A COMMUNITY project which has touched the lives of many has been nationally recognised and granted £734,000.

Women's Community Matters, a group that was founded to improve the quality of life for women in the Barrow area, has received the funding from the Big Lottery Fund as part of the "Women and girls initiative".

The community group has been something very close to the heart of former Cumbria police and crime commissioner Richard Rhodes since it opened in 2014 and in that time it has turned around the lives of hundreds of local women.

The group runs courses such as self-defence, Beautiful Women, Beautiful Me, My Safety & Me and My Relationships & Me.

Development worker Katy Scott described the project, saying: "We are open to any woman who feels she needs support but specifically for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence or women who have committed crime. Our ethos is all about kindness, compassion and love and we want to encourage women to move forward with their lives and achieve all they are capable of, healing, becoming more self-aware and realising their value.

"Many become volunteers who then support future women. We have a real belief in our tagline ‘Every Woman Matters’ and hope that all the women we meet believe in it for themselves too."

The project was one of 60 selected by the National Lottery across the UK from thousands of applications.

WCM centre manager Rebecca Rawlings said: "We put an application plan together last summer but we didn't find out until March this year that we had been successful. It still feels a bit surreal, it's such a lot of money and it is amazing that we will be able to spend it helping women over the next four to five years.

"The funding will give us the ability to expand the different courses and activities we offer and enhance the projects that are aimed at 16- to 19-year-olds.

"The idea behind the women and girls initiative is that all the projects which are being funded will communicate and help each other too. So far, we have heard that we will learn more about holistic approaches to all sorts of health problems - mental illness, cancer, end of life care and sexual health, to name a selection. So already you can get an idea of the sheer volume of resources that will be available for local women who need help."

There will be a lecture series for the women to attend and all those involved will be encouraged to give their feedback and help the team to discern which areas will benefit most from the funding.

Other areas which will be targeted by the new funding are the "Changing the World Together" scheme and the "Let Go" scheme. The first aims to help women who have experienced the criminal justice system and the second is designed to give confidence back to women who have suffered domestic violence.

Rebecca said: "This funding has given us the security to plan ahead and expand our projects. We still have the support of the police and crime commissioner and the support of local GPs and of Dr Geoff Jolliffe, clinical chair for NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, which has been invaluable."


How a Barrow woman who survived sexual abuse, domestic violence and drug addiction turned her life around

Barrow rape victim wanted to end her life in a Swiss clinic until pioneering women's group helped to turn her life around

Barrow women turn their lives around with help from pioneering project

'The women here have become like my family, it's like having lots of sisters to help you out'