“It’s vitally important that women who use our service are involved in shaping it.” | Janelle Hardacre on MASH’s thirty years of support for sex workers

What is MASH’s mission?

MASH works with women in Manchester who sex work so they are safer, healthier and feel more in control of their lives.

How was MASH first founded?

Next year will be our 30th Anniversary! Keep an eye out for our celebrations and different ways you can support us.  

Our former service user, Colette, talks about her own early experiences of MASH here. She explains it better than I ever could!

What are the main services you provide to help women in sex work?

We provide a whole range of services to help women to be safer and healthier. These are some of our key ones. 

Outreach: We do outreach on foot into the city centre and saunas and via our mobile drop-in vehicle (a camper van which we’ve kitted out for MASH) late at night. Women stepping onto our outreach van can access free condoms, food and drink, a needle exchange service and just get some respite from the cold. They can also speak to our case worker if they need any support with issues like homelessness, ill health or if they have experienced violence whilst working and would like to report it or get expert emotional support. 

Our drop-in centre: We have a lovely drop-in centre which is open on weekdays. Women can come in and have a hot, nutritious meal, access activities such as creative writing and art or use the computers. Or they can speak to our case work team if they would like to discuss something in confidence that we can support with such as substance misuse or domestic violence. We also have sessional workers who come in to offer things like counselling and complementary therapies. We have an amazing team of volunteers who enable us to deliver this service every day. 

Sexual health nurse: We have our own clinic and sexual health nurse. Women can get in touch with Jen for sexual health screenings, contraception advice and more. Jen also goes out to saunas and provides a regular screening service via our van. It’s vitally important that women who may not access mainstream services because they feel stigmatised or don’t feel services are for them can speak to our nurse and be reassured that they won’t be judged. 

What is the best advice you can give to women in sex work right now?

If you’re in Greater Manchester then please check out MASH. Although we predominately work with women who are working on the streets, anyone identifying as a woman who’s sex working can get support from us. Whether it’s free condoms and lube you’re after, an appointment with our nurse or support with mental wellbeing, we are here for you.  

How does your user-centred approach influence your work?

It’s vitally important that women who use our service are involved in shaping it. We are very lucky to have a former service user on our board of trustees who represents service users at the highest level. Our Women’s Influence Worker, Safi, also leads on service user involvement at MASH and speaks to women every day, offering new and creative ways for women to have their voices and ideas heard. 

We are also in the early days of creating a new service user advisory panel (working title), a group of women who are meeting regularly to act as a sounding board for MASH and to gather women’s opinions about what’s working well at MASH and what improvements they’d love to see in future. Safi and our CEO Annie also work within wider Manchester networks to ensure women’s voices are influencing higher level discussions. 

You’ve been around for nearly 30 years. What the most noticeable changes that have impacted the work MASH does in that time?

We are proud that we have always adapted and changed to meet the needs of women who sex work and we will continue to do so. The biggest impacts in recent years are probably linked to changes to the ‘beat’ areas where women work. For example, massive regeneration work being planned and businesses moving into the area which have an impact on women’s working patterns.

Women using the internet to find business is probably another key trend. This is a new priority for us at MASH and we are working on a new project to support women who are sex working via the internet. 

We’re also increasingly hearing from women that welfare reform and issues with Universal Credit are driving them to sex work or to come back to it after many years. 

What do you think are the most important things that need to change for society to be better equipped to support sex workers?

We need real equality. From MASH’s point  of view we’d like to see a more ‘gender-informed’ approach to ensure services designed to support people experiencing some of life’s biggest challenges are actually appropriate for women. In so many instances this is not the case, especially when it comes to women experiencing homelessness and other complex challenges. There is an extreme lack of accommodation and support services for women. 

There is also still a huge leap to be made when it comes to the stigma around sex work. Women are still being harassed, abused or worse on a regular basis. A woman we spoke to recently told us she felt like she ‘didn’t have a voice’ and so many tell us they are constantly up against barriers to services and opportunities because they are sex working. We need a society where women and marginalised groups have a voice. We have fostered this on a small scale at MASH and will continue to use our influence to create as much positive change as we possibly can. 

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to make a difference in their community?

We all have the power to make a difference. Even small actions can have a huge impact. It could be as simple as sharing some information or putting a few extra items into your shopping basket for someone who needs them.

If you’re interested in supporting MASH you can find out about volunteering opportunities here: http://www.mash.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/apply-to-become-a-volunteer/

We are a small charity and are so thankful to our amazing supporters who help us to keep this vital service going. If you’re interested in becoming a monthly donor or fundraising for us you can visit our Local Giving page here or contact me janelle@mash.org.uk

Thank you so much. 

Janelle will be talking more about the work MASH does, how people can access its resources and how people can support the charity at Blizzard on Monday 30th March.

Book your free ticket here.

You can find out more about MASH by checking out the charity’s website and following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.