Spotlight on Western Isles Womens’ Aid

Mary and Louise at Western Isles Women's Aid.
Mary and Louise at Western Isles Women's Aid.

Dr Marsha Scott – new CEO of Scottish Women’s Aid – spent two days with Western Isles Women’s Aid (WIWA) last week as part of her tour of the 37 Women’s Aid groups in Scotland.

Dr Scott was amazed at what is accomplished by a tiny team of two full-time workers especially given the geographical challenges of providing services in the Islands.

WIWA enjoys an interesting history; from its formation in 1986 where services were provided from a small portacabin in Stornoway, to the present day, where workers travel the length of the region to support women, children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse.

Now, the charity’s full time workers – Mary and Louise (pictured) – work tirelessly to provide specialist outreach, support, advocacy services and refuge for women, children and young people.

With only two paid workers and such a lot of ground to cover, some of the challenges facing WIWA are glaring.

Yet on her visit, Dr Scott found that often the most pressing and urgent difficulty comes not directly from lack of funding, but restrictions on how funding can be spent.

Dr Scott said: “Most funders allocate money to charities in quite a strict fashion; and in many ways this is of course understandable. But in real life this translates into situations like at WIWA, where a round trip to Barra requires an expensive two days travelling and an overnight hotel stay, yet travel money cannot be included within allocated funding.

“WIWA –like most women’s charities in Scotland – have experienced gradual shrinking in funding over recent years which poses challenges in itself, but there are additional geographical challenges experienced in the Western Isles that are almost incomparable. These should be accounted for in funding processes.”

Louise who is the Children and Young People’s worker at WIWA added: “There are definite challenges to the work we do, and it can be tricky logistically to figure out the practicalities of supporting people right across the area; it’s definitely not a job for somebody prone to travel sickness!

“This being said, any difficulties we face as workers are nothing compared to the inspiration we get from the children and young people we work with; their sheer courage and resilience in awful situations is remarkable, and makes all of our work worthwhile.”