Paul Streets: Llanelli charity is best cure for merger mania

Threshold DAS shows it’s not true that small local charities lack innovation, are inefficient and need to be merged, writes our CEO Paul Streets

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 31st May 2018.

Mergers have their place, but I’m frustrated by the small charity merger mania that usually emanates from those in national positions. It’s here again after the think tank NPC recently published a report. The report is good, well-balanced and shows the benefits of mergers. But it has allowed others to jump on the merger bandwagon, somehow suggesting we should seek out merged charities like good pubs.

I recently visited Threshold DAS, a domestic abuse charity in Llanelli, Wales, which dispels all the myths about small charities often churned out by advocates for mergers. It shows that, sometimes, independence is key.

Threshold DAS is a beacon of hope and energy dealing with domestic abuse, one of the toughest issues we fund. Its name comes from the concept of “no threshold” being acceptable.

Llanelli is five hours from London, at the end of a slow, rickety train journey from Cardiff. It’s anything but prosperous: shabby streets, small shops just about surviving and high unemployment. Fish ’n’ chips for a fiver in the empty fish bar. It’s the rugby team, the Scarlets, that sets it apart from similar towns.

Threshold DAS is a beacon of hope and energy dealing with domestic abuse, one of the toughest issues we fund. Its name comes from the concept of “no threshold” being acceptable. As we chat over tea and Welsh cakes in front of a wall full of news cuttings – including the headline “8-year-old rings 999 to tell the emergency services ‘Daddy is headbutting Mummy’” – Vicky Pedicini, the chief executive, tells me about her work. She started out as a volunteer after a social work attachment instilled a desire to be hands-on. Twenty-one years later she’s running DAS, overseeing 29 staff and 30 volunteers, as the charity has transformed structurally and in every aspect of service delivery.

It isn’t right that organisations such as DAS are left jumping through hoops to survive and avoid merging. It’s delusional, disconnected madness.

No longer solely a refuge, it now supports male survivors and perpetrators as well as working intensively with women. Pedicini explained that it changed tack because “women wanted their men to change” and were “disengaging because we couldn’t offer anything that tried to keep them together”. She stressed that, although abuse can never be excused, its work is nuanced because “every man we have worked with was also abused, or witnessed abuse, as a child”. Often its work with perpetrators leads to couples splitting up because women feel safe to leave. DAS offers mediation services to enable “better exits” and minimise the damage to children.

Its counselling supports women with no awareness of what a “normal” relationship looks like.

In relative terms our funding could seem insignificant – just 3 per cent of its total spend – but it’s gold dust because it goes towards core costs while other funders will fund only “innovation” and contracts don’t realistically cover overheads. It isn’t right that organisations such as DAS are left jumping through hoops to survive and avoid merging. It’s delusional, disconnected madness.

The next time someone tells me small local charities lack innovation, are inefficient and need to be merged, I’ll offer to take them with me on the slow train to Llanelli. The proof of their evolution as service providers is there for all to see. I’d challenge anyone to take me to any large organisation that has gone through as much change and growth in services and yet retained intimately connected humanity at the top.

 

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Opening Up to Mental Health

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L-R Stephen Noakes, Alastair Campbell. Baroness Fritchie, Brian Dow, Neil Layborn, Johnny Benjamin.

Clare Rance, Grant Manager for the South West Region attended ‘Opening Up to Mental Health’ – an event hosted by Lloyds Banking Group and their Charity Partner Mental Health UK in Bristol

Breaking the stigma of mental health

Last week I was lucky enough to attend Opening Up to Mental Health – where Lloyds Banking Group had invited former Downing Street Communications Director and mental health campaigner Alastair Campbell to share his experiences of mental health issues and highlight how important it is to talk about them openly, in the workplace as well as in a personal context. Alongside Alastair and other speakers our Chair, Baroness Rennie Fritchie talked about some of the 200 charities supported by the bank’s four foundations around mental health issues in 2017 with grants totalling £8 million.

For me the most powerful moments of the night were hearing about real people who have overcome mental health issues and had the courage to share their stories.

