The Norwich Women's centre came into existence 3 years ago with the aim of giving unbiased and non-political advice to women, whatever their needs.
Usually advice is sought on health or welfare issues, government legislation on Social Securty benefits and its effects, child care and educational matters. Often, however, the women contacting the centre merely require friendship and want to meet other women. In such a rural area as ours women often feel severe isolation and the centre can help to put them in touch with other women with similar feelings in their district.
They also attempt to be a centrepoint of other women's activities in and around Norwich, putting women in contact with the organisations they wish to join, be they political or social.
FREE PREGNANCY TESTING
One of the centre's services which is in constant demand is a free pregnancy testing service. Approx. 300 enquiries are on record to date. The tests are carried out in strictest confidence. There are a number of reasons why women come to the centre for testing; the time element, the unbiased approach they adopt and the fact that, especially with younger women, there are no repercussions with their GP's or family.
If a test is positive and the pregnancy desired, help is given on expected welfare help etc. If termination is required, advice is given regarding the various channels open.
SUPPORT & SELF-DEFENCE
The Centre tries to support and encourage as many activities as possible that are relevant to and concern women. They are involved in nursery and pre-school activities, run such things as self-defence groups for women, support "Leeways" the hostel for battered wives and also have a women's darts team.
They have just started having Sunday conferences about once a month. Women can come together to talk and learn about various subjects, a creche is provided and a charge of 50p is made to cover coffee and tea.
Recently members established a rape Crisis Centre not only to help women who have been attacked but also to publicise the fact that there are rapists in Norwich. The National Abortion Campaign of Norwich has its headquarters at the centre - the list is always being added to. In October Cinema City is holding a feminist film weekend and the centre is taking part.
After a great deal of discussion it was decided that "no men in the centre" is the policy. The group is a mixture of feminists, gay feminists and a few seperatists, but the aim is to understand each others' point of view and find a way to get on and work together.
Money is always a problem. It comes from standing orders, donations, jumble sales etc, but there is never enough. By far the biggest problem for the centre is the uncertain nature of its premises. They are in fact squatting in a street that the council plans to remodernise. The council gives its support in theory bt little in practice, hopefully they will find alternative accomodation before they are evicted.
I asked one of the active supporters of the centre how she felt about it and her hopes for the future.
Anna: "Given the chance, we want, I suppose a Centre, just two rooms and a little kitchen would do, with a flat attached for the girls living at No. 14 and enough money to survive on. Not pounds and pounds, but always being on the verge of collapse gets you down. We've got it together over the last few months with a good social side to the Centre. Yes, it will go down again. I've been involved for 2 1/2 years and I've seen it go up and down like a see-saw, usually due to the women involved at any one time ather than money or places to live."
Money problems and council hassles do get them down but the Women's Centre is determined to survive. They appreciate all the help they can get and moral support is valued as much as financial. They try to offer friendship to all women. If you want to know more about the Centre, then drop a line to 14 Argyle Street, Norwich - or better still, come and see for yourself. L.W
Tues 8-10 Discussions, getting money etc. Finishing with a drink at the pub. Sometimes other groups come and talk eg Feminist faction of Norwich Anti-Nuke
Wed eve Action against Rape Meetings.
Last Fri. in month - a get together of women's groups.
They also publish a monthly newsetter with dates of meetings coming events etc.
Below is an article from the Waveney Clarion. It touches on several points about the Centre but I feel it misses out on some others. Argyle Street was right next to the red light district of Norwich and prostitutes, mostly from Nottingham, were out most evenings and were vulnerable - did they find the Women's Centre helpful? Greenham Comon and the women's peace movement were contemporary but they also don't get a mention.
There was also a band created from the Centre - The Floozies - with Annie Walker and Holly Evans. It's likely that is Annie interviewed in the article.
As a postscript I wanted to include a statement from Sue Bruley's "Women’s Liberation at the Grass Roots, A View From Some English Towns, c1968-1990."
"Norwich was a good example of a city which sought to build the women’s movement around the women’s centre. The Norwich Women’s Centre began life as a room in an arts centre in the mid 1970s and from 1977 (sic) was housed in a grim licensed squat which was said to be off-putting to some women. In 1983 it moved to better accommodation and also adopted a formal constitution and charitable status. It had about 120 women using the centre a week, including black women, lesbians and disabled women, who all felt various degrees of exclusion from wider society.
Lesbians made use of the centre as they could freely express their sexuality, unlike other public places. The centre ran consciousness raising groups, training courses and provided a drop in advice service, most often relating to maintenance/matrimonial issues, benefits, housing, health and the usual pregnancy testing.. In the years 1987 to 1990 the Norwich Women’s Centre reached its peak. With help from the local council, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Princes Trust, the centre acquired a four storey listed building close to the city centre with facilities including a crèche, coffee bar and courses on anything from women’s rights to bricklaying."