Celebrating a women’s centre in Birmingham founded by Sisters decades ago


Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Sisters who founded a women’s centre in Birmingham over a quarter of a century ago have been reflecting on their work.

Anawim  provides a holistic service to women across the city and its drop-in centre supports over 700 women every year struggling with issues such as homelessness, domestic violence and sexual exploitation.  International Women’s Day will be celebrated all day at the centre, with extra activities being laid on, including an empowerment and self confidence class. The group ‘Women in Prison’ will also be going in to give a talk about campaigning and lobbying.

l to r: Sisters Marie, Enda & Margaret

l to r: Sisters Marie, Enda & Margaret

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity started Anawim  back in 1986 with two Religious beginning the project, reaching out to the sex workers on the streets of the Balsall Heath area. One of the first Sisters to be involved was Sr Enda Gorman who now heads up the counselling service and street outreach work: “We  currently have 10 counsellors, six of whom are trainees doing their placements with Anawim one day a week.   We offer counselling to women who attend the services at the centre;  some of the needs the women who attend Anawim present with are emotional traumas from early childhood, experience of prison, domestic violence and loss of children into care, suffering trauma from mental health issues.”  

Sr Enda added:  “It has been a privilege to work with Anawim over these decades, watching the organisation blossom and grow into a brilliant centre for so many women who have benefited greatly from the service. I am pleased to see more outreach work taking place in the local community, there are still so many women out there in need and Anawim has always known the best way to engage with these women by offering the right support and friendship.”

Sr Marie McGrogan added: “My role as a volunteer Chaplain is to be a caring and sensitive presence among the many vulnerable women who use the common room at Anawim.  Hospitality, eg., making sandwiches, provides the ideal setting for ‘encounters’ with women from different social, cultural and faith (or no faith) backgrounds. I believe, it is important for the women, especially those on their initial visits, to be ‘received’ into a friendly and safe space and for them to ‘receive’ me too;  at times this requires patient waiting as building trust, for them, can be slow and painful….When a woman arrives in the common room in a low place emotionally, anxious or fearful,  a listening ear, a non-judgmental attitude, a friendly face, acceptance and assurance of confidentiality can diffuse the emotional pain at least temporarily.  As Chaplain on such occasions, it is often about being in the right place at the right moment to ease that stress or emotional or spiritual pain.”

“For me,  being a Chaplain,  is about ‘service of the heart’ as it involves compassion, and being with the women in their vulnerability.  It is  a privilege to be allowed access to the sacred space of these women. As a Sister of Mercy, Anawim provides me with the context to live out my own Mercy calling. For this I am grateful.”

Sr Margaret Breen added: “My role as a volunteer at Anawim is supporting the mental health team, mentoring clients, bringing women to the Centre who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access the services and supporting women to attend hospital and benefit assessment appointments.”

Several  sisters from other Congregations also volunteer regularly at the project.

Anawim became an independent charity three years ago, but the Congregation retains three Sisters on the Board of Trustees and still offers central support with budgets and accounts. The project has grown hugely over the three decades since it started and now has a team of around 30 staff including specialists in prison work and mental health as well as many volunteers.

Anawim comes from the Aramaic word meaning the poorest, the outcast, the persecuted - those with no voice.