women experiencing domestic violence and worked closely with the then Women’s Aid to ensure the provision of services to women in need. Other new services were introduced to meet the changing needs of women in the borough including information, advice and referral. Short courses around Confidence Building, Assertive Communication Skills and Handling Stress were established with the leadership of Val Bean and became the foundation of today’s Training Services which now also include Computer for Beginners, Exploring Anger, Money Management and others. We were a member of the local authority led Enfield Skills for Work Service which was disbanded as a result of cuts in funding from Central Government.
Alongside meeting these important needs, we recognised that many of the women using our services wanted to meet other women and families in the area; to keep fit, learn new skills and hobbies and to have fun! Thus, started an ever-growing list of classes, taster sessions and activities – from painting, yoga and walks around the local area; to street-dancing for the under 16’s, zumba for the over 16’s and cinema nights to name but a few.
Finally, 1994 was significant for two other important reasons. It marked the beginning of a long-standing commitment by Barbara Le Fevre and Ginnie Landon, joined in early 1995 by Hillary Ratna, Clinical Supervisor to the Counselling Service and Val Bean who developed our Training Services.This team helped to establish Enfield Women’s Centre as one of the key providers of support to women, girls and their families in Enfield.
Barbara and Ginnie are still key to Enfield Women’s Centre today whilst Val and Hillary have both taken much deserved retirement, giving up their active roles whilst being there in the background for us.
In 2005, after the London bombing, EWC ensured that all women attending sessions in the days immediately following were able to discuss their feelings and concerns about the events. We asked women what they felt and whether there was any action we could take to support them. These amazing women said they wanted to somehow mark the event and to also show people that they did not judge all members of a community by the actions of a few. This lead to us organising a vigil in the local park, calling on all people of goodwill to join us. That event grew into a project titled Reach for Peace which in turn gave rise to Faithful Women and then Women of Faith Together as Peacemakers.These lead to us organising a range of events on our own and with other groups including a major Global Family Festival, Peace Walks, Faith House exchange visits, etc.
In the immediate aftermath to the bombing we were very proud that a visit to central London (St Martins in the Field lunch time concert) went ahead with everyone attending with one of our older members declaring she would not be put off her enjoyment by the atrocities.
In 2014 Enfield Women’s Centre, under the present administration, celebrated its 20th birthday. We are very proud of the help and support we have been able to provide during those years and are working hard to ensure we can continue to support the women and girls of Enfield and their families for many years to come.
When we claim an age we need to ensure we include all the effort by women who came before us. Therefore although we in the current incarnation are looking at 25 years celebration in September 2019 we recognise, applaud and value the contribution of all the women who have been part of this organisation since its conception in the early 1980’s right through to the present.
So here’s to Vicki Scarlett and her colleagues, we salute and thank you for all you have done and the groundwork you laid in order for us to be able to carry on the work you started. Sadly Vicki passed away in 2011 and as a tribute to her amazing energy and generosity we have added ‘Vicki Scarlett House’, to our address.
Over the years we have shared this space with others including Imece Turkish Women’s Group, IKWRO (Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation), Victims Support, and Lily FGM project (local partnership between EWC, Samafal Somali Women’s Group and Enfield Children and Young People’s Service). All of these groups helping to provide services at the centre.
Partnership work with the London Borough of Enfield over the years has included, Voluntary Sector Strategy Group (chaired jointly by Cabinet Member with responsibility for the Voluntary Sector and the LBE Chief Executive) Older People’s Partnership Board, IAG and Careers Service, Lifelong Learning, Skills for Work Service, Regeneration Team (Employment Skills Network, Access to Learning), Enfield Violence Against Women and Girls partnership Operational and Strategic Groups, Enfield Faith Forum, Hate Crimes Forum to mention a few.
We also serve on the Chase Farm Equal Access Group and the Clinical Care Commissioning Group’s ‘Voluntary and Community Stakeholder’s Reference Group.
We work closely with Enfield Citizens Advice, Enfield LGBT Network, Enfield Disability Action, Over 50’s Forum, AgeUK, IAPT, various other health practitioners and professionals.
EWC is a founder member of the Ponders End Community Development Trust dating back to the last century and has participated in a range of activities and projects around building community and regeneration as well as Planning issues.
EWC works closely with a range of women’s groups and organisations/departments serving the needs of women and girls and their families.