This International Women's Day we are celebrating women who have made a difference to the voluntary and community sector in Wakefield District. Here, women who have made a great contribution to the sector and the district share their stories.

Eleanor Bradbury

Youth and Community Work Co-ordinator - Rycroft Youth Centre

After leaving school at 16 with very few GCSEs I went into the local sewing factory because that was where people went in my day! After realising I could not sew I then decided to apply for college where I attended for 2 years doing a Social Care course, going on to work full time for the NHS in a hospital then a community unit for people with mental health issues. I did this for several years but during this time I worked evenings at a Youth Centre for the Youth Service firstly, as a volunteer then as a paid worker. In this time I did my local youth work training.

After having my first child, I left the NHS and increased my hours to part time with the Youth Service doing various work such as detached, youth clubs, information drop in sessions and the Young Volunteer project. After having my second child I then went on to University where I did my Diploma in Youth and Community Studies. I then increased my hours to full time and continued my studies doing my BA (Hons) Degree in Youth and Community Studies and a PGCE in Lifelong Learning. After 18+ years working with the youth service I then took voluntary redundancy and started to look for employment.

Whilst looking for employment I was asked to run Rycroft Youth Centre part time for a few months as their worker had left unexpectedly. I enjoyed the work as it was good old fashioned youth work and so decided to apply for the post myself. After applying and interviewing I was successful in the role and have been here for nearly six years. Within this six years we have gone from opening a couple of nights a week to five sessions a week and gaining contracts and funding to sustain the project and the work we do.

We have never lost sight of the value of good old fashioned youth work and the impact this can have on a young person’s life. Our centre promotes affordable positive activities and personal development for young people through volunteering.

At present we are running very successful youth club sessions and information advice and guidance sessions for NEET young people. We recently were successful with Reaching Communities lottery funding, which will sustain the youth centre for five years. We are also a Talent Match provider which is a project working with young people 18-24 years of age who are furthest away from the Labour market and engaging them in education, employment and training. We rely on small pots of funding to deliver our activities at a reduced rate or free of charge and are constantly seeking this.

My plans for the future are to keep the centre running and offering a needs led service for the young people of the area. Our centre relies on volunteers young and old and we are always encouraging our young people to become active within the centre. We have very active young volunteers who run sessions, plan and deliver summer camp and summer activities, apply for funding and have an input in the services we provide so they are young people and needs led.

Alison Drake (MBE)

Chair - Castleford Heritage Trust

I was born and grew up in 1950s Castleford, at a time of general austerity, a modern term for poverty, but we were fortunate that it was also a time of post war hope and optimism. The town was growing with new housing in tree-lined streets, modern schools, NHS doctors, clinics and play areas, planned and delivered by local people with real vision and drive.

The ninth of ten children, I was surrounded by love and support from older siblings and our parents were passionate about good education. Dad’s saying was, ‘the only way out of poverty is education’. I enjoyed my school days at Airedale primary schools and then Castleford Grammar School and later went on to teacher training college. I taught in local schools before going into North Yorkshire as a head teacher but tragedy struck when I was 42 and I had a terrible accident, breaking my spine and lower limbs.

At first the doctors were not hopeful that I would survive but after five months in St James’s Hospital I came home in a wheel chair. I never gave up hope that I would walk and Pinderfields Spinal Injuries Unit eventually got me back on my feet.

At that time, fifteen years after the miners’ strike, we were still feeling the hurt and devastation of the loss of the mining industry. A group of local people got together to celebrate the millennium and we went on to form Castleford Heritage Trust (CHT). Our aim was to motivate local people to work together to regenerate the town and community, to celebrate and use our local culture, heritage and arts to promote pride of place and use our heritage through education to build a better future. At nearly sixty, I decided to do a Master’s Degree in Cultural Heritage Management at York University to inform my heritage and community work at the Trust.

A group of us helped to put together Castleford Town Plan and persuaded Yorkshire Forward to form the Five Towns Urban Renaissance team. Channel 4 TV recognised our vision and enthusiasm and chose Castleford for a series of regeneration programmes. I was able to champion the new river Aire footbridge and the Castleford Forum, Library and Museum. I know it was only with the support of many local people that together we achieved so much and representing them I was honoured by the Queen in 2003 when she invited me to Buckingham Place as ‘A Champion to the Nation’ and I was awarded an MBE in Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee year.

