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Our History

WHFS (Women’s Health & Family Services) is a community health charity based in Tower Hamlets that focuses on health and empowerment issues for disadvantaged women and their families.

We work in Tower Hamlets and surrounding boroughs - some of the most deprived areas in Britain - where low life-expectancy, as a direct result of health inequalities, is still widespread in our communities. WHFS works and campaigns to tackle this inequality via health services designed, in particular, for women from the local Bangladeshi, Somali, Vietnamese and Chinese communities (and, latterly, the eastern European and white communities).

The Early Years (1981 - 1993) 

The charity began in response to the distress experienced by women from the Bangladeshi and Somali communities in Tower Hamlets when trying to access maternity services, and their concerns over the quality of health care they had received.

In 1981, a group of local health and community workers, with support from the Tower Hamlets Association for Racial Justice, set up the Maternity Services Liaison Scheme (MSLS).  Funded by the Manpower Services Commission, MSLS’s aim was to enable access to maternity services for women from ethnic minority communities who spoke English as a second language, and to reduce perinatal mortality and morbidity rates.  The MSLS team initially consisted of Bangladeshi and Somali women, but then expanded to include Chinese and Vietnamese staff. The scope of the charity also expanded and broader health advocacy roles were introduced in response to community need, and infant feeding projects were added.


Growing Up (1994 – 2013)

In 1994, the charity changed its name to WHFS (Women’s Health & Family Services) to more accurately reflect its work in health awareness-raising, advocacy and the provision of new services (such as the Bengali Hearing Project).

While health advocacy services for women continued to be a priority for WHFS, funding from statutory bodies and organisations like the Big LotteryThe Kings Fund and the Department of Health supported additional family health projects (in areas such as coronary heart disease and Diabetes).

In 2012, WHFS was recognised for its work by winning the Glaxosmith Kline / Kings Fund ‘IMPACT’ award for ‘excellence in community healthcare’.


Going Forward (2014 - )

Today, WHFS continues to focus on advancing health education and empowering women to promote and improve their health and wellbeing, and that of their families. We believe strongly in providing accredited training and support to our volunteers who are the life blood of the organisation.

WHFS’s original focus continues - better access to maternity services for ethnic minority women - and our flagship Maternity Mates™ programme goes from strength to strength.  Following a successful 3 year pilot (completed in 2013), we have been recomissioned by NHS Tower Hamlets CCG to continue the programme in the borough.  In 2015 the programme extended into the neighbouring borough of Newham with funding from NHS Newham CCG and was launched in Waltham Forest in January 2017 with funding from The Big Lottery.

New areas of need have also been identified by local communities – for example, long term health conditions such as Diabetes and Cancer Awareness; the problems of Health In Old Age and the support needed by those who have experienced FGM /C (female genital mutilation/cutting).

WHFS will continue to address unmet health needs in Tower Hamlets and surrounding boroughs. We will do so by building partnerships, drawing on our deep-rooted understanding of local communities and using our proven model of recruiting and training local women as advocates and volunteers to deliver relevant health services.

Please click on the following links to download our Annual Reviews

Further Information

For information on WHFS projects and how to get involved in our work, please click on these links:

Maternity Mates is the registered trademark of WHFS (Women's Health & Family Services)