FORMER social worker Linda Kirk has a business brain and a heart of gold.

Seeing a need for a support service for women in her community, she started a centre for women that combined handicrafts and therapy.

Women from all backgrounds could come in and make cushions, throws, toys, jewellery, or whatever they fancied turning their hand to.

Just For Women was founded in January 2011, as a social enterprise, with its initial home in a building on Station Road in Stanley.

As well as making new friends, women from all kinds of backgrounds, with all kinds of issues, could enjoy the cathartic process of making something, and learn new skills as well as accessing specialist support where necessary.

Ms Kirk, 58, who lives in nearby Tantobie, says: “I had researched women’s centres and there wasn’t anything really in the Derwentside area as it was then.

“I had run a business in the community and decided I wanted to give something back.

“It was going to be for one year and the idea was to support women going through whatever issue it was in their lives, but I am still here.”

Her idea captured the imagination, gained support and by April 2012 the centre had moved to Front Street in the town centre, with a greater footfall for their handmade products.

Today, Just For Women is a community interest company, operating its gift shop on a not-for-profit basis with four part time staff, three freelance employees and 16 regular volunteers.

Since its launch, the centre has helped more than 3,500 women, including many survivors of abuse.

It is not a refuge, but does help women with issues surrounding domestic violence, as well as mental health, depression, anxiety, illness and bereavement.

Some women go there simply to help out or socialise.

The centre also provides clothing and toiletries to women in need and has seen a dramatic increase in the number of women with no-one to turn with the introduction of the Universal Credit welfare system.

Ms Kirk, who is a mother-of-three and has five grandchildren, says: “What we find from talking to people is that a lot of these issues are intertwined.

“From the abuse side of things, there are other organisations out there now and there has been more training for the police and that is fantastic.

“From the mental health point of view, there needs to be more care in the community because that has gone.

“There are workers out there who run in and see someone for 20 minutes and they leave.

“How on earth people with severe mental health difficulties can helped in 20 minutes is beyond me."

She adds: "There are more people with mental health issues now. Community centres are closing all over the place. It is partly the isolation people are experiencing in rural areas and the impact that benefit changes are having on people’s finances.

“In places like Stanley, we are in dire straits.”

Ms Kirk recently won the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize, for her work in raising awareness of violence against women and children, and has won several awards for her work over the years.

Just For Women is now looking forward to moving to even bigger premises, near Stanley Police Station on Thornleyholme Terrace, where a new retail park is being developed.

It is hope the move will be completed later this month and the plan is to open a new tea room in April.

Ms Kirk says: “We cannot wait. There will be the house, which has got the women’s centre. It is next to the police station, which is good in terms of security.

“There will be the retail side of it, which will have its own door, and is good because it keeps different aspects of what we do separate.

“There will be our tea room with craft workshops and music lessons going on around it.

“There will be a little bit of a garden, with a summer house and a bit of a sanctuary. It is somewhere we can take time out and do a little bit of meditation.

“It is going to be a different experience for Stanley.”