Anam Cara is a charity run by women, for women, in East and Midlothian. They offer a programme of workshops aimed at empowering and supporting women to improve their wellbeing by learning how to develop better self-care and coping mechanisms. Anam Cara is motivated by its three core values of compassion, courage and connection, which run through all of the projects and activities that the organisation provides.
Anam Cara helps women who are at risk of slipping through the net of other services that can help them, therefore missing out on the support they need. This can include women in unpaid caring roles, those with substance use issues or other health and wellbeing issues that they need additional support to deal with. Their approach is forward thinking and non-judgemental, with a focus on prevention, harm reduction and early intervention to support the mental health needs of women, particularly those from more vulnerable or deprived communities. As such, Anam Cara was well placed to receive a grant in Year 1 of the Midlothian Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund.
The organisation successfully obtained £8,456 from the Fund to put towards salary and equipment costs for peer support activities with women, including monthly meet-ups and extended one-to-one support that had initially taken root during the first lockdown. In Autumn 2022, we checked in with Marion and Karyn from Anam Cara to see how their projects were developing.
What goes on at Anam Cara?
Every woman who comes to Anam Cara is invited to take a 4-week wellbeing course consisting of live workshops plus access to around 70 online short videos covering a wide range of topics. The videos were a more recent addition aimed at reducing barriers to participation due to information retention difficulties and poor attention span among some participants. They have proved very useful for practicing wellbeing skills in short bursts and have allowed participants much greater flexibility in their uptake of Anam Cara’s services.
“The online wellbeing videos are like a medicine cabinet of information. They give you the chance to develop and revisit these skills and keep on top of your mental health.”Karyn, lead volunteer with Anam Cara and Midlothian Volunteer of the Year 2022.
Women are also encouraged to repeat the course 1-2 years after initially completing it, because Anam Cara know how useful it is to receive support over a longer period, as life evolves and different challenges come to the fore. They understand that someone may come back to Anam Cara and learn something new, not only due to personal circumstances but because the course itself is constantly being reviewed and improved.
The community orientated focus of the Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund links particularly well to Anam Cara’s core value of connection. The grant enabled Anam Cara to develop their Sanctuary drop-in service, where women needing a sense of connection and togetherness with other women have a safe and welcoming space to meet. The Sanctuary offers refresher workshops for women who have already completed Anam Cara’s main programme of workshops, allowing them another chance to practice the mindfulness and wellbeing techniques they learned initially. This is especially important as the programme relies on continued engagement in order to be most effective.
Within the Sanctuary, there are a variety of activities on offer including aromatherapy, holistic healing work, dance classes and more. Each of these activities is centred around improving and preserving good mental health and aims to give women the social connection they need to develop a sense of belonging. Feedback from participants has shown that attending workshops helps women to feel less isolated and alone, whilst also encouraging them to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining when looking after their mental health. Women coming to workshops show positive differences in their outlook even from week one.
Maria, the founder of Anam Cara, believes that this is a result of the organisation’s services being comparatively unique, in that they allow women to gather and support each other in ways that derive from a place of personal experience. There is a very low drop-out rate at Anam Cara, suggesting that its services are not only empowering and inspiring, but effective. Women are learning to reflect on their mental processes, how their minds work, and why they behave the ways they do. They are learning to respond to unhealthy behaviours with better choices, enabling them to move forward and make significant changes in their lives.
“Anam Cara was my only open door. It has strengthened my wellbeing, opened mental pathways, and helped me to develop a safety net to support and protect me. Women here are learning to embrace life and learn tools for their future. It is so important for women to have an option like this that doesn’t just involve hospitals or medication but focusses on togetherness and wellbeing as well.”Karyn
Moving forward, Anam Cara would like to develop a service focussing specifically on women in later life. Maria had noticed that women in the 45+ age group were going through major life changes, often stepping into unpaid caring roles for elderly parents, whilst dealing with the stress of family life, menopause and sometimes finding themselves using alcohol or other substances to cope – sometimes also working into their 60s or even 70’s. Addressing this unique set of challenges alongside older women is a key future goal for Anam Cara.
Anam Cara are also looking to expand their bank of volunteers to accommodate the increasing need for befriending calls, and to potentially offer the Sanctuary up to women to run themselves as an independent project for users of the service. It all sounds really priomising and we can’t wait to see how Anam Cara develops this work in future. It’s fantastic to see that alongside the other grants they receive, the Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund has enabled continued development of this valuable local organisation for women in Midlothian.