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New fund for women in Norfolk launches to spark training and projects in wake of ‘massive need’

09:20 23 March 2016

Erika Watson, left, and Lucy Hogg, who are two of the founders of a Norfolk Women

Erika Watson, left, and Lucy Hogg, who are two of the founders of a Norfolk Women's Fund. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

A new fund to champion the economic empowerment of women across the county has been launched, with its founders insisting there is a “massive need” for it if gender equality is to become a reality.

How to apply

The fund will initially provide grants of between £500 and £2,500 to stimulate activities for women and girls in Norfolk from a pot of £40,000.

Projects can include:

Skills and learning.

Employability and job search.

Business start-up and development.

Assisting women to access better quality employment.

Assisting women to access higher level employment.

Career and life planning.

Childcare and dependent care.

Continuation of existing projects.

The deadline for applications is April 15.

The fund is being managed by Norfolk Community Foundation.

To apply visit www.norfolkfoundation.com/funds/norfolk-womens-foundation-fund

The Norfolk Women’s Fund aims to combat the gender pay gap, and break down barriers to female economic success.

It will give small grants to support community-level initiatives targeted at women, with a particular emphasis on training for self-employed women and giving them the economic tools to succeed.

Erika Watson, who was made an MBE for services to women’s enterprise, said the region had a great tradition of women’s initiatives, but many had closed in the last few years.

“There’s a massive need,” said Ms Watson, who is one of five founders. “It’s a tough time for a lot of women. There’s a massive gap in terms of organisations which support women in Norfolk.

“A lot of initiatives were set up during the 1980s recession and closed down during this one. At the same time the economic situation of women is getting a lot worse.”

It comes as a new report, from the UK Women’s Budget Group, said while self-employment in the UK was at the highest point since records began 40 years ago, 70pc were women.

Ms Watson, who is one of two authors of the report, said: “Women are leading the way in creating new jobs.

“But there is a lot less support for people who are trying to give themselves a job through self-employment, the focus is on people who grow large businesses.

“Large businesses are the key to economic growth, but it’s only a small group.”

The latest figures reveal there is a 20pc gender pay gap in the UK, and women are likely to earn £300,000 
less than men over their working lives.

“For women to be economically independent and to be able to enjoy the financial returns that men do is absolutely critical to a healthy and functioning society,” said Ms Watson.

The fund is aiming to kick-start grass roots initiatives to support women – for example, a childcare scheme, training or support groups.

It is also hoped businesses will back the fund, and donations are being sought.

“It’s a small fund and a small start but we felt it was important to do something,” said Ms Watson.

This drive for female empowerment comes as a recent EDP report revealed just 14pc of the seats on the boards of the region’s top 100 firms were occupied by women.

A better balanced board means companies make better decisions, according to Lucy Hogg, former director of the Women’s Employment, Enterprise and Training Unit (WEETU) and joint founder of the Norfolk Women’s Fund.

“You just need to look at the pay gap to recognise things aren’t OK,” she said.

WEETU was forced to close down in 2013 due to a reduction in central government funding.

Is your firm bucking the trend? Call business writer Sabah Meddings on 01603 772879 or email sabah.meddings@archant.co.uk

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