We went on to establish Bridge Arts which became a successful community arts and heritage centre but the building was rented and not sustainable. A loan enabled us to buy the former Allinson’s Flour Mill as this has potential to be self-sustaining. It is a site of significant industrial heritage in the centre of town and has a huge waterwheel, which experts say is a gem of Victorian technology. There is evidence of flour milling on the site from Roman times and it is close to the ruins of the Roman Fort and Bath House, a registered ancient monument.

I am proud of the many volunteers who work hard to serve the community at Queen’s Mill. It is a successful and growing Community Anchor and has the potential to be a wonderful asset for the town. Castleford has an ambitious community with a strong vision and determination, we want to continue the regeneration of our proud market town by developing Queen’s Mill as an attractive riverside cultural arts and heritage destination. I hope to keep healthy enough to see our vision realised.

Nichola Esmond

Chief Executive Officer - Healthwatch Wakefield

Every year, for the past ten years or so, I have an argument with my two sons (now teenagers) about why there’s an International Women’s Day and not an International Men’s Day. They accept the fact that in the past women were oppressed or treated as second class citizens, but feel that in the present day, women are just as equal as men. On the one hand I am pleased that this is their experience of the world so far. On the other hand I can talk about a lot of examples I’ve seen of women and girls who absolutely do not experience the world as a place of equality and justice. And there is even more evidence that I’ve been fortunate not to have personal experience of, where women continue to be treated as objects to be bought, used and ill-treated.

However, none of this had really been part of my awareness until I started working at the Well Women Centre in Wakefield in 2004. The ten years I spent at the centre opened my eyes to many things, and I am extremely proud of the work that the centre does and continues to do, to support women and girls who need help. The women who work there are passionate about providing a place of safety and the information, skills, coping mechanisms and support that are often needed for a woman or girl to escape from whatever is causing her pain or danger.

I do think that there is an equal need to recognise that men and boys, while not experiencing the same issues as women and girls, often have no less difficulty in coping with the things that life throws at them. There should be something equivalent provided, preferably for men, by men, in a way that makes it easier for them to access help when they need it.

I’ve worked at Healthwatch Wakefield now for the last couple of years and I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time working to support people’s voices to be heard by the providers and commissioners of health and social care in Wakefield. I absolutely believe that the experience of people who use services is of vital importance in ensuring that we get the design and provision of health and care right. I am very lucky to be working again with people who enjoy their work, believe in it, and want to do the very best for the people we aim to serve.

Lisa Grant

Centre Manager - St Catherines Church Centre

I was brought up in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland in a family where the role of a woman was very traditional. All the women around me whilst I was growing up were mostly stay at home mothers who dedicated their lives to the raising of their children and who fitted part time jobs into the family when they were older. They were all strong women and I respected them enormously and still do. The role of a stay at home parent is one of the most demanding and difficult roles any person can undertake. Whilst people may imagine that I lived in a tiny community, the Island is the home to around 27,000 people.

At 18 I joined the Royal Navy and took the very long journey from the far North to the far South of Plymouth. I was proud to serve in HM Forces for five years. When I decided to leave the Services, I took the decision on my next move in a very silly and risky way! I printed out a copy of the map of the UK, closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the map.

The pin landed in Huddersfield and off to Yorkshire I went and stayed over 20 years ago. After around five years I moved from Huddersfield to Wakefield and have stayed here since. I joined the St Catherine’s team as Centre Manager in 2000 and I am part of the team of people who helped develop the building and organisation as a community centre and charity.

The centre runs a wide range of services and projects which have been designed to meet the needs of our community. These include peer support projects to support people suffering from mental ill health, those in food poverty and isolated people. The success of these services are wholly attributable to our staff and volunteers. I’m just proud to be a tiny cog in an incredible machine making a positive difference to the people of Wakefield.

St Catherine’s like so many Community Centre’s across our district, is providing essential services to support local people.

My hopes for the future? That the majority of our services/projects (emergency food, mental health support) are no longer needed i.e. we will live in a future where people don’t have to resort to food banks or who have to access mental health service in the third sector.