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Moving times with need more urgent than ever

You know what it's like when you're flitting; every box, every file, every photograph tells stories you've half forgotten.

And you sit down and say: "Did we really do that?" It's been much the same for the Women's Support Project in Glasgow, the pioneering organisation which this last weekend had to move from its city centre premises to the Adelphi Centre, in Commercial Road in Gorbals.

Among the souvenirs that senior development officer Jan Macleod turned up were reminders of then ground-breaking projects of the 1980s and 90s looking at the abuse of deaf women and those with learning difficulties – all kinds of innovative interventions in areas where the problems were yet to be properly acknowledged.

But in their work with the victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse of women and children, trafficking, inappropriate sexualisation and commercial exploitation, the WSP has an extraordinary record. And it has, all the while, built an enviable reputation in training other professionals, sharing expertise dating back almost 30 years.

It is not the least of the ironies of recessionary times that just when the need is at its most urgent, those who try to respond to it find themselves hit with a range of financial challenges. The support project was born on the back of hard times and finds itself coming full circle. Until now it had city centre premises in a building leased by the council.

Given a month's notice, workers have had to pack up and relocate to the Adelphi Centre, where the council has said it will cover the rent for the next three years. The Scottish Government pays the cost of two national workers, but nobody is pretending that it's anything but a battle just to survive.

The move has also come at a time when the small team have been trying to come to terms with the loss to cancer of their charismatic co-leader Jeanette de Haan, who died at the end of June.

It's a huge gap in both their personal and professional lives says Ms Macleod, who says she's still making lists in her head of things she must ask Janette – whose contacts and knowledge, especially in child protection issues, were legendary.

The work, however, goes on. As with every September, there will be a challenging film and debate at the Glasgow Film Theatre, this time The Healing Years, an American documentary dealing with incest and featuring, among others, an adult survivor, Marilyn Van Derbor, a former Miss USA. It screens on September 18.

The hallmark of these evenings has always been the frankness of the audience in the post-film discussions; a mixture of professional workers and victims which sometimes provides electric moments of shared understanding.

Initiatives like the Women's Support Project can stage these edgier events precisely because they operate in the voluntary sector, yet that sector is constantly facing the triple whammy of more clients, less funding and fewer staff.

There are other unsavoury indicators of hard times. Jan reports an increase in calls to their office from women who are contemplating trying to solve family financial crises by going to work in various branches of the sex industry.

And a worrying feature of these conversations, says Jan, are the lines they're being spun by prospective employers about this being a way to take control of their lives and a way to earn good money at a time of low wages.

The line between some branches of the adult entertainment industry and prostitution is slender to the point of non-existence. But desperation is often the mother of personal disaster.

On the brighter side, she also reports an increase in the number of women turning up offering their services as volunteers and a major thrust of the WSP's future programme will be devoted to their training in an area which could hardly be more sensitive.

It's a time-consuming but essential part of the work if they are to put scarce resources into a service which can still respond to the areas to which they have always tried to give core support, like the network of mothers dealing with the sexual abuse of their children.

Such is the respect in which this tiny but vital organisation is held that various supporters have pledged help with fund raising. One unusual source of help is Voice Business, the company which gives training in speech and communication skills to a wide range of professionals.

It has teamed up with Oran Mor to give a four-hour workshop at £100 a head on October 4, called Personal Impact and the WOW Factor (an opportunity which normally comes at four times that price) with the proceeds going to the WSP.

Anybody interested in signing up should email wsproject@btconnect.com.

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