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The sanctuary for women facing homelessness and violence

Discover how MASH, a Manchester-based charity, has evolved into a lifeline for women involved in sex work, providing non-judgmental support, healthcare, and creative workshops that empower and transform lives.

MASH, a local charity based in Manchester, stands unwaveringly by the side of women involved in sex work or facing challenges like homelessness and gender-based violence.

Founded in 1991, MASH has transformed from a grassroots initiative into a prominent outreach charity, offering non-judgmental support to enhance women’s health, safety, and well-being.

We sat down with Janelle Hardacre from MASH to talk about the charity, and why it needs your help more than ever.

She said: “Women tell us that MASH helps them to feel safer, listened to, empowered and that in many cases it is a ‘lifeline’.

Evolution of MASH

MASH’s journey began with a small team of dedicated volunteers armed with hot brews and condoms, showing kindness to sex workers when no one else would.

Over the years, MASH evolved into an official outreach charity, gaining recognition for its 25-foot mobile clinic by 1995. This clinic not only offered well-being support but also provided a respite from the streets, symbolising the growth and commitment of MASH to its cause.

The Impact of the MASH Van

The MASH van, an invaluable service in Manchester, operates several nights a week and has recently expanded to Rochdale and Oldham.

Specially designed to support street-based sex workers, the van offers a warm and confidential space where women can access essentials like condoms, alarms, food, and clothing.

Janelle notes, “Women tell us that when the van is driving around the beat areas, they feel safer,” highlighting its role as a lifeline for those with nowhere else to turn.

While each woman supported by MASH has a unique set of circumstances, common challenges arise from societal barriers such as stigma, discrimination, housing issues, and stretched healthcare services.

Trauma is a prevalent thread, significantly impacting the mental and physical well-being of the women MASH serves.

Janelle emphasises the importance of personalised support, stating, “The support we provide is always specific to each person and their needs.”

Non-judgmental Sanctuary

MASH’s commitment to being non-judgmental and welcoming is reflected in the testimonials of women who found solace in its services:

  • Emma expresses, “MASH is the first place I ever felt safe to be.”
  • Colette shares, “For 20 years of my life, MASH were the only people that knew whether I was dead or alive.”
  • Another woman highlights, “I don’t need any other support because MASH helps with everything… MASH is like my second family.”

MASH’s In-house Clinic

MASH’s clinic, located in the drop-in centre, offers a range of services, including sexual health screenings, treatments, contraception, and a Hepatitis C clinic.

During the pandemic, the clinic extended its support by providing Covid-19 vaccinations. Beyond the centre, MASH accompanies women to medical appointments, ensuring holistic healthcare for those involved in sex work.

MASH in the Digital Age

As sex work landscapes shift, MASH adapts to meet evolving needs.

The MASH outreach van and clinic remain accessible, providing support to street-based and online sex workers.

Janelle highlights MASH’s focus on those facing the most barriers, often dealing with gender-based violence, mental health challenges, and addictions.

MASH collaborates with key partners to address homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health.

Notable partnerships include Greater Manchester Housing First, CGL, Urban Village Medical Practice, and various city councils and homeless initiatives.

The aim is to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new ones to extend support to more women in need.

Drop-in Centre on Fairfield Street

The MASH drop-in center on Fairfield Street provides a welcoming space where women can access one-to-one support, sexual health clinics, food, friendship, and safety information.

Janelle emphasises, “Women tell us that having a safe place they can come to for essentials and rely on in crisis removes a great deal of anxiety from their lives.”

MASH prioritises harm reduction, offering practical support to enhance women’s safety.

Free condoms, safety alarms, clothing, and hygiene essentials are provided, along with a needle exchange service.

Janelle notes, “Reducing harm for women is a priority aim at MASH with everything we do.”

Creative Workshops: Nurturing Resilience and Well-being

MASH’s workshops and activities contribute to the creative side of the women they assist.

These sessions not only build self-esteem and skills but also provide a safe space for women to open up.

Success stories include women expressing newfound enjoyment and happiness through these activities, fostering a sense of community and support.

A Community-Driven Approach

MASH ensures inclusivity through Sue’s Space, a service user advisory panel consisting of women with lived experience.

This group actively shapes MASH’s approach, contributing insights and expertise to drive positive change.

Janelle emphasises, “Through Sue’s Space, we are building a community of driven and passionate women who are focused on using our insights and expertise to push for change.”

Trans-Inclusive Support: Embracing Diversity

MASH has a longstanding commitment to supporting transgender individuals involved in sex work. As Janelle asserts, “Any woman or anyone who sex works as a woman can access MASH.”

Community Involvement: A Collective Journey

MASH thrives on community spirit and partnerships, with memorable moments including collaborations with Castlefield Viaduct park, where women find solace in nature.

Volunteers play a vital role in sustaining the drop-in and van services. Janelle emphasises the ongoing commitment to strengthening partnerships to better meet women’s needs.

Looking Forward: Christmas Dinners and Beyond

In the short term, MASH eagerly anticipates its annual Christmas Dinner at the drop-in, fostering a festive atmosphere and camaraderie.

Looking ahead, MASH aims to expand its reach through pilot projects in Oldham, Rochdale, and Bury.

The Thrive recovery program, co-created by women looking to move on from sex work, and ambitious plans from Sue’s Space promise continued growth and impact.

MASH’s journey from grassroots beginnings to a prominent outreach charity showcases its unwavering commitment to supporting women involved in sex work.

Through a comprehensive range of services, partnerships, and a community-driven approach, MASH continues to be a beacon of hope and empowerment for those in need.

As they embark on new initiatives and collaborations, MASH remains dedicated to creating a safer and more supportive environment for women in Greater Manchester.

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