Norwich mayor backs STEP Christian outreach
By Keith Morris
2010: The Lord Mayor of Norwich
has given his backing to Norwich
Christian charity STEP,
whose mission is to create a safe environment for vulnerable women and to help rebuild broken lives.
Lord Mayor Tom Dylan joined STEP (Standing Together Encouraging People) workers, volunteers and clients for a meal at New Hope church part of Community Action Norwich in Lakenham.
“I really enjoyed my evening with STEP,” said Tom. “The food was fantastic and it was great to see the support and camaraderie between the people – it’s just the kind of thing that is needed to help people find a route off the street and into a better life.”
STEP Outreach manager, Maria Landon, said: “As a fairly new charity we are obviously delighted that the Lord Mayor has chosen to take an interest in the work we are doing in the city and to come and share dinner with us. It is just wonderful that he will help us to raise the profile of STEP and the work we are doing.
STEP started in late 2007 when an approach was made by a small group of women who had been affected by exploitative relationships. They also knew the devastation that drugs and addiction were having in their local community and were impassioned to do something about it. A monthly meal and friendship group was started.
Director of programmes Theresa Cumbers said: “We not only met regularly at New Hope once a month for an evening meal but we were offered space on a Wednesday during the daytime to start offering programmes that the women were keen to do.
“We made a decision early on that we would be ‘client-led’ and so over the first few months, we visited the women in their homes, accompanied them to appointments and generally came alongside them in order to build trust into our relationship.”
In mid 2008, after some successful funding bids by Theresa, Sarah George was appointed as Step Project Manager and a 24-hour helpline and then an open door policy was started.
“Supporters started to join us at our evening meals and became involved with caring and sharing in the project. At first the women who attended had very little self confidence and undervalued themselves.
“A Bible study group was started and gradually relationships grew, not just between us and the women but between the women themselves. We always encouraged them to peer support and we began to see more and more of the women supporting one another as they went through their struggles.”
Theresa and Sarah were supported by a small but hard-working group of volunteers who gave many hours of their time to help put together those first building blocks.
“We ran craft groups, such as planting pots or hanging baskets and making cards. We had a wonderful time that first Christmas making festive wreaths and many of the women proved to be really artistic. We held beauty mornings to help with self-esteem. We started networking with other groups and projects and found an art group called ‘Sweet Arts’ which many of our women attended for a while.
“Trust has built up over the last two years and we have been able to share not only in the women’s heartaches but also their successes. We have supported a number of women in court attendances and have recently been instrumental in keeping one of our women out of prison. We provide advocacy in all kinds of areas, in particular with debt management and maintaining tenancies. We also keep a close eye on family members, particularly children. We keep in contact with outside organisations and statutory bodies.”
In July 2010, STEP appointed Maria Landon as Outreach Manager and she began building an outreach team to meet new women and introduce them to the project.
“We feel it is vital for these women to know they are never alone and whatever the time, day or night, they can contact someone for help if they need to,” said Theresa. “So far this has never been abused.
“We are now in a wonderful place of growth and bearing fruit. We are now looking for a building to use as a drop-in and offices, with a facility for us to start Social Enterprise with a vision that will help financial sustainability. We are looking for creative ways to finance more employees. And are actively applying for charitable status.”