Having lived and worked in the Stanley area for most of her life, Linda Kirk has a deep connection with this part of the North East. After leaving social work in 2001 and training to be a depression consultant and mentor, Linda began working in the women’s sector. ‘As an advocate of women’s issues, I began to research women’s centres in England, with the idea of setting up a retreat that would welcome women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds,’ she explains. ‘Somewhere women could tell their stories, be listened to and supported.’ In 2011, Linda and her good friend, Lestryne Tweedy, founded the Just for Women Centre in Stanley, where women can come together, support each other and inspire creativity.
The Just for Women Centre holds regular workshops where women from all backgrounds create handmade products to sell in the centre’s Just Handmade shop. ‘Just Handmade produces home accessories, gifts, bespoke cushions and ladies wear,’ says Linda. ‘It’s now become a small, but profitable craft goods supplier, creating quality products to the highest standards, whilst providing training and employment opportunities for women from the local community.’ As well as the shop, the women’s centre is also home to a charming tearoom serving homemade cakes and hot drinks.
On the 24th January 2019, Linda’s hard work and compassion for her community was recognised nationally when she was awarded a British Citizen Award. ‘I feel so privileged and humbled to have received this award and be able to bring it back to the North East,’ says Linda. ‘It was such an uplifting day and I was extremely fortunate to meet such an inspiring group of people. Never would I have thought eight years ago that I’d be presented a British Citizen Award in Parliament. It was a remarkable accolade and the award is proudly displayed in our cabinet at the centre. I cannot say thank you enough to those who nominated me in recognition of my work with women.’
Following this well-deserved award, Linda has some exciting new plans for the future of the women’s centre. ‘We’re currently finishing our Serenity Garden, which is adjoined to the centre and in which we have had a purpose-built Creative Studio installed,’ she explains. ‘The next step for Just Handmade is to offer new crafting workshops and cream teas to groups of women who want to learn a crafting skill. The workshops are designed to suit crafters of all abilities and will be run by experienced craft facilitators. We’ll be advertising these workshops on our social media and our brand-new website, which is launching soon.’
Linda understands that the success of Stanley’s Just for Women Centre relies on the collaboration, support and encouragement between women in their communities. ‘Women are key to empowering other women, and I believe this concept is of benefit to all parties. In the North East, we have many courageous, strong and inspiring women who can mentor others who need support, giving a voice to those women who desperately need one. When women are given the opportunity to talk about their worries, traumas, challenges and victories, it not only empowers them but also helps others to see they are not alone.’
When asked what we can do in our own communities to create a supportive female network, Linda has plenty of ideas. ‘Whether it be starting a support group, a craft club, young mother’s group or a befriending service, there is so much that can be done,’ she says. ‘We made it happen through sheer determination and the dedication of a fantastic team of volunteers, some of which have been with me from the start.’ Linda invites readers to get in touch for further information about the Just for Women Centre and her upcoming Just Handmade workshops.
Read our full interview with Linda Kirk on the Living North website.
Just for Women Centre, 37 Front Street, Stanley DH9 0JE
01207 281145 www.be-creative.org