A former teacher and charity worker from the North East of England, I love people and places and like to try out new experiences wherever possible. Capturing that 'perfect pic' is all part of the pleasure. Access issues are a particular interest.
Published June 18th 2013
South Tyneside Women's Group Supports Women of all Ages
Ladies, if you're looking for a friendly, fun and caring place to go, then Women's Health in South Tyneside is a brilliant resource right on your doorstep.
The charity, known locally as WHiST is based in South Shields town centre in what used to be the old railway station in Mile End Road and has been purposely refurbished to accommodate activities of all kinds in this gender specific environment.
Salus, the Roman Godess of Health and Wellbeing was the Inspiration for this specially commissioned window which adorns Salus House.
The charity promotes women's education, health and well-being and hosts open days, fashion shows and cultural events among many other things aimed at raising awareness and supporting women at all stages of their lives.
WHiST is funded by the local authority's Adult and Community Learning department and The Big Lottery Fund, to name a couple, as well as arranging their own fundraising events and collecting donations from visitors to the centre.
They offer loads of interesting courses and activities that you can try in their lovely dance/exercise studio, such as Tai Chi, Salsacise, Active for Life and Yoga, to name but a few. All exercise classes are led by experienced and qualified tutors and are accessible to all fitness levels.
The principles of improving health in body, mind and spirit are well practised here, with the belief that social interaction, therapies and counselling for those who need it alongside themed activities can significantly improve the quality of life when practised in a safe and secure environment.
Other activities include Art groups, Complementary Therapies, Gardening and courses in Volunteer Skills, (which is an excellent way of gaining experience if you're looking to enter or return to employment). There's also a weekly coffee bar which is staffed by volunteers selling homemade cakes and pastries. Naughty, but nice.
Women who come here have often faced a traumatic change in their lives such as losing their life partner, divorce or separation, illness or disability, mental health issues or domestic abuse. Others are retired and just looking for something to do with their time or have caring responsibilities and just need a break, the list is not finite. The are crèche facilities that can be booked in advance if you wish to attend any of the classes or courses, giving you peace of mind while your little ones are looked after by qualified staff.
If you need to, you can make an appointment to see a counsellor to discuss your concerns in private. There are separate consulting rooms set aside from the main activity areas especially for this purpose. Volunteer greeters meet newcomers on a Thursday morning and can show you round the building and explain some of the activities if you prefer not to come unannounced – although you can just pop in anytime.
There are two paid Volunteer Co-ordinator posts, keeping things organised and engaging volunteers in all kinds of activities to suit their skills. Training is available in areas such as Food Hygiene and Equality and Diversity issues to keep volunteer skills up to date and there are regular sub-group meetings to help plan for events and keep people involved.
Margaret Out to Christmas Lunch with the Ladies from Tai Chi
Annual membership is encouraged and a donation of £5 is requested – or whatever you can afford. Classes are funded by South Tyneside ACL but small donations are readily accepted, while the coffee bar sells refreshments at a very reasonable price and is a great meeting place for you and your friends either before or after your class or course.
If you're not that sporty, don't be put off, classes are at a gentle level and ladies of all ages generally have a lot of fun. One of the best things is that, even if you go on your own, you never feel isolated in a crowd and, once you get to know a few people, you can create your own spin-offs, such as joining other groups, going to theatre shows, days out and so on. It's a veritable network of information and opportunity.
WHiST have been around for more than 25 years and are no strangers to winning awards for their services, including a Two Ticks Positive About Disability Award. A few years ago they won The Queen's Award for Voluntary Services Medal in recognition of their work in the community. A group of volunteers were invited to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate this achievement. And just this week, the organisation has won a top teaching award from the ACL, to the delight of Chief Executive Angela Oxberry.
ACL Award Winning Volunteers and Tutors from Whist show off their prize. Corinne Devine, Ros Day, Donna Stefano and Yasmine Eckert pose for the local newspaper.
So why not 'dip your toe in the water' at WHiST and see where it leads?