The evening was informative and inspiring. Alastair Campbell emphasised the need to accept that just as we all need to look after our physical health, we all to remember our mental health too.  As a communications expert, he talked about the need to for people to, “break down the stigma and taboo around mental health – a lot of it is about communication.” He also stressed the importance of employers in supporting good mental health among staff as they do with physical health: “I think employers in their own way are just as important as government in this” he added.

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Click here to watch the #GetTheInsideOut film

It’s clear that this is something that Lloyds Banking Group have been working hard to do; to change attitudes towards mental health within the bank itself. They’ve delivered mental health awareness training to nearly 30,000 staff, fostering an understanding work environment for all colleagues around mental health issues. Stephen Noakes (LBG’s Regional Ambassador for the South West) shared the bank’s ambitions to go further with this, breaking the stigma of mental health for good through their #gettheinsideout campaign.

Real Life Experiences

For me the most powerful moments of the night were hearing about real people who have overcome mental health issues and had the courage to share their stories.

With the help of a stranger who stopped, talked and found a connection with Johnny, he stepped away from the edge

Brian Dow, CEO of Mental Health UK led a conversation with Johnny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn, two people who had first-hand experience of mental health issues. Johnny described how ‘his world suddenly ended’ after receiving a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, he left hospital and found himself on Waterloo Bridge contemplating taking his own life.  With the help of Neil, a stranger who stopped, talked and found a connection with Johnny, he stepped away from the edge.  They now work together to raise awareness about mental health and launch Rethink UK – a new initiative to support people in financial crisis because of mental health issues.

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Stepping Out Theatre Company

Our Chair, Baroness Fritchie shared the story of Emma – who turned to Stepping Out, a charity that received £73,500 from Lloyds Bank Foundation, who use theatre to support people with mental health issues. Emma’s history of self-harming and deteriorating mental health led to her admission to a psychiatric unit, but with the help of Stepping Out she has been able to grow more confident and express her feelings through writing and performing. Since being part of Stepping Out she has written a play which was performed in the Edinburgh Festival – which she describes as a “dream come true”.

As I reflected on Stepping Out, just one of over 150 charities we fund around mental health issues, I felt proud to be playing a part in the movement to get people to ‘open up’ through my work as a Grant Manager. But it shouldn’t just be part of my day job. The event allowed me to take time to reflect on experiences of enduring mental health issues within my own family, and the tireless work of family members to campaign for better local services. It’s made me think about what I can do to campaign for positive change in the way we view mental health, and to take inspiration from the tireless efforts of small and local charities across England and Wales who are a lifeline for so many.

From the town hall to Whitehall, five ways to keep your charity’s priorities at the top of the agenda this election season

Dogs at polling stations#DogsAtPollingStations was a huge trend last General Election – but how can we make sure local charities’ voices are the hot topic in next week’s council elections? 

A year has passed since we were in the throes of the General Election, and right now parts of England are in the final stages of local council elections. For charities with their heads down focusing on coping with rising demand for their services and battling cuts and the challenges of commissioning, elections can seem all a bit removed. But engaging in the political and democratic processes is really important; indeed it can help to make a real difference. So in the final weekend before votes are cast, take a moment to think through how you can influence those around you for the better:

  1. Tell Your Charity’s Story

If you are in an area with elections, hopefully you will have seen some form of activity from your local candidates and parties. If you get the chance, engage them in a conversation. Tell them about your charity, the services it runs, the people it helps and the role you play in the local community. If you have the opportunity, go along to your local hustings and ask the candidates what they will do to tackle the issues you work on and care about (and don’t forget to mention the charity you are from!) Candidates remember conversations they had on the election trail and of course if you manage to solicit a statement of support then you should certainly remind them of it if/when they are in office!

  1. The Real Work Begins When Votes Are In

When the votes have been counted and candidates become councillors, this should actually be the start – not the end – of you stepping up a process of engagement. Contact your local ward councillors, invite them to see your work and services and leave them with a clear sense of how they could help. But also think about whether you could help them – for example you might be able to offer a space for them to hold their surgeries in, or they could refer people who come to them for help onto your support services and vice versa.

Mutual understanding and recognition of the roles you play in the community, helping local people can pay dividends in establishing relationships and ensuring councillors want to help you when you need it.

