First Steps Women’s Centre – Member in Focus #35

Interview with Bernie Mallon from First Steps Women’s Centre

Tell us a bit about yourself and/or your organisation.

First Steps Women’s Centre (FSWC) has provided a unique service to women in Mid-Ulster for almost 23 years. Based in Dungannon, the Centre provides education and training, support and guidance, along with exceptional opportunities and friendship to women across Mid-Ulster. Up to 300 women per year access training across a wide range of vocational areas which is funded under the European Social Fund (ESF) by the Department for the Economy and Department for Communities.
FSWC works tirelessly to remove barriers to learning and inclusion women experience by providing additional services such as Transport, a fantastic onsite Childcare Facility and Benefit Checker service. As one of Northern Ireland’s fastest-growing areas, the unique mix of cultures and nationalities in and around Dungannon means that the Centre works with women from over 20 nationalities and employs bilingual staff in our recently refurbished onsite crèche to support participants and their children. This all contributes to the warm, welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the Centre in which everyone is made feel welcome.
As these ladies who attend the Centre summed it up:
“The Women’s Centre is a brilliant welcoming place to meet new friends. Coming to the Women’s Centre makes you feel very good and doing courses, I have learnt so much. Thank you.”
“There is such a lovely feeling when you come through the door. It’s so homely and when I am there I don’t want to go home! When I did my first ever course (confidence building) I thought to myself ‘Why have I not been here before?’ and ‘Why was I holding back?’ Everyone is so nice and very friendly. It’s so relaxing”
As a registered charity, FSWC is managed by a Board of Voluntary Directors drawn from all sections of the community. Always eager to develop and grow, FSWC is keen to recruit new directors who are passionate about helping women to develop and fulfil their unrealised potential. 
Positively contributing to all aspects of the Community, FSWC employs 17 staff and 18 tutors and offers over 60 training courses per year from Life Skills programmes such as English for Speakers of other languages (ESOL), Literacy (English) & Numeracy (Maths), to Wellbeing and IT (Computers) courses. In 2015/16 the Centre provided one-to-one employment progression support for 50 women to assist them into employment or self-employment as well as work placements. Since September 2012, FSWC has helped people access over £270,000 in unclaimed benefits that they were due.
Annually FSWC hosts a variety of community events including Job Fair days, International Women’s Day Celebration, Christmas Coffee Mornings, Open Days, quiz nights and Volunteer events.
Our training and education subjects include:
  • IT – Learn to use Zoom, Computerised Bookkeeping, Computerised Payroll and Smartphone
  • Life Skills – Essential Skills Literacy (English) & Numeracy (Maths), and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). Wellbeing Online
  • Programmes – Tone at Home, Holistic Therapy Tasters, How to Bounce Back (Building Resilience), Yoga , Pilates, Hormone Harmony, Dancing Your Way To Health & Happiness and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT/Tapping) Workshops. Our pass rates are fantastic – between 75% & 100%!
First Steps Women’s Centre courses have a first class, on-site Childcare facility which has a daily capacity1. of 16 places. We also provide Transport in our 13 seater Mini-Bus.

How well have you/your organisation adapted to the pandemic?

As a result of COIVID-19 FSWC introduced the following changes to keep everyone safe:
  • Temperature taking and hand sanitisers at Reception
  • Social distancing in all classes and during Staff tea/lunch breaks
  • Cleaning of equipment, desks, chairs, toilets between classes
  • Maximum of 3 people allowed in the toilets at any one time.
  • During lockdown we moved all our classes online via zoom
How well have people/organisations in your area collaborated throughout the pandemic?
Our Tutors undertook zoom lessons in order to continue to deliver our courses online throughout lockdown. One of our Volunteers offers one-to-one help with one of our ESOL students. Some of our students were finding things difficult during lockdown and with the help of the Vineyard Church, St Vincent de Paul & Women’s Aid we were able to help. Our mini-bus driver continues to deliver food/clothes etc from the Vineyard Church each Thursday. Our Benefit Check Service has also been a great help to men and women during lockdown.
What key needs are becoming apparent and/or are likely to arise this year?

As a result of the pandemic, a lot of people have lost their jobs and need benefits advice and direction on how to access their entitlement. For those students and some people in our community, English is their second language so there will be a greater need for interpreters, counsellors  (for both adults and children), Women’s Aid support and Training courses (for both men and women).

ASK: What do you need, right now, that the members of Community Network NI and/or the wider community may be able to help you with?
To spread the word of what we do here at First Steps Women’s Centre – encouraging, supporting, training, educating and providing essential services (Transport, Childcare & Benefits Check Service) to women in the Mid-Ulster area.
👋 If you would like to respond to this ask, please follow the link below and enter “First Steps Women’s Centre” to the first field.

OFFER: What support are you currently offering and are you open to members of Community Network NI and/or the wider community making contact?

We are currently offering online courses in IT, ESOL, Essential Skills Literacy, Wellbeing courses such as Pilates, Yoga, Tone at Home, Hormone Harmony. Transport for our students in our brand new 13 seater mini-bus, we offer 16 places in our Childcare where 4 of our 6 Staff are bi-lingual. We can provide a Benefit Check Service to men and women (you don’t have to be a student to avail of this service), First Steps Women’s Centre offer a safe and friendly learning environment, an opportunity to make new friends, learn a new skill/language, rooms available to hire for other service providers, collaboration with other women’s centres & organisations. We continue or have previously worked with Surestart, STEP, Dungannon Enterprise Centre & South West College.

👋 If you would like to be connected with this offer of support, please follow the link below and enter “First Steps Women’s Centre” to the first field.

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