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Posted on 17 June 2024

Supporting Blackburn’s vulnerable women through outreach services

Zoe Brindle has worked as a caseworker for Spark over the past two and a half years, providing support to vulnerable women in Blackburn through her essential outreach services.

Whether she’s offering mobile support from her van, heading to a face-to-face house visit or taking someone to a medical appointment, Zoe’s outreach services often begin on Dixon Street. Surrounded by industrial estates, the street is recognised as Blackburn’s ‘tolerated’ area for sex work.

Talking about the importance of these services, Zoe said: “Outreach is all about keeping them alive and as safe as we can. It’s about bringing our services to them. If we told them to attend a 9am meeting, it just wouldn’t happen”.

She continued: “People say they try hard to reach out; but do they reach out hard enough? Because when we do, it works!”.

Providing support for Blackburn’s ‘forgotten women’

Zoe works hard helping those who struggle to organise their own lives. She offers this to everyone on her caseload, which includes over 30 active sex workers, 11 vulnerable women and a handful of men.

During her working week, Zoe will conduct house calls and face-to-face visits. As well as this, she organises and attends everything from medical appointments to health screenings – and even court cases.

Zoe said: “Any appointments, I pick them up and take them. I refer them to services, help them apply for housing – I help with whatever the need. Some call me their Mum and PA because I’m always there to help and support them with anything they need”.

Donna, who looks forward to her regular visits from Zoe, said: “She is the best keyworker I’ve ever had – I wouldn’t be here without her”.

Bringing support to those who need it most

Every Wednesday, Zoe heads out in her white van, providing much-needed support for the ‘forgotten women’ of Blackburn.

The van is packed full of essentials many of the women need, but often can’t buy for themselves. From condoms and wipes to vitamins, panic alarms and naloxone, Zoe hands out the daily essentials needed to help active users.

Also in her van, you’ll find two drawers of snacks – a firm favourite amongst many of the women.

Zoe said: “They are all my priority, even if they are not their own! The trust we have helps me find out who needs my help the most. It’s like friendship, but with boundaries.

“Many of them don’t have people who care about them, that’s why I let them know they can ring me anytime – I’d rather them have someone than no one.”

“They all love the van too, it’s full of everything they need”. She added.

As well as offering advice and daily essentials, Zoe works hard to provide items needed for individuals to live more comfortably. Whether it’s a kettle, a tent, a sleeping bag – or even a cat carrier – Zoe always finds a way to gather the items she needs.

Not only does she work with other local charities and family and friends, but she’s also widely known as a regular on Facebook Marketplace.

Building better relationships with the police

One big success for Zoe over the past two and a half years has been building a better relationship with the police.

Previously, none of the women had trust in the system. Now, more incidents are getting reported, so more dangerous men can be kept off the streets. Zoe also logs incidents anonymously to help keep more women safe.

She added: “We need to continue to work with the police to ensure those who are higher up empathise and understand the women’s perspective, so this trust continues”.

The future of outreach

After two and a half years in her role, everyone is familiar with Zoe. The trust she’s built allows more vulnerable women to benefit from her work, as those who are new to Dixon Street soon get in touch.

Zoe finalised:We start by giving them clean equipment and condoms, and from there we get chatting and that’s when I can help them with whatever they need”.

To learn more about Spark’s outreach services for vulnerable women, contact us on: or 01254 495014

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