  1. Be Part Of The Plan

Election results may mean you end up with a new administration, whether a change of party, a move to no overall control or just a change of faces within the council leadership and cabinet. These new (or old) administrations will be thinking about how they can implement the pledges made on the campaign trail and seeking to set out some form of stall for their time in office over the next four years – so ensure your cause and charity are a part of their plans. To do this, try getting your local or another friendly councillor to ask what the proposed approach will be towards your issue, or indeed to the voluntary sector more generally.

Why not join with other charities in your area and push for an early motion to ensure the council operates according to the Social Value Act, or that it commits to a commissioning approach that is fair to local charities? It’s exactly this kind of approach that led to councils pledging to pay the living wage to their staff and contractors, or to exempting care leavers from council tax.

While spending is incredibly tight and will remain so, councillors of all parties go into politics hoping to make a difference. So amidst the misery of making the books balance overall, giving them something they can latch onto and pursue can end up with real results.

  1. Keep The Communications Going

It can be easy to start with an initial flurry of activity but it’s important to make sure your local councillors, the respective Cabinet member, MP, or others showing an interest are literally on your Christmas card list. Send them regular updates, including your headline annual stats, and invite them to your events. For example, if you run employment workshops, invite the leader or respective Cabinet member along to an event marking the completion of courses and ask them to give out the certificates. Seeing your work in action and the people directly helped is so much more powerful and makes it consequently harder for them to cut your funding if they have been photographed with you in the local paper!

You should always follow up with them afterwards on the issues service users and your charity raised. It’s also worth engaging with the relevant Scrutiny committees as they can be great at looking at an issue, such as mapping the provision needed in a service, before a commissioning process kicks off.

  1. Dive Into The Detail

Alongside general engagement, take opportunities to get involved in specifics where you can too – such as local stakeholder forums or consultation events and exercises. When attending events, always make sure you ask a question or make a point, all helping to get your name and work out too. And the same applies to central government – for example there are currently active consultations about the Government’s proposed approach to Civil Society and Domestic Abuse consultations. It’s really important that the view of frontline, specialist, smaller and locally based charities are reflected in these issues.

If you’re still wondering what difference all this makes, I’d encourage you to remember this:

Decision making, politics and policy should be fundamental to the work of all charities. After all, our ambitions should be to stop issues happening in the first place, not just patch up the consequences.

At the Foundation we know many of the charities we work with are already doing great work to influence, shape and shake up local policies, practice, frameworks and funding, but there is more to do, and you can do it!

Sometimes the issues charities are working on can seem all-encompassing and it’s difficult to know where to start – the good news is that you can’t really get it wrong. Every conversation with a person of influence is a positive step!

Finally, as the tragic circumstances of the Windrush immigration cases have shown this week, effective advocacy, strong case studies and good journalism can shine a spotlight on an issue that has gone unaddressed for years and rightly humiliate a Government into action.

So whether in the town hall or Whitehall, happy influencing – and over the next few months we will be thinking actively here at the Foundation about what more we can do to encourage and support you in your efforts.

Duncan Shrubsole is Director of Policy, Partnerships and Communications at Lloyds Bank Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @duncanshrubsole and us: @LBFEW

We must regain empathy for disadvantaged people

It’s vital that we don’t let layers of management that make modern solutions possible get in the way of our ability to empathise, writes our CEO Paul Streets

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 9th April 2018.

Professor Ian Bruce, founder and president of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at the Cass Business School, recently reflected on changes in charities over the past 25 years and called for the sector to lead a “resurgence of empathy for disadvantaged people”.

A day in the foundation’s grant-making panel meetings would corroborate this need for even the most sceptical of observers. A catalogue of requests from small charities all tackling complex social problems illustrates just how many people are disadvantaged and would be overlooked if it wasn’t for their local small charities.

I agree with Ian that the third sector can and must do more for the people who need it most. To do this we need to shine a much brighter light on the sector’s tremendous capacity to address issues that affect fewer of us.

