Thinking About Our Roots
The history of WHFS (Women's Health & Family Services) is firmly based in the values of community development and community action. In the seventies when our Maternity Services Liaison Scheme was established, the British National Party (BNP) was an active force in Tower Hamlets, with racist attacks very frequent, and people genuinely living in fear. Allocation of council housing was a festering issue around growing inequality in the community, as more families were joining the settled male Bengali population.
At the same time there were groupings of radical GPs, health visitors, and strong community development traditions such as Toynbee Hall and other settlements. A number of health workers had returned from working overseas and some spoke fluent Bengali. There was a growing racial justice movement and demands that services needed to change to meet changing local needs. Community concerns about poor maternity services were growing, with women not attending ante natal appointments but turning up in A&E in labour.
Motivation for change was not coming from within the professions. A group of activists met to demand better services including bilingual staff and more culturally sensitive care. A government programme called Community Enterprise Programme was announced, and agreement secured for 4 bilingual advocates for a year to investigate and report back. Language and culture were essential components of what became an advocacy and escorting service. Much criticism and controversy amongst professionals and academics was raised about “unqualified” staff, but the activists were strong enough to overcome this resistance, and also gained the support of the community.
Other funding, such as that from the Greater London Council, was coming forward, and soon there was a multi racial team of maternity advocates assisting in the provision of what has become over the years the heart of our mission at WHFS. We have now developed a proud history of 35 years of community action developing appropriate health services for our local vulnerable communities!
Myra Garrett – WHFS Co-Chair
For information on WHFS projects and how to get involved in our work, please click on these links:
Features some of the founders and staff celebrating WHFS’s 35th anniversary in October 2016; the Chinese & Vietnamese Dance Group gave a performance in front of around 100 guests at the Brady Centre.