Thirty Years of the Maya Centre

We celebrated our 30th Anniversary on World Mental Health Day, Friday 10th October 2014 with an inspiring evening of energy, emotion, entertainment and thought, culminating in a renewed determination to support women to overcome the impact of abuse, for as long as it takes!

We had food, wine, balloons and a buzzing crowd of women and men celebrating with pride the achievement of thirty years of commitment to providing long term counselling for women who have limited resources.

The Freeword Centre was a fitting location for our birthday ‘Talk Enables Change’ event. Putting into words the abuse which women experience is a critical step in challenging and overcoming its impact on women’s lives. The Maya Centre enables women to speak, freely.

In a packed auditorium, Indigo Williams’ poetry moved us deeply. Here is a talented young woman whose eloquence can go with you into trauma and and be with you as you fight your way out again. Inspirational. Look out for her first pamphlet publication.

Jill Dawson has thought deeply on her own experiences and created many authentic and entertaining works of fiction. Her reading from ‘Lucky Bunny’ gave us a flavour of her talent, and how she can validate the real experiences of so many women in novels which reach out to a wide audience.

Director of The Maya Centre, Jo Ansell, reminded us that The Maya Centre is still there for women on the margins, ensuring those with the least resources are getting the best service. The opportunity for a long term relationship with a counsellor is at the heart of what we do. This is a really difficult time financially, and providing a years worth of counselling is expensive, but we will continue with this core service and build upon this principle. She ended, as you might expect, with a plea to carry on supporting the work of the centre –  if you would like to make a donation please click here>

Naming society’s barriers to change – ignorance, poverty, lack of education and employment, and the abuse of power was part of the second half of our evening. The purpose of our debate was to explore why abuse against women persists in the 21st Century, and how we can break the cycle.  The really inspiring part was celebrating the achievements of the exceptional women on our panel in challenging and overcoming those barriers.

Chaired by Femi Otitoju, our panellists set out the barriers they had faced personally and professionally as women, and the actions they had taken to change things. The range was impressive:

Hoda Ali spoke of her experience of FGM as a 7 year old girl and the work she now does to raise awareness to prevent cutting and support to adult women survivors;

Vera Baird QC told of her role in changing the law which had treated women who kill violent partners so much more harshly than men;

Natalie Bennett MP spoke of her commitment to improving access to education and fair employment opportunities for women;

Professor Louise Howard brought in the NHS and its role in recognising domestic violence and dealing supportively with women in all health settings; and Deana Puccio spoke as a parent and trainer of young people in schools on personal safety and preventing sexual assault, and was really inspiring on the impact of education despite being at the end of a day with a room full of year 8 boys!

As Femi concluded, much work is being done, but there’s more to do to change the culture which allows violence against women to persist. There’s no single answer, it’s economics, the criminal justice system, the legislation, education, including the education of our boys and men ‘We need to do the politics, not let it be done to us’.

Highlights of debate are coming soon and will be available on our Youtube page

In 1984 the Islington Women’s Counselling Centrewas set up by a group of women, who felt that the particular damaging experiences of women subject to abuse were not recognised by statutory mental health services. They campaigned for access to free psychodynamic counselling for women who could not afford to pay for a service not then available through the NHS. Over time the service grew beyond Islington and evolved into The Maya Centre.

We realised that this sort of history is easily lost, so sought out some of the founding members and recorded their experiences and thoughts on film. The film was premiered as a fitting part of our birthday celebration. What a great way to celebrate 30 years of working for women!


It was particularly refreshing to see so many young women in the audience who were engaged and actively using social media to express just how enlightened they felt by what they heard throughout the evening! Using Twitter #TalkEnablesChange @mayacentre 

Thanks from The Maya Centre and the women who benefit from our services go to:

The vibrant Freeword Centre and the The Literary Consultancy who sponsored the evening;

Guest performances;

Indigo Williams, poet & spoken word educator, who has performed across the UK & Europe and winner of 2012 New generation slam;

Author Jill Dawson, has written 8 novels, two of which touch on the topic of domestic violence;

Talk Enables Change’ debate chair, Femi Otitoju, co-chair of Women’s Aid and Director of Challenge Consultancy;

Guest panel members:
Hoda Ali; Nurse/FGM Campaigner in a Sexual Health and HIV clinic. She has dedicated her Professional life to raising awareness of FGM.
Vera Baird QC;Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice (Research & Education)
Natalie Bennett MP; Leader of the Green Party for England and Wales. Trustee of the Fawcett Society
Louise Howard; Professor in women’s mental health, whose recent publication includes: Domestic Violence and Perinatal Mental Health
Deana Puccio; Set up The RAP project, formerly called ‘Teenage Rape Awareness & Prevention’ along with Allison Havey

And special thanks to the patrons , Jeremy Corbyn and Melissa Benn who have loyally supported The Maya Centre for many years, the staff at the front line, trustees past and present, our funders and everyone who donates money in small and large amounts to help us to continue this important work.

Please make a donation to help us continue our work – click here