'I don’t know where I would’ve been otherwise': Supporting women through hardship for 20 years

Woolston Development Project manager Bev Adams facilitates outings and activities at the Women’s...
Woolston Development Project manager Bev Adams facilitates outings and activities at the Women’s Social Support Group, which has celebrated its 20th anniversary. Photo: Geoff Sloan
A sense of belonging and purpose has been the driving force behind the success of a women’s support group in the last two decades.

The Women’s Social Support Group at the Woolston Development Project recently marked its 20th anniversary of nurturing the lives of women across the city.

The group provides social opportunities for women from a diverse range of backgrounds, including those facing unemployment, mothers of children with disabilities, or carers of sick family members for long periods of time.

WDP manager and facilitator Bev Adams has been involved with the group since its inception and said its importance has been highlighted now more than ever due to Covid-19.

“The founding members identified a concern that local women were becoming more isolated due to low income and increasing health issues,” she said.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, but isolation is still an issue for women. Covid-19 showed how isolated people actually were because they hadn’t built those community connections over time.”

The women’s group was established in 2000 and started with 10 members, but it has now grown to more than 35.

Activities such as arts and craft, games and bus outings were on offer to enable women to build positive relationships, develop practical leisure skills and increase awareness of other opportunities city-wide.

Adams said the dynamic of the group shifted over time because members were able to confide in each other around issues such as domestic violence, rather than attending just for the activities.

This was particularly apparent following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

Said Adams: “Pre-earthquakes, women came there to enjoy the activities. When the earthquakes hit we were closed for six weeks, but they still depended on those connections they had made especially as many struggled with losing their houses.

“The whole dynamic of the group since then has changed. People are much more caring and they never hesitate to check in on each other.”

Gloria Brown (left), Bev Adams and Patsy Kerr. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Gloria Brown (left), Bev Adams and Patsy Kerr. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Many women readily accepted the care and responsibility of their families, whether it was young children, ageing parents or unwell partners.

Adams said this was often to the detriment of their own health and well-being, therefore the group helped women take some time out for themselves, and develop lifelong friendships.

It impacted their lives due to learning new skills such as gardening, cooking, making clothes or having a hobby, which lifted self-esteem and confidence.

“Some of these women have been working 24/7 to look after someone, managing finances or organising medical needs and never think about what they want or need,” she said.

“They become overtired and depression is more apparent because they’re eating, sleeping and living for other people.

“Coming to a group like this for two hours just provides some respite and is a lifting of the spirits. Having a laugh is incredibly therapeutic.”

Gloria Brown. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Gloria Brown. Photo: Geoff Sloan
‘It’s nice to make new friends’

Making friends in a new city can often be no easy feat, but for Gloria Brown, joining a successful women’s group was a decision that paid off.

Brown is one of the last remaining founding members of the Women’s Social Support Group.

The Woolston resident moved to Christchurch from Timaru in 1992 and joined the WDP after a spontaneous decision to give it a go.

Said Brown: “I joined the group because I didn’t know many people when I moved up here, and I was looking for friends, a job and things to do. I found a leaflet in my letterbox about it and I ended up joining that day.

“It’s great because there’s always new members coming through, so it’s nice to make new friends. Some members even come from the other side of town.”

Many came and went over the years, but now only two founding members remained – Brown, along with Patsy Kerr.

Joining in on the fun became a weekly ritual for Brown, who seldom misses a meeting.

Along with arts and crafts, regular excursions to attractions such as the Christchurch Gondola, the Botanic Gardens or punting on the Avon River were activities she enjoyed the most.

The companionship and lifelong friendships were why she remained at the group for the last two decades, especially the support she felt when she lost her home in the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

“It’s helped a lot of women, especially when they’ve been lonely. I don’t know where I would’ve been [otherwise].”

  • The Women’s Social Support Group meets weekly at the Woolston Development Project on Wednesdays from 9.45am during the school term.

 

 

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