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Empowering the Women’s Voice

In this blog, our Female Engagement Co-Production Worker Lou Thorpe shares some examples of how we work with women to create opportunities for them to be supported and empowered to use the power of their lived experience to make change happen in our local area. Look out for a follow-up blog coming soon where Lou will share her thoughts about co-production in a time of global crisis.

Empowering the Women’s Voice in the Experts by Experience Network

By Lou Thorpe, Female Engagement Co-Production Worker, Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead

Since the start of this year I can say with pride that the voice of the women within our Experts By Experience (EBE) Network is being shared more consistently and more visibly across Newcastle and Gateshead.

We have had many new women join the Network – our greatest asset to this happening is via peer support. Women empower other women! As we reach out into different communities women in the Network make the connections with other women and support any new attendees to feel welcomed and like they can belong.

The EBE women are involved in many pieces of work that hope to highlight the need for targeted and specialised services to support them. We have set up women specific spaces to carry out our discussions and we can reflect that this really works. Sometimes there is nothing better than a warm and cosy space, a cuppa, good chats and laughs and some cake! I can see that there is more freedom in the conversations when it’s a bunch of women together and I can see the empathy in the room almost like it is a living breathing visual thing.

Women's voice

Women from the Network hosted a stall during National Safeguarding Week at Gateshead Council and continue to work with the safeguarding team around what being involved in safeguarding can look like. We walked proudly through the Newcastle streets on Red Umbrella Day and attended an Inspiring Women Event in the city, hearing words, songs, speeches and stories from inspirational  women in our region.

Womens voice blog pic 2For the last few months we have been coming together as a mini group and sharing our time with a colleague from Changing Lives to find out more about the experiences of women with multiple and complex needs accessing housing. The Snug at George Street has been a super base for this piece of work. The cosy, warm and private atmosphere has really made for honest and heartfelt discussions and we have got to know each other slowly to build solid relationships of trust. We can’t wait to see the end product of the voices and views shared and celebrate our impact too.

It was three strong women from the Network who spent an emotional but very important afternoon at the ‘Knife Angel’ on the Gateshead Quayside. We heard from the family of a young female victim of knife crime and then watched a fantastic and moving piece of urban theatre which hoped to support young people to raise their awareness of the implications of carrying weapons and being coerced into negative behaviours. Our women plan to carry these messages to their peers and communities.

There are so many more places and spaces the EBE Network women could influence with their voices. We strive to ensure that we take the opportunity to do so whenever and wherever we can. We now have a female EBE who is our chosen representative to the National Expert Citizen Group – a meeting of all the Fulfilling Lives programmes from around the country.  Women’s specific services is now one of their priority discussions. Another female member is supporting the work of the Gateshead Substance Misuse and Drug Related Death Strategy Group by attending their meetings and sharing her ‘ears to the ground’ knowledge of all the issues around substance misuse in our region.

Go kartingAnd finally… we women are not super human but we can rule a Go-Karting Ninja Outfit!

As well as sharing our voice power we share our love of fun and laughs….…it was two women from the Network who took the opportunity to head off around the track with friends from Basis Gateshead and Shaun from our Co-Production team. Let’s just say we didn’t make the podium or the pole position but we did get above 10 miles per hour!

Visit for more information about the Experts by Experience Network and look out for my new blog coming soon where I’ll share my thoughts about co-production in a time of crisis.