Kairos Women Working Together

West Midlands

Kairos Women Working Together

Kairos Women Working Together is a Coventry-based charity supporting women caught up in prostitution, affected by or at risk of sexual exploitation in Coventry.

In 2010 Kairos received a Lloyds Bank Foundation grant for £21,700 over two years. This was followed by two consecutive grants of £75,000, each delivered over three years. All have been directed towards Kairos’s Prison Inreach programme, which works with women during their prison term, on the day of their release and afterwards. They focus on housing, benefits, health, substance misuse, probation, family contact and personal development.

Director Rosie Hart explains why Kairos takes a proactive approach:

‘Women were serving short custodial sentences and being released with no stability or support. They ended up back on the streets, creating a cycle of desperation. We knew we had to break this, and prison in-reach allows us to engage women at the most pivotal point. For women on longer sentences prison can also be a turning point, where they reflect on their lives and what they would like to be different.’

Rosie explains why long-term funding is needed to achieve this:

 ‘This work is based on trust and relationships, so it takes months or even years. When we first meet most of our service users, they are in crisis or survival mode and are just looking for clean needles, condoms and food; they aren’t ready to talk about change immediately. Often funders want to see transformation in a 12-month period, but life isn’t like that; it takes years for our service users to deal with a lifetime of abuse, trauma and addiction and build a new life away from prostitution.’

Consequently, Kairos is grateful for Lloyds Bank Foundation’s ongoing support:

‘There really aren’t many funders who are as flexible, understanding change takes time and not demanding big numbers every year. It’s a relief not to have to find people to work with just to meet targets.’

Kairos has also accessed developmental support alongside their grant, including consultancy and training for trustees and staff. Rosie says:

 ‘Our Grant Manager, Peter Cunnison, is brilliant. It’s refreshing – funding can feel like a game you have to play, but I’ve been able to be honest with Peter about struggles we’ve been through with funding and governance. It’s fantastic that the Foundation helps us address those issues with top quality support without worrying about finding money for it.’

Kairos is determined to provide consistent support despite a challenging climate:

‘Commissioned services come and go based on contracts but we’re here to stay. Other services might call a person three times and if someone doesn’t pick up, they give up. That doesn’t get you anywhere; we know you have to do intense work to get the ball rolling. And our women know we’ll be here no matter how many times they need to start again.’

For the same reason, Kairos is ‘all about celebrating the small steps’:

‘It’s hard to define success. One or two women fully exit our services each year, but we also celebrate when someone hasn’t returned to prison for six months, or hasn’t breached their probation terms, or is thinking about rehab.’

Kairos support worker Adele notes the flexibility required to support service users:

‘Stacey* grew up in care and on numerous occasions she’s struggled to access housing and healthcare. One day she called me in a panic – she’d been told she was being evicted from her post-release housing and was about to be put on the streets. I was due to go on holiday that afternoon, but I couldn’t just leave her, so I rushed round and got it all sorted.’

Adele’s intervention was a lifeline for Stacey, who says she wouldn’t have known what to do:

‘Before I met Adele, I didn’t know being under 25 and a care leaver meant I got priority for housing. For me, rough sleeping is a certain route back into prison.’

Rosie adds that growing up in care, as Stacey did, ‘is one of our hugest risk factors’:

‘Not only have you got the trauma related to being separated from your family and all the issues that come with it, but you don’t have the same support networks most of us take for granted. This means already vulnerable women are more likely to come across people who aren’t positive influences or who might exploit them.

‘Our service users are often portrayed as prostitutes, addicts and thieves, but the same woman can be one who grew up in care, was abused as a child, has nobody to support her and turned to drugs to cope.’

Like Stacey, service user Amanda* has been through many challenging situations with Adele by her side. She says:

‘Adele has done more for me than my mum. It’s the little things that mean so much.’

Rosie sums up her feelings on Lloyds Bank Foundation’s support:

 ‘I know Lloyds Bank Foundation understands – Paul Streets talks about funding issues others don’t, and I know that when the sector moves on to the shiny new issue, they will still be there enabling grassroots charities to support some of our country’s most disadvantaged people.’

 

* Names have been changed