It is with great pleasure that I present Derry Well Women’s 29th Annual Report. This is my first report and so the pleasure is tempered by a degree of nervousness as I am acutely aware of all the reports written by the very worthy Chairpersons who precede me.

I have had great benefit from working with a number of former chairs who are still on the Committee and I extend my thanks to them and to all our Committee members. They bring an abundance of wisdom, kindness, experience and genuine caring to all that they do. I have relied on this during the year and I will continue to do so.

Every year brings its challenges. Some are familiar, some less so. The environment in which we work currently is uncertain not, of course, for Derry Well Women and the voluntary sector alone. We are acutely aware that we are all in a time of great instability politically, economically and socially and that this affects every organisation working in the health and social care sector.

Women and their needs, however, remain, and responding to those needs remains at the heart of this organisation and our approach to how we work with and for women does not alter whatever the wider /external challenges.  We would not be able to maintain this if it were not for our funders. I want to thank all of them for their appreciation of what we strive to do and for keeping faith with us through their continued support.

The volume of work carried out this year, particularly in some areas, has been unprecedented. While much of this is detailed in other parts of the report, there are some areas I want to highlight. The first is our Creche. One hundred and four children attended the creche over the course of the year. Without this service, all their mothers would miss out. How else could they participate if they have no alternative support available to them? Particularly the young teenage mothers dealing with the impact of transgenerational trauma, who have brought their children to the Creche this year. What would be the cost to them of NOT getting involved in our programmes?

But, of course, the creche is not only about enabling mothers to attend courses. It is about the children’s development and the focus is on working with mothers and children together as an emotional unit. This is a vital foundation for the health and happiness, wellbeing and fulfilment of mothers, children, families and indeed wider society.

Not only are creche staff passionate and enthusiastic about the Creche, they always seek to improve and innovate. This year they will introduce the very exciting Wiggle Gym, a Stay and Play initiative and a toy share lending scheme. While maintaining the highest professional standards, the Creche manages to be a truly magical place – a source of emotional support, practical help, laughter and fun.

Our work for VSS has this year shown a significant increase in demand and uptake for all our social support programmes, in particular, Mindfulness and Actions for Happiness. In both cases women have told us they have experienced tangible improvements in their health and wellbeing and have made meaningful changes in their lives. Actions for Happiness has also been described as a “life changing” programme with 100% participants requesting it be extended from 8 to 12 weeks.

The number of women receiving counselling has almost doubled, far exceeding our targets both in terms of women attending the service and sessions delivered. Most importantly, we know that the approach taken in these sessions make a difference. Women are better able to manage the issue they have presented with, can deal more effectively with troubles related trauma, are more resilient and can make better decisions.

Our team of counsellors, led so effectively and compassionately by Ann Mc Donald deserves our grateful thanks and recognition for the true professionalism and dedication they bring to the service and to Derry Well Women as a whole. For all of us, circumstances change and evolve and accordingly our needs change also. It is in recognition that this is part of life that Derry Well Women aims to look ahead to identify areas which merit future attention.

Earlier in the year a workshop was held looking at the issue of frailty. This was a day characterised by typical enthusiasm and vigour where people thought and discussed widely around the whole issue of ageing and support for those most frail in our community. The result of our thinking that day has been another innovative partnership with the WHSCT and plans for the Namaste programme and research into the impact on carers of increased caring in the community. This programme will support dementia sufferers and their carers while the research element will look at the needs of people caring for those with chronic respiratory illness and enduring mental health conditions.

We work with many partners and this is a great strength and I would like to acknowledge all our partners and thank them sincerely for helping maintain the strong connections that are our life blood. Our funders, of course, are the source of our ability to deliver these vital services. They have understood our ethos, appreciated the commitment and effort of all those staff and volunteers involved in delivering our services, and enabled us to do what we do best: on behalf of all those coming through DWW’s doors – staff volunteers and users – we thank you sincerely for this.

As Chairperson, volunteer and participant I also want to acknowledge the Derry Well Women staff. Only 7 of them, yet they punch far above their weight. They are led by Susan Gibson, the Manager who leads, supports, encourages and inspires – making the Committee role an easy one with her efficiency and good humour.  In our staff, we have an amazing asset. It is they who bring the Queen Street bricks and mortar to life making it the warm safe and welcoming place it is.

The most thorough Annual Report, the best qualitative research, the most statistically significant number crunching can only ever partially tell what it means to be part of Derry Well Women. The real evidence comes from the women themselves because they don’t just tell us they show us: in the shoulders that are less slumped, the lines of tension that have eased, the eyes that have a brightness in them as they look forward with greater confidence, it is in the tears that are shed without fear of judgement or ridicule, in the safety of a place where others not only understand but truly empathise, offer friendship and support. It is in the laughter and the new-found positivity and determination.

E M Forster famously said, “Only connect” – this is what Derry Well Women does so well and we look forward to the coming year, expanding our work extending our reach and strengthening our collaborations.

Carrie Jain, Chairperson, Derry Well Women