The small fund making a big difference for Scottish women

Womens Fund Volunteer Developement board. Shona Blakeley, Judy Russell, Chair fiona MacLeod, Sue Robertson, Caroline Halliday, Kate Broughton and Aline Ewan.
Womens Fund Volunteer Developement board. Shona Blakeley, Judy Russell, Chair fiona MacLeod, Sue Robertson, Caroline Halliday, Kate Broughton and Aline Ewan.
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You probably don’t know it, but you are never more than 50 miles from a woman helped by a unique, almost invisible fund at work in ­Scotland.

That woman may be lonely, ill or scared. She may have little money and be trapped by her lack of choices. Her family life may just not function anymore or she could be trying to get away from violence. She could be all of these things.

The Women’s Fund for Scotland was set up to support­ ­people just like her.

Since it was founded in 2002, More than £1.4 million has flowed into the deep network of grassroots organisations which support women, teenagers, mothers and their children across Scotland. Around 550 grants have been made.

Almost neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood, the fund has supported projects which help women get back on track and overcome the barriers that women are more likely to face than men, such as ill health, depression, low self-esteem and domestic abuse. The fund thinks big but acts small. It concentrates on small grants ranging from just a few hundred pounds up to £2,000, sums which other charities may not get involved with administering.

It is also chiefly run by volunteers, apart from one staffer whose post is funding by an anonymous family donor.

A team of ambassadors, including Edinburgh-based comedian Susie Morrison, also help raise its profile.

Research has found that for every £1 invested in women’s services a “social value” of between £5 and £11 is generated for women, their families and the state.

Board member Gwen Stewart said the fund would just as happily support nine women as it would 90, given the powerful effect small changes can make. She said: “It is not just one person you are helping. It has a huge impact, you are helping their family, their friends and the community.

“If mum’s not in a good place, home life can be tough, people are walking on eggshells and it affects everyone.

“If you can get that woman who needs support into a better place, everything around them is in a better place. These groups we go to are nearly all run by women in communities, helping other women.

“Then you get this ripple effect where women who have been helped tend to go on an become volunteers themselves. They want to give back.”

Ms Stewart, a former chartered surveyor from Killearn, Stirlingshire, joined the board in 2015. Early on she visited a drama project for women with mental health issues, which met in a theatre housed in a converted industrial unit in Kilmarnock. She said: “There were nine women there and a lot of them were at the end of the road. They had gone through just about every NHS service there is going but after just a few weeks the woman running the project had them up on the stage, singing away.

“They had done some research before and after the project. By the end, they felt 80, 90, 100 per cent better about different parts of their life. It really was such a success.”

Mrs Stewart added: “A woman who was serving the tea said to me at the end ‘I know you are from the Women’s Fund and I want to say thank you. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this group’. That left me with a lump in my throat.”

The fund looks for projects that build skills and confidence, improve health and wellbeing, build social networks or help women move on from violence. It received most of its money from the former Scottish Executive but funding stopped in 2012 after ten years. It now primarily raises its own funds.

Recent beneficiaries include Saje Scotland, which helps women move on from domestic abuse; Up-to-Us, which supports under 21-year-olds who have been in care and Home-Start Wigtownshire which gives emotional and practical support to families with children aged under 5.

The Fuse Cafe in Shettleston, Glasgow, has also been able to hold social sessions for girls. Some of the girls have been in care and found it difficult to meet new friends in the past.

Ms Stewart said: “ Seeing all these grassroots organisations has been a real eye opener. Working with the fund has made be open to the plight of other women and the people willing to give their effort and energy to other women.”

l For more information or to apply for funding, visit www.womensfundscotland.org.