KeyChanges: Unlocking Women's Potential

18 February 2016

"My experience of prison was one which really opened my eyes to what was going on in our communities. I believe it has made me the person I am today; a person who strives for equality and offering second chances."

This blog from Michelle Nicholson provides an interesting perspective on women and inequality and how the cycle of inequality continues.

Michelle founded the charity ‘KeyChanges: Unlocking Women's Potential’ which we have funded through our Active Communities Programme.

"I never expected that I would end up in prison. Who does? It’s not something which anyone plans or wishes for themselves. When I did find myself in prison it was a shock in more ways than one.

For a woman being in prison means more than taking away their liberty. For many it means worrying endlessly about children they are no longer able to take care of or protect. A woman is often left isolated as they are the main caregiver at home.

My experience of prison was one which really opened my eyes to what was going on in our communities. I believe it has made me the person I am today; a person who strives for equality and offering second chances. Prison houses many women who had come from abusive backgrounds who have then gone on to commit petty crimes and were then locked away from the community – out of sight out of mind. What’s more, when released these women are too often left feeling that they had failed, being stigmatised and marginalised from the community, sometimes returning within only weeks to custody.

I studied early on in my sentence with a plan to make changes for women when I got out. When I was released in 2008 I had already formed my idea of creating a charity for just these women to help them realise their potential. Three years later I founded the charity ‘KeyChanges-Unlocking Women’s Potential’.

The vision of KeyChanges is to tackle some of the social injustices for women in our society. We start this process by empowering a woman and instilling a sense of self-belief. We understand that self-belief often comes from where we feel we stand within our community and from our backgrounds. We walk beside a woman to try and put her failures where they should be – behind them – whilst looking forward to build a better future.

Our mentoring scheme is designed specially to empower a woman. It offers a confidential, gender-specific and non-judgemental service, listening to and understanding our women’s needs. We understand that all women are individuals; we help them rebuild their image, build supportive networks and a new life. If they return to prison then we don’t give up on them. We continue our support.

Our mission statement:

‘To create opportunities for women who have experienced the criminal justice system in order to empower, inspire and encourage them to make informed choices. To help overcome any personal or societal obstacles to women in the criminal justice system, tackling inequality and thus creating a more inclusive society.’

As well as the mentoring service we have our own Women’s Centre which is used as a safe space for women. A range of opportunities are on offer such as our popular accredited Peer Mentoring course, cooking classes, IT, self help groups and many more. We offer an educational presentations scheme informing local communities and Universities of the issues that women face in the criminal justice system.

We also run a salon enterprise where a woman can work towards a City and Guilds qualification. We have recently set up a PAT testing enterprise where women can apply to volunteer to be part of our PAT testing scheme with a view to employment. We also offer self-employment opportunities, providing chairs to rent in our salon for hair and beauty.

We look forward to offering more opportunities in the future and to continue to tackle equality for women. If you are interested in our service or just want to drop us a line with any ideas or feedback please do so. We would love to hear from you."

Michelle Nicholson, Founder and Director, KeyChanges: Unlocking Women's Potential


Read more posts from the Trust blog here.

Find out more about KeyChanges: Unlocking Women's Potential here


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