Helping people on the margins is where a good deal of charitable work began – including the Lloyds Bank Foundation, founded by the Reverend Henry Duncan in the 1800s – and it’s important not to lose sight of this drive for social responsibility in its earliest form. Long before charities employed paid staff, or society was thinking up CSR initiatives, people were reaching individually with compassion to those in need around them, and the third sector grew up to formalise that.

Sadly, some of the issues haven’t changed much, but as centuries have passed charities have become more sophisticated in their ability to address them, which is both a blessing and a curse. We now have the muscle to invest heavily in solving social issues, applying modern solutions – creating strategies that are well-evidenced and combining tried-and-tested methods with innovation. Yet we must take care to ensure that the structures and layers of management that make modern solutions possible don’t obstruct the empathy that inspired the charity in the first place.

Where best to look for inspiration? For me it’s time to turn the voluntary sector narrative towards the small and local charities that dominate it. It’s time to remind the public of charity at its best – tackling the problems that so often appear in indignant news headlines but which less often prompt the public empathy or societal action they deserve.

This shift might also force us to address serious questions about why these vital services are increasingly so dependent on philanthropic largesse rather than public commitment as local and central government continuously cuts back services and funding to the needy and those who reach them.

Fortunately, I think we finally have a ministerial team led by Tracey Crouch and those in her civil service team who understand and support this ideal. We hope their work on the promised civil society strategy will look to lead government a little closer to providing a fairer system, in which the expertise of charities rooted in local communities enriches their policy-making. Let’s hope that they’ll even overhaul an unfair commissioning process, making sure that the charities doing the most thankless work with the most complex beneficiaries no longer go unnoticed or lose out on funding to their larger counterparts. Time will tell. But whatever happens, government opportunity stars rarely align for long, so we need to make the most of it when they do.

This requires third sector leaders to lead the resurgence of empathy for the disadvantaged.

To celebrate the hundreds of small charities most people haven’t even heard of, helping people with issues most people don’t know exist. Let’s move them from the margins into the spotlight. They deserve our immense support and admiration.

Paul Streets: Post-Oxfam, the key is to improve on the ground

Small charities are often closer to their clients, which makes safeguarding issues clearer – but that doesn’t mean they should be complacent, writes our Chief Executive Paul Streets.

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This blog was originally posted in Third Sector on 22nd March 2018.

The main rubric of patient safety training for medical students is “first, do no harm”.

We would do well to apply this as we search our souls in the wake of the Oxfam furore. Any feelings of relief that it’s not us in the spotlight should be matched by rigour in re-examining our own practices.

The small and local charities we support work with vulnerable, marginalised and disadvantaged people facing tremendous challenges. Many are underappreciated hidden “healers”, picking up the aftermath of sexual and physical abuse, dealing with domestic violence, trafficking, rape victims, historic child sexual abuse in adulthood and sex workers. But this also exposes them to risk.

Effective small charities have built-in early warning systems and high levels of beneficiary engagement, often with peer support provided by others with lived experience. These “communities of shared experience” are often highly supportive and protective of each other.

In these small charities the short distance between trustees and clients means the spotlight is close and bright, so incidents can be more visible. And the fact that local people support local people means they’re not as vulnerable to the risk the Oxfam story exposes, where external development workers from “foreign” agencies are contracted in, operating with less local support and oversight.

These factors might reduce risk, but don’t eliminate it and we should not be complacent. This isn’t a “small is beautiful; big is bad” story – people-powered change by its very nature involves people and human fallibility, so safeguarding matters for all of us and should make us aware that how we change the world for the better is as important as what we achieve.

Sometimes small organisations that support vulnerable people concentrate the risks. We know from abuse incidents across wider society that collusion between abusers in tight-knit groups gives cover, and imbalances in power can facilitate abuse and ensure it’s concealed.

From a funder’s perspective, we need to respond at three levels. First, what does it mean for existing practice? Is our due diligence before awarding a grant sufficient? How should we respond to incidents reported during the life of a grant?

Second, how can we support and encourage good practice in those we fund? Many of them will be wondering where to start in the blizzard of advice coming from funders, the Charity Commission and sector bodies. Third, how can we support our umbrella body the Association of Charitable Foundations in its wish to develop good practice standards?

