The Women's Regional Development Agency 's (WRDA) key objectives for 1995-98 have been to encourage and support the development of an infrastructure for women's groups in Northern Ireland so that women's economic and social disadvantage can be addressed and to encourage ways of working to develop and promote a common agenda between women who are divided by their religious, political and cultural history, and by geographic, economic and social barriers.
Through PSEP funding we have:
1) Purchased our premises in Belfast. Apart from creating a sense of permanence for our organisation, this has significantly reduced our running costs.
2) Employed a regional development worker. This post has enabled us to map out a strategy for the Agency's work as a regional organisation. From this foundation we have been able to draw down funds from other sources to develop projects which are complementary and mutually reinforcing.
3) Enabled Fermanagh Women's Network to establish an administrative base in Enniskillen and to employ a development worker and administrative support. The Network in turn has been able to use this opportunity to draw down additional money for a health project.
The strategy we have mapped out is as follows:
a) Develop resources: we have produced Getting Started and Keep Going, a resource pack for new groups; Guidelines for Recruiting Workers, aimed at women's groups employing workers for the first time; a resource pack on Supervision which will be published shortly; a database of self-help support groups and helplines active in the area of women's health will be published in the Autumn.
b) Encourage and develop structures which enable women to come together. Different structures have been developed to meet different needs:
Networks provide support and resources to otherwise isolated women's groups outside Belfast and Derry. The regional Development Worker has supported the development of networks in Omagh, South Armagh, Mid Ulster and Fermanagh, three of whom now have full time Development Workers, and the South Down Women's Group which supports women active within their communities in five coastal villages of South Down.
The Big Coffee Break is an informal gathering which happens biannually and is hosted by different women's groups across Northern Ireland. It brings together women who are members or users of women's groups and enables them to make contact with each other, to share experiences and information and to gain a sense of the diversity and impact of the activities in which women are engaged. The second Big Coffee Break attracted 70 women, double those who attended the first. Hopefully the event won't double it's numbers every time !
The Forum for Rural Women is for people working with rural women. It enables a broad spectrum of participants to discuss their work with each other, to identify common issues, and to take these forward through their individual groups, through collective working and through engaging with the relevant statutory agencies. Aiming to hold three events a year, the first conference, on the themes of 'a sense of belonging' and 'the need for change' has just taken place attracting 90 participants.
The Network Development Workers Group is newly formed and is intended to support workers as they refine and develop the role of the sub regional networks.
c) Provide direct support to groups. New groups starting up, existing groups wanting help with strategic planning, recruitment issues, help with funding applications, looking for resources, contacts, to do research... these are some of the many requests which have come into the office from across Northern Ireland. Wherever possible, we have responded either directly, or through referring them on to their local source of help.
The WRDA reviewed its membership in 1996 and we now have 70 groups
who receive free copies of publications and a six monthly up date
on our work.