The Irish Women Survivors Support Network (IWSSN) over the last 15 years has grown and developed to become a structured, office-based advice and support service for Survivors of Irish institutional care run by the religious congregations. Starting as a support group for women Survivors, IWSSN evolved to become a consistent, staffed and trusted organisation that proudly is survivor-led and majority survivor-run.
IWSSN was established in 2001, following a call from female Survivors of Irish institutional care. These women felt that they wanted a space and opportunities – as women who shared so much in common – to come together, to share their experiences and information, and find friendship with other women who would have instantly understood their childhood and subsequent life experiences.
The ‘Women’s Group’ was founded by Sally Mulready and Phyllis Morgan and had its first meeting in 2001 at the London Irish Centre.The Centre was very supportive and encouraged the development of this very important support network for women who emigrated from Ireland as soon as they were discharged from institutional care, or released from the Magdalene Laundries. The women went on to make lives for themselves in London and elsewhere, though many of them remained traumatised for several years following their childhood experiences.
The Women’s Group provided a very positive moving-on-space for the women to make progress together, and the evidence of this can be seen today: the Women’s Group is thriving and has over 500 female members. We aim to hold 2-3 meetings a year, where women travel from all parts of the UK to be together. These days, the women meet for pleasure and as friends who have bonded together over the past decade. It is in this context that the campaign for justice for the Magdalene Women emerged.
Between 2001 and 2013, much of the work of the group was of a voluntary nature and operated alongside an advice service located at the London Irish Centre. This service was open to men and women Survivors who could receive advice, information and support on any issue of concern to them. Just under 5,000 Survivors living in the UK were assisted in making applications to the Redress Board (Residential Institutions Compensation Scheme).
Following the state apology by the Irish Prime Minister to Survivors of Magdalene Laundries, Justice John Quirke was invited to look into developing a compensation scheme. Based on Quirke’s recommendations, a Restorative Justice Scheme was established. IWSSN was recognised for its work in bringing the Survivor community together in the UK, providing support and companionship for so many Magdalene women in particular that had fled Ireland.
The Irish Prime Minister also recognised there was a need to fund the work of IWSSN, to enable the Magdalene Laundry women in particular to access professional advice and support in pursuing their application to the Restorative Justice Scheme. He further recognised that the wider Survivor community would continue to need proper professional support and guidance.
With the generous support of the Irish coalition government, led by the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny TD and supported by coalition leader, Eamon Gilmore TD, IWSSN was funded to expand its operation and reach a wider number of Survivors living in the UK.
The Whispering Hope Centre was set-up in March 2014 as a service for Magdalene laundry women and the wider Survivor community, based in Kentish Town, London. The naming of the centre as Whispering Hope was a special recognition of the Prime Minister’s historic meeting at the Irish Embassy in 2013. The Prime Minister heard a moving rendition of the song ‘Whispering Hope’ which has almost become the anthem of Survivors.