A place of safety and support - 13/07/2021
Befriend (verb): act as or become a friend to (someone), especially when they are in need of help or support.
Chocolate Box is a project which exists to build authentic relationships with vulnerable women offering love, support and opportunities for change [mission statement]
“Providing that safe space for women to come is hugely important to us. Being a kind word and a friendly face, and wanting nothing from them in return. For some of our women we may be the only people showing kindness to them, without expecting anything back”, says Rachel Stone, Outreach Worker from Chocolate Box, a Church Army project operating in Yorkshire.
Chocolate Box was set up from a local Church over ten years ago to provide a befriending service for vulnerable women, and now runs a house for women to drop in as needed. They also do street outreach in the Chocolate Box car which provides practical support over weekend nights. The team takes hot drinks, home-made cakes and sandwiches to connect with women on the street. Many of the women that the team work with have been affected by issues of homelessness, addiction, broken relationships and street prostitution, and are offered practical, social and emotional support to address their immediate and longer term needs.
The aim of Chocolate Box is to reach out to women and provide a safe, non-judgemental space for them to come and rest whilst also providing access to other support services. Many women come to drop-in sessions at the Chocolate Box House. “Our house is pretty much like any house, just busier at times!”, says Rachel. “Women are able to drop-in as needed, and we have hot food and drinks, opportunities to chat, there’s a bathroom so the women can take a shower, and a laundry room so they can freshen up their clothes. We operate on a ‘come any time’ basis, and the women know they’ll always find someone to listen and offer advice here. “Being that stable, non-judgemental source of support is what characterises our work”, adds Rachel.
The team regularly run activities at the house particularly around birthdays, Easter or Christmas. They celebrate with the women, build positive relationships and share nice memories together. Lots of the women do not have other people to celebrate the traditional holidays with and this can feel very lonely and isolating. The team builds community and celebrates the positive things as well as being there for the women during hard times. “We understand that due to the chaotic lifestyles and challenging circumstances that many women find themselves in, it is important that we are flexible and make the service fit the needs of the women. For example, instead of having one big Christmas meal, we’ll serve Christmas dinners over a week, at any time, whether that’s 9am or 3pm. The same goes for pancake day - it’s a week-long celebration for us!”.
Many of the women who visit the project have experienced extreme levels of trauma and abuse and remain in dangerous situations whilst living and working on the street. Chocolate Box takes a ‘women-led’ and person centred approach. The team and volunteers listen to the women and ensure that they can access support when they feel ready as the project works alongside substance misuse/recovery services, housing charities and mental health professionals. “We sign post women to other services which can provide them with the support they need, we can also accompany them to appointments to provide emotional support”. This encourages women to access services they need as they can have a friendly face there alongside them during the process.
During lockdown, the team were thinking of new ways to support the women they work with, and decided to provide Recipe Box style food parcels. By providing the right ingredients, the women are able to make their own homemade meals, such as simple bean stews, noodle dishes and sweet treats like a yummy cake-in-a-mug! Rachel explains that the recipe boxes are multi-purpose, “many of us took up new hobbies during lockdown to give us something to do, so the boxes help occupy the women. They teach a new skill and help them develop their independent living skills as they hopefully make the move into more settled accommodation. Plus the recipes are delicious!”
The Chocolate Box team would love to provide at least an additional 100 Recipe Box style food parcels to vulnerable women to help them prepare their own delicious and nutritious food. It's a small but vital step towards establishing positive change for the women they support. You can donate to their campaign here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/recipebox
Alison Wise for Help us Help, July 2021.