Expert Opinion

Understanding the experiences of the women who support local women

For over 30 years, the Well Women Centre has provided advice, counselling and therapy to the women of Wakefield.

After opening in 1985 in a single room on King Street in Leeds, the centre relocated and expanded.

Now based at Trinity Church Gate, it is run by a dedicated team of paid staff and volunteers who offer specialist support ‘for women, by women’ to those in the local community and beyond.

I became involved with the centre five years ago when I was a trainee counsellor, and quickly became interested in the amazing work they were engaged in with local women.

I attended the centre's first staff and volunteers conference in May, where delegates took part in an activity on the voice of the volunteer.

This provided a space for women to share their experiences as volunteers and emphasised the importance of hearing women's voices given that the centre's services are supported by a large volunteer base.

Following the conference, I approached the centre's CEO about conducting some qualitative research into understanding the volunteer experience, and together we came up with a research proposal.

Although there is a dearth of research on the benefits of volunteering for women, much of this has been conducted within health care settings.

The experiences of women volunteering in community settings, such as at women's centres, is an under-researched area.

Taking this into account, the aim of the research is to explore how women understand and make sense of their experiences of volunteering within the centre.

I conducted semi-structured interviews with nine women who were actively involved in the provision of services within the centre, including six volunteers, and three paid staff who had started as volunteers, working within the following roles: counsellors, complimentary therapists, trustees, group facilitators, administrators and drop-in workers.

Data was analysed using thematic analysis and I am currently at the early stages of writing a report for the Well Women Centre and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, who continue to support the organisation in providing local volunteering opportunities for women.

Early findings suggest that a clear understanding of, and connection with, the ethos and values of the centre, has implications for the retention of volunteers; volunteering in an all-women environment has benefits for some women, in terms of self and relationships; and, women (volunteers and paid staff) perceive their work at the centre as having a positive impact on the mental health of the local community.

I have subsequently completed my counselling training but have stayed on as a volunteer Counsellor at the centre and am now completing some IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) training with them.

The Well Women Centre are also keen to foster the research partnership developed and engage in some further research in the future.

Dr Nina Martin

Senior Lecturer / School Of Health

Nina is a Senior Lecturer in Psychological Therapies and Mental Health. Nina is a practicing Psychotherapist (MBACP) and an accredited practitioner of Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy (DIT). She is also a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol) and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

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