You may have known The New Futures Project as a sex work project, writes our director, Della Kagure Brown.
When the charity first started we were called Women’s Health in Prostitution (a name I hated) and were known as WHIP!
At that time, as the name implies, we were concerned with sexual health, we gave out condoms and encouraged women to have regular GUM checks.
We worked mainly with women sex working on the street, although occasionally we’d work with someone who worked in a sauna or massage parlour.
One of the first things I did when I started working at the charity was to change the name to The New Futures Project because I believe where a person is going is more important than where they are now.
At the project we had begun to recognise too that the women we were supporting needed more than just condoms and sexual health advice.
They talked to us about being homeless, about their problems with drug and alcohol use, the violence they were subject to from boyfriends, men who bought sex and dealers.
And the more I heard the angrier I became.
It felt very wrong to me that the name of a project that supported women who were living such difficult and challenging lives sounded like a bit of a joke.
When we started working more with young girls that name did not work at all.
Hearing the stories of young women who were being exploited and abused by older men certainly wasn’t a joke and I hated the connotations attached to the name.
When we finally changed our name, a lot of people connected with the project were unhappy.
They felt we had taken the project in a different direction and changed its focus.
Change is often difficult.
In time it became obvious to everyone that changing the name was the right thing to do.
The name ‘New Futures Project’ fits our intention of supporting every woman we work with to achieve a new future for herself.
The project continued to develop the services we provided for women and young people at risk of or involved in sex work.
Change continued to happen. We supported more and more women selling sex on line. Internet sites like Sugar Babes and Only Fans brought us a new client group we hadn’t expected.
We started working with universities who invited us on campus as they recognised their students were selling sex to boost their income whilst studying.
Many of the women we were supporting were selling sex in different ways but often their backgrounds were similar.
Women spoke of childhood neglect and abuse; rape and sexual aggression; violence and abuse from partners and family members; bullying and harassment at school, university and work.
We recognised the role trauma played in the lives of the women we were supporting and introduced counselling and psychotherapy into the service.
Then in 2020 Covid happened. In March 2020 we closed the project.
I locked the door and cried thinking of the women we supported who were working and living on the street, who were drug and alcohol using, who had weakened immune systems from years of ill-health and infections.
I thought they’d all die.
Within weeks we were open again carefully providing takeaway food, hot meals and helping women to navigate benefit and housing systems to get them some income and somewhere safe to live.
We worked closely with partner agencies to ensure the women we supported got all the help they needed. Surprisingly few women became ill.
During Covid and the extended local lockdown we were approached by partner agencies and by women directly asking for help.
These were not women who were sex working. We were approached by women who had been trafficked and were living here without immigration status who had seen us giving out hot food and drinks.
We were approached by a local school asking if we could support parents who were not working because of the lockdown.
Women who were homeless stopped our outreach team begging for the sandwiches and hot drinks we give out to sex workers.
Many women who had been working in illegal hosiery and knitwear factories, closed for covid violations, and who now had no income and no right to benefits asked for the food parcels they saw us distributing from our premises.
Covid changed everything. None of the women asking for help were turned away.
Instead, we listened to them and heard the same stories of trauma. Of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. From family members, from partners, from employers, from landlords. Mainly from men.
We realised we needed to change again. This time it isn’t the name we’ve changed.
The New Futures Project is still supporting women to achieve a new future, so the name works just fine.
We went back to look at the original aims of the charity and re-read them.
Twenty years ago, we had set up the project to support women at risk of ‘prostitution’. A term we would never use now.
But all the women who approached us during and because of the pandemic were at risk.
They had all experienced trauma in the form of physical, sexual and emotional exploitation and abuse and without our support they would continue to be at increased risk of further exploitation.
It made the change obvious. We needed to broaden our interpretation of at risk.
The project now supports all women who are at risk.
We provide each woman with a key worker and a counsellor.
Although we believe counselling is important to support women to achieve their full potential, we also recognise that supporting a woman to address historic abuse doesn’t work if she’s still living in fear or unable to pay the rent or feed her children.
We provide a package of long-term practical, emotional and mental health support, aimed at achieving a new future for every woman we work with.
The New Futures Project won’t promise to stay the same. We will continue to evolve, to reflect, to develop, to adapt.
We will continue to change to meet the need we see in our local community.
To be the best we can be for the women we support.
The New Futures Project will continue to embrace change. It’s served us well.
New Futures was set up more than 20 years ago to support women involved in sex work.
However, we have evolved into a welfare and counselling service for women and young people dealing with sexual abuse or exploitation – frequently involving domestic violence, trafficking, poverty and debt, substance use or mental ill-health.
Call us on 0116 251 0803 or send us a message at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find us at 71 London Road, Leicester, LE2 0PE.