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Vital funding boost for scheme helping vulnerable women in Norfolk

WONDER + web picA project which aims to keep vulnerable women out of the criminal justice system has secured a vital cash boost to help further develop its work in Norfolk.

The *WONDER project was launched by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN) in 2017 as a one-year pilot to offer help and support to women being released from police custody facilities in two parts of the county.

The initiative has since evolved into the WONDER+ scheme, extending across Norfolk and beyond custody facilities and working with partners to address issues such as the impact of drugs on the lives of its clients.

Thanks to funding from the OPCCN, Norfolk County Council Public Health and St Giles, WONDER+ is now set to be extended until 31 March 2023.

The announcement comes during International Women’s Day (IWD) which aims to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality.

Charlotte, a former WONDER+ client, turned her life around thanks to the scheme and is now a volunteer for St Giles which runs the project in partnership with Future Projects.

Describing her story Charlotte said: “They picked me up, with absolutely no judgement. They treated me like a human being who needed to be heard.

“The compassion they showed me made me believe in myself again, I owe so much to Wonder+ and the amazing work they do.

“I now have the best tools to go on and help others, I also have the best support network I have ever had. Thanks to them I can now give back and I can honestly say that I don’t even class my old life as my own anymore.”

Charlotte is one of a number of speakers attending a special conference organised by St Giles today to mark IWD and shine a light on women’s services in the East of England.

Norfolk’s PCC Giles Orpen-Smellie, who also due to attend the ‘Empowering Women, Empowering Change’ event, added: “Today is a celebration of women’s achievement and what better way to mark such achievements than to highlight the remarkable work carried out with women under the WONDER+ scheme.

“It is vital we continue to work together with partners to help people when they are at their most vulnerable, to help them access the support they need and help them find a more positive path in life.

“I am delighted my office has been able to fund this vital scheme for a further year so hopefully more women like Charlotte can be helped to turn their lives around.”  

St Giles Trust has a team of dedicated support workers who meet with the women to assess their needs, agree a support plan and facilitate access to services. 

More than 800 women aged between 18 and 75 have been referred to the project through community policing, police custody, multi-agency early help hubs, health services, victim services and other help and support networks for vulnerable women.

Women can also self-refer to the project. Among the project referrals, nearly 100 have been self-referrals by women who have heard about the project through housing providers, job centres or foodbanks.

Speaking about the Wonder+ project, case worker Clare Johns said: "We’re proud to offer 360 degree support for our clients, so we can empower women to use their lived experience for a positive future.

"Many of our clients have serious mental health issues. Services are stretched and that means people we help aren't getting that support that they need. They're often on waiting lists and not been seen or assessed or any meaningful work done to help them, so we aim to make sure they have a really robust safety plan in place so they know who to turn to.”

Thanks to the extra funding including; £90,235 from the OPCCN, £45,000 from Norfolk County Council Public Health and £45,078 from St Giles, the scheme will continue a focus on the impact of drugs on the lives of clients – linking with a programme in the Greater Norwich area to target drug misuse and supply known as Project ADDER.

ADDER (Addiction, Disruption, Diversion, Enforcement, Recovery) is a nationally-funded project to tackle drug misuse, for which Greater Norwich is a pilot area.

*WONDER stands for Women of Norfolk Diversion, Engagement and Rehabilitation.