The aim of the Women of the Year Foundation is to help women to fulfil their potential and become, in their own context, future Women of the Year. We do this in a tangible way by offering financial and practical support through small grants that enable disadvantaged women both in the UK and abroad to start over and improve their lives either through retraining or in business, thereby improving their own lives and contributing to their communities.

Since its launch, the Foundation has given out many small grants totalling over £250,000 to individual women and organisations that seek to support women, to help them bring their dreams alive and achieve their ambitions.

‘We all know that the first step in any process can be the most difficult,’ says Joan Armatrading, singer, songwriter, former Women of the Year chairman and currently patron of the Foundation. ‘The Foundation represents that important outstretched hand of encouragement.’

These are some of the fantastic organisations and worthwhile initiatives we have backed in 2017.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Our first grant funds an imaginative, intergenerational photography project run by the Dulwich Picture Gallery called ‘Fine Lines and Fairytales’. A group of isolated older women and teenage girls living in South London will collaborate with professional artist educators on a photographic exhibition looking at roles and perceptions of older women, inspired by the Gallery’s collection of Old Masters. The project will open up a dialogue about age and ageing, gender stereotypes and challenges, as well as hopes, fears and aspirations at any age, and give the women an opportunity to undertake their personal explorations of ‘womanhood’. The photographs will be exhibited at the Gallery, and the knowledge and experience gained from the project around energising older women and working effectively across generations will be shared at the annual Museums Association Conference and the International Culture, Health and Wellbeing Conference to inspire others to set up similar projects.

Sing for Your Life

It is well known that participatory singing can have a significant effect on the health and wellbeing of older people living with age-related long term conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons, as well as loneliness and social isolation. Sing For Your Life is a charity that provides singing opportunities for thousands of older people every day, supporting the independence and mental wellbeing of participants in Day Care Centres and hospital dementia units as well as community groups. Our grant will pay for a number of ‘Music Boxes’, home entertainment tablets loaded with songs, hymns and carols in simple arrangements specifically created for older people. The tablets are connected to screens which provide amplification and the words appear on the screen with the phrases to be sung highlighted. This enables staff who are not trained musicians or singers to deliver singing sessions without outside support.

World Jewish Relief

Conflict with Russian separatists in the South East of Ukraine has caused over a million people to flee their homes, the economy is on the brink of collapse and food, medicines and fuel prices have sky-rocketed. Older women in the Ukraine are suffering immensely, trying to survive on already paltry pensions. They also face crippling loneliness and social isolation. World Jewish Relief’s Active Longevity programme supports these vulnerable women by providing an opportunity for them to live out their later years in the company of others and receive social support. The Women of the Year Foundation grant will provide life-changing support for 104 women this year.

Swinton Lock Activity Centre

We have been inspired by the amazing Jayne Senior, who blew the whistle on widespread child sexual abuse in Rotherham. Jayne has now set up the Swinton Lock Activity Centre, providing a range of educational, environmental and arts-based activities on two narrow boats on the South Yorkshire Canal. The Foundation’s grant will fund support for two groups of clients – women with disabilities experiencing mental distress and/or social isolation, and victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse. The Centre will provide activities to improve communication skills and build self-esteem and confidence, as well as develop resources for use by parents, professionals and local communities to inform and educate to spot the signs of grooming.

The Bike Project

Our imagination was captured by the fantastic Bike Project, which provides an innovative solution to one of the most pressing problems facing refugees in London – the cost of transport in London and the impact of lack of mobility. The BikeProject matches up refugees with the thousands of abandoned and unwanted bikes in and around London. By refurbishing these bikes, they have created a model with financial, social, emotional and physical benefits for one of the UK’s most socially isolated and economically deprived groups. The Bike Project has set up a women’s programme to reflect the fact that many women refugees come from societies where cycling is discouraged or even dangerous for them, so learning to cycle is more than a practical necessity, it also represents an act of rebellion against deeply ingrained beliefs and cultural taboos. Our grant will fund bikes, helmets and locks for 100 women, and also training to give them the skills, knowledge and confidence to navigate London roads.

Girl Up Initiative Uganda

In 2016 the Foundation supported Girl Up Initiative Uganda, a young-women led organisation working to provide young women and girls with opportunities to succeed and thrive as leaders in their slum communities through an holistic education and economic empowerment programme.
One of their projects is the Adolescent Girls Programme (AGP) which teaches girls aged 9 – 15 years in primary schools in the urban slums of Kampala about life skills, human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender based violence. The programme helps these young girls improve their confidence so they stay in school, reduce gender-based violence, avoid early pregnancy and marriage, and have access to equal economic opportunities.
AGP also provides long-term support and guidance through a year-long programme that includes training, individual support and weekly Girl Up Club meetings. These meetings are a space where girls can seek further counselling and advice, and learn hands-on skills such as making mats, bags, jump ropes and reusable sanitary pads. They are also taught about stress and coping mechanisms through yoga and gardening.
The results from our 2016 grant have been so impressive that we are making them a further grant this year, providing 12 vulnerable young women with a blend of direct interventions including training, scholarships and advocacy.