Aspire: Case Studies


Supporting Sister Merchai earned her Volunteer Walk Leader certificate after our Volunteer Coordinator Val encouraged her to take the external course based on her love of exercise and outdoors. 

"Aspire has been a huge support to helping me move forward and as a Supporting Sister I enjoy empowering the women who attend Aspire an d feel having this qualification will be a great way for me to share my love of the outdoors and the positives it can bring to women's mental wellbeing." 

All our volunteers are encouraged to reach their potential in a fully supported way, this could be through our internal learning courses or volunteer development training, or even through external opportunities. Aspire is all about encouraging women to reach their full potential - well done Merchai! 


Watching Sarah on stage at a glitzy ceremony organised by Durham County Council, collecting her Learning in the Digital Age Award, you’d never believe that just 18 months ago, 87 year old Sarah had never used a computer. Now she can do emails, online shopping and is determined to embrace the modern world.

“To begin with I couldn’t even switch it on. I was terrified, but I soon caught up,” sad Sarah - a nurse had told her about Aspire – a small not for profit organisation, in Chester-le-Street, near Durham that provides wellbeing, support and learning opportunities for vulnerable women.

“When I first came to Aspire, I was a wreck, I’d absolutely given up. Then when I started going to classes, mixing with different age groups and doing something positive, it made a big difference” said Sarah. 

You can read the full version of Sarah’s story on the National Lottery Community Fund website here.

Val Kilner

Val has been working with Aspire since day one and is currently working hard in the role of Volunteer and Support Services Coordinator where she works with all our volunteers and Supporting Sisters to ensure they receive the highest standards of training and personal development opportunities. The diverse range of support services that Val organises includes Aspire’s confidential listening service, a range of structured support groups and the women’s wellness service. Val loves getting to meet so many different women in the course of her work and that every day is always different!

Faye and Victoria

Faye and Victoria have been Aspire staff members since April 2019, working as part of the National Lottery Community Funded Supporting Sisters programme (Women and Girls Initiative) which will be entering its 4th year in August 2020. Supporting Sisters is a 5 year umbrella project developed to enable ‘at risk’ women to stay well, feel supported and get more from life through a range of holistic services co-designed and delivered by women for women.

Faye Green (Data, Evaluation and Social Impact Lead)
My role involves evaluating how effective our services are in meeting women’s needs and looking at the longer-term impact Aspire has on women’s lives. I love being part of an organisation doing such positive work with women in the North East 

Victoria Nunn (Marketing, Media & Communications Officer) 
I take the brilliant work that Aspire does and share it with the wider world with the aim of celebrating our achievements, attracting new opportunities and raising our profile with the public. I love capturing the lifechanging differences Aspire has made in our women’s lives and helping them to find a voice with which to celebrate their personal successes.

Trish and Mary

Aspire woman Mary shared this amazing artwork from her sister Trish Bowles - on display at the Washington Arts Centre Exhibition: Spotlight (15th - 20th Nov 2019) Trish is a former Aspire art class attendee and she says her experience here was really positive, especially for her confidence.

Mary wrote this brilliant bio on Trish and her work:

"Trish Bowles has been an Artist most of her life and has a studio in the Biscuit Factory, Newcastle. She works for the Ministry and has done so all her working life but art is her passion. Trish came to Aspire in 2019 and joined the art class on Tuesday mornings, her confidence was at an all time low at that time and her life was taking a turn for the worse.

With the support, friendship and encouragement she was given in Aspire from women in the centre, especially within the art class, Trish improved her confidence immensely, enough to take her paintings further, going onto apply successfully to exhibit two of her previous paintings.

Myself and two other women from Aspire went to the open evening last night to see the exhibition and felt very proud that Trish had her artwork had in pride of place within the Gallery, hopefully this will inspire other women that their dreams can be achieved in time."


How long have you been Supporting Sister?
I have been a supporting sister for about 18 months.

How and why did you become a Supporting Sister?
I had completed several courses at Aspire for personal development and became aware of a role of supporting sister.  This interested me; from there I successfully completed the BABL courses level 1 & 2.  I had worked as a health care professional for 42 years and felt
that I could use/transfer my skills to this role.  As well as being able to help others, I felt that it would give me personal satisfaction and enable me to give something back to Aspire.

What is the best thing about being a Supporting Sister?
Being able to support women with a diverse range of issues being encouraged and supported to attend study events and widening my knowledge on a variety of subjects.

What has changed the most about you since becoming a Supporting Sister?
It's great to help other women and it has been a very positive experience to be part of such an inspirational organisation.  I have learnt a lot about the variety of issues that affect women in particular.


Mary is a volunteer and Supporting Sister at Aspire;  she is a member of Aspire's fundraising group and is also a credit union organiser.

She said that Aspire had provided her with brilliant opportunities and thinks the credit union in particular is amazing as it allows vulnerable women to save as little or as much as they can/want from just £1.

Mary is especially complementary of the training to be a Supporting Sister “it was the most intense, complex and perfect bundle of education I have ever experienced. I thoroughly enjoyed all 20 weeks of the Supporting Sisters training and feel I am continually supported now I am finished.”


I have been a proud volunteer at Aspire since August 2017 and qualified as a Supporting Sister in April 2018. Until redundancy in April 2017 I was working as a Sales and Marketing manager in the corporate world and living in Bristol. I had always wanted to volunteer but never had time whilst working, so this was my opportunity. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to volunteer but I knew I wanted to work with people and felt I had something to offer a charity or community project. A friend of mine who works for Durham County Council mentioned Aspire to me and I had seen an advert for the project in a local magazine, so I contacted the project and was told about the Supporting Sisters. After attending the Thursday drop-ins I enrolled on a couple of courses including the “be a better listener” training. I had never known such a warm, supportive, positive atmosphere, it is an amazing project and I’m proud to be part of it.

There are many great things about being a Supporting Sister. The chance to help other women and have a positive influence on a daily basis is fantastic. The support, friendship and camaraderie of the volunteer team and staff is amazing. There is always someone to offer a friendly word and make you smile. I find myself feeling proud of what we do and achieve daily, a big highlight was attending the 2018 Learning Awards when we won both the “unsung hero” and “overall festival” awards. My proudest personal achievement was supporting a listening client through a very difficult time, helping her to think through her situation and make some decisions which resulted in her and her daughter finding a safe place to live.