Whatever steps we take, we need to balance action with proportionality, ensuring that above all else we help improve real practice on the ground. The worst thing that could happen is that regulators, umbrella bodies and funders impose multiple and competing requirements, chastisements to action and significant costs on charities in order to cover our own backs.

So “first, do no harm” seems a good place to start. In the meantime, those who want to cast the first stone at the poor can cancel their direct debits to Oxfam. I’ve increased mine. For decades it has reached millions and I trust that its leadership will learn from this, act and reach millions more.

Setting the standards: As a male survivor of sexual abuse I deserve quality support too

Male SV Standards

Last week we brought together participants in our Transform programme to share their work. Duncan Craig, CEO of Survivors Manchester, shared his work on promoting professional, specialised support for male survivors of sexual abuse.

In this guest blog, Duncan tells us why the launch of the Quality Standards for Services Supporting Male Victims/Survivors of Sexual Violence will improve support for men and boys.

On 31 January 2018, an historic event occurred in the House of Lords that many people may not be aware of.

It might not have been significant for some but is for others it was, one person in particular… me! This is the day that I stood in a small meeting room in grandiose Palace of Westminster, in front of an invited audience that included; sexual abuse charity leaders; decision makers and policy leads from across government; representatives from many of the Police and Crime Commissioners and the NHS; and some male survivors of sexual violence; and I told them a story. My story from just over 12 years ago about being sat in Manchester desperately scrabbling around for any kind of support, ethical or unethical, that would help me deal with the disclosure I’d just made – that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

I was speaking at the launch of the Male Service Standards. A new set of quality standards for organisations delivering services to male victims and survivors of sexual violence.

Funded through Lloyds Bank Foundation’s Transform programme, these new standards were developed by working with my colleagues Neil and Martyn from Male Survivors Partnership; all those male survivors and service providers that participated in our research; and LimeCulture CIC. They provide all of us working in this area a real chance to ensure that boys and men looking for support after experiencing sexual abuse, can go somewhere that he will understand their trauma and recognise them as male survivor. That younger Duncan would have given anything for that back then.

At present, support for male survivors of sexual abuse is mixed.

There are approximately 100 organisations across the UK delivering amazing services for women yet only around six specifically supporting men. Of course, there are others that support both men and women, but they often do so with varying degrees of equality. If a service is supporting men, then it shouldn’t be as an after-thought.

Don’t our husbands, fathers, sons, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, fiancées, boyfriends, colleagues, or best friends deserve to have a quality service that is designed to meet his needs? A service developed with him in mind?

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that men and women have different needs when it comes to support. Women and girls need women only spaces to explore their issues in a safe and supportive environment. Men and boys need their own safe spaces too. Spaces that give them the freedom to explore their experiences of vulnerability, how that impacts on their own masculinity, and the shame and guilt they carry as male survivors. Those spaces have to be designed with an understanding of the male psychology.

Healing from trauma needs to be facilitated by people that know what they are doing, people with the knowledge and expertise to help.

That doesn’t mean that a brew and a chat isn’t important because it absolutely is, but therapy needs to be trauma informed, otherwise reliving their experience can do more harm than good.

Last week, LimeCulture announced the names of the 10 organisations that they would be moving forward with as part of the Wave 1 accreditation of these new standards . These are organisations that will go through the accreditation process, testing it to make sure it works and paving the way for more services to make sure they are meeting the needs of boys and men effectively. Over 30 organisations applied, which goes to show in some way, just how important this is.

Maybe this time next year I can stand up and talk about how amazing it is that there are now 10 accredited organisations supporting male survivors and a further 10 about to start their accreditation process.

We know this is only the start but hopefully it means one day, the standard of support offered to all male survivors will be the same wherever or whoever they go for help.

Now, how amazing would that be!

On International Women’s Day, we need to protect the services that support our most vulnerable women

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Liverpool-based charity Merseyside Refugee & Asylum Seekers Pre & Post Natal Support Group (MRANG) works with female asylum seekers and refugees to improve their quality of life.

Our Policy and National Programmes Manager Caroline Howe says we need to celebrate the advances of women but also support those helping women still left behind.

When working in a sector focused on finding solutions to social problems and helping those most in need, International Women’s Day offers a chance to pause and celebrate the achievements and advances of women.

