A COMMUNITY group that aims to boost girls’ self-esteem and give them positive role models has been helped to stay afloat by a coronavirus fund grant.

Wiltshire Mighty Girls, which works with dozens of youngsters aged from seven to 14 in after-school clubs, mentoring sessions and workshops, was in danger of having to stop work when its income dried up during lockdown.

The community interest group relies on parents’ donations for the clubs at Fitzmaurice and St Laurence schools in Bradford on Avon and at Walwayne Court in Trowbridge but when they closed it had to furlough its staff.

But a £2,400 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund. The fund has now raised £1.1 million and distributed almost £700,000 to 180 groups.

Mighty Girls director Marsha Mars said: “We were basically going to stop doing what we do because of the financial situation but like everyone we were very worried about these girls having no support from school because they were closed. It was something we knew was having a big impact, so our volunteers phoned them every couple of weeks to have a one-to-one conversation.

“But looking forward six months, we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford to even do that. The grant meant we could tick over until September and we’ve managed to run an art workshop to keep up the contact. We don’t know what things will look like in September so the grant will give us some breathing space.”

She said the after-school clubs are important in helping shape girls’ attitudes and inspiring them. “We promote positive female role models, good friendship links and communication skills to help with issues with friendships. It’s about helping girls to ride the waves and cope with difficult situations,” she said.

“In schools where there are more children in challenging socially or financially deprived areas there is a real need for girls to have some positive role models. What we find working with the primary school girls is that we are getting to them often before the social conventions begin of ‘this is female behaviour’ or ‘this is male behaviour’. It is really positive and proactive to be in there at that age.”

The group is led by a steering committee made up of young people and led by teenager Clodagh Dowson. Mrs Mars said: “They meet up four times a year and we consult with them to ask what issues are young women in the area facing and what do they need help with? We take that information away with us and organise events, workshops or fundraisers, whatever is needed.

“The things we’ve run include a girls’ coding club to address a shortfall in girls taking STEM subjects, a Fight Fast Fashion workshop to teach mending and upcycling techniques because we have lost that inter-generational thing where granny teaches us to sew and self-defence classes.”

She said body image is becoming an increasingly important subject for older girls in the face of social media pressures and it works with girls at John of Gaunt School in Trowbridge in mentoring sessions.

Mrs Mars said: “We also do body positivity art workshops and the young people create these beautiful self-portraits, but the meat of the workshop is when we talk about how the media portray women, which has a massive impact on how we look at ourselves.

“If you feel alright and you have confidence in yourself and you are happy with your body then all the other bits are much easier to cope with and that’s out starting point

“Our aim as an organisation is to develop social skills and work experiences for young people and promote healthy emotional, physical and mental wellbeing in young women. It is difficult to defend girls only spaces in the current climate, but I am a fervent supporter.”

Find out more about group by searching Wiltshire Mighty Girls on Facebook or at mightygirls.co.uk.

Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Each week we receive new applications for help from groups like this who are feeling the effects of the pandemic. The crisis in funding, at the very time when their services are needed more than ever, means our fund will be even more vital in the coming months.”

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.