The Women’s Centre in Derry is nestled quietly in Beibhinn House just opposite the Guildhall but the tranquil surroundings hide a bustling hive of activity inside.
And, far from being a place where mums park up their prams for a few hours and enjoy a cup of tea and a natter, The Women’s Centre is engaged in the very serious business of building skills and self esteem.
“But there’s nothing wrong with tea and buns, either, we are a place for everyone,” says centre director Margaret Logue.
The product of the feminist movement, and a natural progression from the Derry Women’s Coalition which emerged in the 1970s, the Women’s Centre has just started its first introductory course in computer coding and its current courses, which cover everything from counselling to pattern cutting, are choc-a-bloc for the coming year.
And, while the ethos of the centre would, by no means, measure success only in terms of academic qualifications, results from courses have been consistently good and have helped many women find a new direction in life through qualifications and skills.
Margaret Logue, who heads up the centre and was a volunteer treasurer in the project’s early days, has been at the forefront of its progression which, as she points out, is clearly “the name of the game”. As many women find out when they become mums, childcare is the central issue around finding a balance between working, learning and just getting out and about with other adults. The creche at the Women’s Centre is, for many, its most vital resource.
“Childcare is at the core of what we do, it’s central to access for women who have children,” says Margaret. “They have to have that vital support if they want to start moving forward through one of the courses here.
“Many women feel that they have equality until they have a child and find that their child is their glass ceiling.
“A lot of women find that they go from being a full-time worker to being at home with a small child and no adult company.
“A time which is supposed to be the happiest of your life can actually be very isolating. Of course, many women find that the career that they once had can come to a standstill or start sliding backwards because they have had a child.
“That doesn’t happen with men. For men, being a dad is another string to the bow but for a female in the workplace, it can be challenging to say the least and, if we speak up about it, we are seen as complainers.
“Feminism is a progressive awareness process; it’s learned as we go along in life. You can’t expect younger women to decide that they are feminists when, from their point of view, they have never experienced inequality.
“And while childcare is at the very heart of what we do here, we also see a lot of women who don’t have any children and who left school early with few or no qualifications and may have had a bad experience with education the first time around. We are a centre for anyone who is interested in doing something that we offer here and we offer it in a supportive and relaxed environment.
“We are in the first week of our coding course which is full to capacity. We are told that coding is the new industrial revolution and, while our course won’t get you that top drawer computing job overnight, it is a very competent way to dip your toe and, if you get on well with that, then we can signpost you to further education courses.
“For some of the women who come in here, there are issues of confidence with learning and they find that they can get comfortable with learning again and often go on to bigger and better things.
“In saying that, more and more we are offering qualifications with our courses which gives real tangible proof of skills to take into the marketplace.
“If you want a revitalised economy and society, then you must get women equal access to decent jobs and family friendly workplaces. The Women’s Centre is like the woman at home: we work away without anyone really acknowledging what we do.
“I know people say we should look for more publicity for this or that but, perhaps, because we are women, we just get on with the business of what needs to be done without looking for fanfare.
“It’s just what we are used to doing anyway. Getting on with life and supporting positive changes,” says Margaret.