There’s a lot to celebrate. In the last year we’ve seen women take centre stage in driving gender equality. Donald Trump’s inauguration prompted women across the world to come together in one of the largest single-day protests in history, while the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have seen women around the world speak out and call for an end to sexual assault and harassment in unprecedented numbers.

In the UK, we’re marking 100 years since the first women got the vote. We have a female Prime Minister and more women sitting in parliament;  a clear sign that progress is being made. And today, we’re delighted to see that the government has announced its Domestic Abuse Bill consultation, which recognises the prevalence of domestic abuse and the need to do more to tackle it.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be actively feeding into the government consultation and encouraging and supporting those we fund to the same. We know we need a strong legal framework but we also need action to ensure the right quality services are there for women whenever and wherever they need it. For this to be a reality, we’ve long argued that government needs to reform commissioning and take action to help reduce abuse at source by doing more to challenge and change perpetrators.

Helping the women left behind

One in four women experience domestic abuse or violence in their lifetime, while young people aged 16-25 the most at risk. Two women a week are murdered by their partners with countless more fearing for their lives.”

So while we can celebrate the advances, we must acknowledge that many women are still at a disadvantage; overlooked and unable to get their voices heard. Across the UK, women are often the most vulnerable in society with one in four  experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime, while young people aged 16-25 the most at risk. Two women a week are murdered by their partners with countless more fearing for their lives. Others find themselves victims of trafficking or forced into sex work with no clear way out.

As a funder of small and local charities, Lloyds Bank Foundation knows the difference they make to peoples lives, offering help and guidance to those in need. And yet many women still struggle to access support, which is why women’s organisations are so important. They provide a safe-space and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives.

women’s organisations are so important. They provide a safe-space and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives.”

At the Foundation we currently support nearly 150 charities working on women’s issues with grants worth £8.5 million. This includes over £6 million funding projects directly addressing domestic and sexual abuse and £2.5 million of grants tackling women’s issues in employment, the criminal justice system, homelessness, mental health, exploitation and refugees.

Despite their importance all too often it is women’s services that are the first to suffer as funding cuts bite.”

These include organisations like Brighton Women’s Centre which provides a weekly-drop in service supporting women who are homeless or at risk of ending up on the street, as well as their regular counselling and therapy sessions. Most homeless services attract, and are tailored to their, predominantly male users, which can be a barrier for women who have experienced abuse seeking the support from them they need. Given that women who sleep rough die on average at just 43 years old, it’s clear that support like this, the only one of its kind in Sussex, is so important.

Another example is Shama Women’s Centre which has provided a place for women of different cultures and backgrounds to find support and be part of a community for over 30 years. With our support they run a much needed project to help more women from minority communities into jobs. The programme provides training to support women who have difficulty finding work, particularly those from disadvantaged areas and who also face cultural and language barriers helping them gain confidence and independence.

Supporting women’s services

Despite their importance all too often it is women’s services that are the first to suffer as funding cuts bite. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, local authorities across England have cut their spending on domestic violence refuges by nearly a quarter since 2010. Those dealing providing specialist care, support for BAME women and those with complex needs are often first to go. Research by Women’s Aid found 17% of these specialist women’s refuges were forced to close between 2010 and 2014.

That’s why we’ve invested over £3m to help support the domestic abuse sector: from funding innovation and new approaches through our Transform programme to supporting women’s organisations to challenge commissioning practices and helping small charities to successfully secure funding to deliver specialist services. These programmes are designed to help these women’s organisations to thrive, not simply just survive.

As funders, we need to recognise the importance these organisations make both to the women that use them but also to the wider communities they work in. We need to make sure they have the funds, resources and support to continue to deliver the much-needed services they provide and be able to raise their voices and speak up for those they work with.

International Women’s Day is a day to recognise the achievements of women and celebrate the progress we’ve made. It’s also a day to think about those women and organisations in our communities working with vulnerable women in ever more difficult circumstances. It is a chance to speak out in support of their work and to give them the recognition and backing they need to help those women still left behind.

Join in the conversation on Twitter at #IWD2018 and share what you’re doing to #PressforProgress.