What’s in a name?
Historically the well was always considered to be:
- the place of common ground
- central to the community because water is essential to life
- the woman’s place, where they gathered and chatted whilst they were waiting their turn to draw water
- it was also a place of peace; warring tribes in the desert didn’t count “oasis” as part of a war zone
If we look to Christian tradition rooted in the Gospel passage John 4 (1-42)we meet the unnamed woman at the well:
- in most traditions she would have been seen as an outcast - 5 times married and living with someone else. Using the well at noon, when the sun at its hottest, suggests that others wouldn’t let her use the well at the same time as them
- as a Samaritan she would have been looked down upon by all Jews
- as a woman she was looked down upon by the dominant male society
- she must have been poor because rich women would have had servants to draw water for them
So, like the women this project aims to support, she was multiply disadvantaged and yet she is the first active apostle indicated in any of the Gospels.
How women@thewell came to be
women@thewell was a new initiative, developed by the Institute of Our Lady of Mercy (IOLM) to provide a uniquely holistic and multifaceted range of service to vulnerable women who are caught in multiple cycles of abuse and social exclusion. Although the concept of women@thewell was new, it was built on 10 years’ experience of its founder Sister Lynda Dearlove. Sr. Lynda had been working with such women in the East-End of London, the majority of whom were involved in street based prostitution, homelessness, drugs, alcohol, violence, physical and mental ill health. Throughout that time, through joint working, and consultation with the women Sister Lynda began to build up a clear picture of what was keeping them from making the changes that they would want / need to make in their lives to break out of the multiple cycles of chaos and abuse that they seemed to be locked into. One of the major contributing factors identified was the complexity of services (often referred to as “revolving doors”) - in which many people may be working with them on specialist issues, but nothing ever seems to come together at the right time so that they can get their lives sorted out, or every organisation that they approach sends them to another to have their needs met.
The Sisters of Mercy have a history founded in working with and for women in difficult and challenging situations. While actively seeking projects with which to become involved, their own members’ experiences in the community highlighted the need for a new service dedicated to women. Recognising the difficulties faced by any group wishing to set up a new service, IOLM decided to fund the initial capital and revenue costs to get the project up and running. They undertook, to find a suitable property, refurbish it and set up a new independent self-funding Charity called women@thewell (w@w). They further undertook to fund w@w for its first three years. IOLM retains ownership of the building and responsibility for its external maintenance and leases the premises rent free to w@w.
The initial draft strategic plan for w@w was evolved, and from that both capital and revenue funding agreed in the summer of 2004. Trustees for the new charity were recruited and began meeting in January 2005, w@w was established as charitable company limited by guarantee, incorporated on 3rd January 2006 and registered as a charity on 29th March 2007. The Violet House Hotel was identified as a suitable building in February 2005. It then took 17 months wrangling with conservation and planners to get change of use and refurbishment of the building agreed with Camden council so that the keys were eventually handed over in July 2006. The official opening of the building took place on Sept 24 2007.