Empowering futures was the first project in Redbridge to focus solely on women and their specific needs. Speaking below, Sophie Estelle, Team Manager for East London Services speaks about her time working at Redbridge.

In my time working at Redbridge, I noticed a real lack of support for women who deserved more to help them on their recovery journeys. We had three big aims: ​​​​​​​

  1. To engage women who were often harder to find as they were ’hidden homeless’ 
  2. Improve our provisions for female clients to ensure they had what they needed for a better chance of recovery 
  3. Raise awareness of the specific needs of women facing homelessness in the borough and forming partnerships with other services

In response to these aims, this is what we did:

Finding and engaging women facing homelessness 

Many of the women we wanted to engage were hidden homeless. They were sex working, living in brothels or crack houses or staying anywhere they could to escape domestic violence. It became apparent in lockdown that the number of women needing support had increased. To engage women who were harder to find I approached outreach in a new way. I focused on building trust with my existing female clients and they would often signpost me to other women they knew in need of assistance. Many of these women had never engaged with services before and we have been able to grow their engagement with services and move them through the pathway.  

Improving service provision for women 

We needed to make our support more suitable for female service users and really think about what women need for their recovery. I focused on increasing our sexual health provision, making it easier to access during lockdown, promoting the importance of smear tests and focusing on building self-esteem through clothing and make up days.  

We now have women's drop in clinics and run psychotherapy sessions solely for female service users. Boosting self-esteem and creating a positive homely environment for our clients has been essential in helping them to take steps towards recovery, build trust with services and progress their journeys away from homelessness.

A clothing day in an East London hostel

Raising awareness and partnership working 

We wanted to talk about the issues that women were facing in the borough and get all services thinking about the issue.  

This was achieved by forming multi-agency partnerships to provide specialist support for female clients. We now partner with Refuge, the VAWG service, Positive East for sexual health advice and testing.  

My colleagues and I worked to find refuges for our service users and provide grant support for NRPF clients. We partnered with Beyond the Streets to receive training on working with women who are sex-working. 

I have also made connections with the local council officials and enforcement officers who aim to reduce sex working in the Ilford area. We discussed the issues that these women face, and now work together to protect vulnerable or at-risk women by sharing information and training resources with officers so that they can approach and support women who are sex-working in an appropriate manner. We have also joined a prostitution working group which has been a great way to learn and share.