Women’s Health and Wellbeing Services is a not for profit organisation that works with women and families in the community to reduce the impact of mental health problems on families and to help foster growth, for strong women and strong families. Your small change will make a big change!

Can you believe we are 30?!

Can you believe we are 30?!

This month, we celebrate 30 years since our official incorporation. What changes have we seen in those 30 years? I can’t speak personally for the first nine and a half years because I wasn’t here then. From what I know, a group of professional women came together and saw a need for a women’s health service in the area. It took about three years from talking about it to door opening, and I can only imagine the work that must have gone into making those dreams a reality.

On the 25th of February 1994, we held our first AGM and were officially incorporated. When the doors opened, there was a nurse and a coordinator and a whole lot of hope. We were in a little house in Dorothy Street, and when I say that when I started in 2003, every square meter of space was being used, I mean EVERY square meter of space! The pantry was our resource cupboard, the laundry had the troughs and taps removed, and it was a counselling room. The smallest room (I think it used to be the shower) was used as an outreach space for MWAS, and it was perhaps 1.5m x 2.5m. The desk was in front of the door, and the door couldn’t open fully. You had to squeeze through and shut the door, and then there was room to pull the chair out, and if you were thin enough, you could sit down.

When I started, I was in a shared office. I shared with two other women and a photocopier (and it was in 2003, but the photocopier was about ten years old, so you can guess how much noise that made). My office mate and I had one phone between us, and it was on a cord that stretched between our desks depending on who needed to use the phone, so if the people coming in to collect their photocopying weren’t paying attention, they would walk right into the cord and rip it from the wall, and the phone call would be cut off. My first work email address was Hotmail, and we definitely didn’t have a website!

We outgrew that cute (dilapidated) old house, and we were part of the committee for building the Gosnells Community Lotteries House. Together with Gosnells Legal, Anglicare, and Relationships Australia, we were one of the original tenants of the building.

Over the years, a lot has changed. We changed our name because people used to ring and say, ‘I live in Canning Vale; should I lie and say I live in Gosnells?’ We don’t turn people away because of their address and we hoped that the change to Women’s Health and Wellbeing would let people know that geography wasn’t limiting, if you can get here we will support you.

We have always had a focus on families. We can’t support women, especially in the perinatal period, without having a focus on families, but we can’t fully support families without including dads. We were torn. We want this to be a safe space for women and make sure we stay true to our origins of a women’s health service, but at the same time, we can’t support women without recognising that family is a big part of women’s lives. WA Centre for Perinatal Mental Health and Parenting Support was born (and every day since, I’ve wished we picked a shorter name!) Not long after that, we added in Elevate Wellbeing, offering support to workplaces who support the mental health of their team, and quickly after that, we added in Hidden World of You to try and make mental and emotional wellbeing more accessible through online learning.

Despite all the changes, so many things have stayed the same. Some great things have stayed the same. We are small, grassroots, and scrappy. We don’t have much money (that isn’t the great part – anyone know anyone who wants to make a donation? – every donation over $2 is tax-deductible), but what we do have doesn’t go to massive admin overheads; every dollar of donations goes directly to the people in our community. We make sure that all our money is being used to support the people that it is intended for, and we do it in the most cost-effective way possible!

We are flexible, so when we see a need, we try to find a way to fill a need. We are creative; when there is a barrier or a curve ball, we find ways to overcome it and continue to meet the needs of those we are here to support.

We have amazing, skilled, and dedicated people here who are committed to the cause and values that underpin our unique organisation. We continue to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to support our community.

There are a few less-than-desirable things that have stayed the same. Did I mention we don’t have much money? The need in the community is increasing at such a rapid rate, but if you look at our funding, you will see it is not increasing and don’t even get me started on the increase in costs for service provision (it’s great to come into the 21st century with websites, email addresses, database, etc but does EVERYTHING need to be on a subscription these days?). Probably my biggest personal challenge is STILL hearing, ‘I’ve lived in Gosnells for 30 years, and I didn’t know you existed!’ It’s a double-edged sword really; we use all of our money for service provision, so we don’t have a very big advertising budget at all, and we are all so busy doing we don’t have time to stop and tell people what we do so 30 years on and still people don’t know we exist (despite being in the same building for almost 20 years). I dream of the day when we are as well-known as some of the much bigger organisations but at the same time, the more people who know about us, the more demand for the services and that would mean we would need more funding to actually meet that need.

30 years on, and that group of professional women who first met in 1991 were 100% correct. There is still a need for a service like this in the community. At the start of every staff meeting, board meeting, or event, we start by acknowledging the women who walked before us.

When I give that acknowledgment, sure I am recognising the first wave of feminists, the women who marched for the right to vote or to continue employment after getting married. The women who became household names. Really, though, I am thinking of the group of women who got together in 1991 and decided there was a need for a women’s health service in the area, and they didn’t just talk about it; they made it happen. I am talking about the first women who volunteered here and who came on as paid team members. I am thinking about the first co-ordinators and managers who set the tone for the organisation. All of the amazing volunteers we have had on our board over the last 30 years and our amazing team of staff (paid and unpaid) that came before me and that I have had the privilege of working with for the last 20 and a bit years. I am thinking of the women who have attended here as clients for the last 30 years, the ones who have shown courage and vulnerability and had the strength to ask for help. The women who have changed their own lives for the better by attending our services.

When I say in my acknowledgment that we stand on the shoulders of giants, those are the women I am talking about. The women who will not appear in the pages of history books but instead the real women who lived the adage ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.

Happy 30th birthday to us, and here’s to being the change we want to see in the world for many years to come!

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