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Making Space for the menopause

Menopause Group - Maxine, Emily and Debbie (L-R)

When a Darlington support worker who was struggling with symptoms of menopause asked her manager for help, she inadvertently set in motion an organisation-wide policy that helps both the charity’s employees and the people who use its services.

Maxine Ridley, 48, works with the national health and social care charity Making Space in their extra care services in Darlington. When she began struggling with menopause symptoms she turned to manager Rebecca Liddle for help.

“I had low mood, anxiety, I wasn’t sleeping, I had hot flushes. I just wasn’t right,” says Maxine. “I didn’t realise at the time, but they were typical symptoms of perimenopause.

“One of the things that was really bothering me was the relationships with my colleagues. I was going through this rough time and I really didn’t understand why, so of course they didn’t either. I wasn’t coping.”

Worried about the impact on her work, Maxine approached manager Rebecca, known as Becky, for help.

“Becky was amazing,” says Maxine. “She listened to my concerns and immediately began researching what help was available, and what more we could do as an organisation.”

The conversation was the catalyst for what is now the Making Space menopause policy. And, thanks to the open and welcoming way the charity has approached the issue, raising awareness is also helping the people who use Making Space services.

“The group was initially set up for us to support each other as colleagues, first just as a small WhatsApp group, and then Becky created a Facebook page,” Maxine explains. “But it very quickly took hold. I did some research, delivered some workshops within the service and shared as much information as I could.

“When we realised how much people were benefiting from it, Becky and I and our colleague Emily set up a regular coffee morning for the people who use our supported living services.”

Maxine’s initiative – or Max’s Menopause Darlington Extra Care, to give it its full title – was so successful, the idea has now been adopted by Making Space as official policy.

Hester Pownall is the lead people and culture partner at the charity. When she heard about the successful work Maxine had been doing to educate people on menopause issues, she was keen to find out more.

Hester explains: “We had a long conversation about the wide range of symptoms and how Maxine had struggled to work out what was going on, so we decided that we had to do something as an organisation.

“We’d had unofficial awareness-raising initiatives before, but now we have an official menopause policy. It includes guides around symptoms, how to approach managers, how managers should support teams, workplace adaptations, and lots of other practical advice. We also have online meetings, where people can log in and chat, or simply listen and know that they’re not alone.”

The menopause policy was launched with a celebration day at the charity’s head office in Warrington, which Maxine attended as a Making Space Menopause Champion.

“The launch event was such a great way to remove the stigma and let everyone know they’re supported,” Maxine says. “Making Space has really got on board and proved that it’s not just an exercise in box-ticking. We have the guides, training for managers and team leaders – we even have new uniforms made with light cotton fabric that help to reduce the impact of hot flushes.”

And, of course, with so much knowledge within Making Space, the teams can share their experiences to support the people who use their services.

“I’ve really noticed a difference in people’s attitudes, it’s been amazing,” says Maxine. “One gentleman I support always makes a point of asking me if the temperature is OK when I visit.”

Hester agrees: “Some people are fine about talking very openly about their symptoms, but others can feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, particularly if they’re talking to a male colleague.

“We’re not just saying ‘we’ll make adjustments for your symptoms,’ we want to educate everyone. By removing the stigma, we’re making it much easier for all the people who use our services to understand how they, their neighbours or family members may be affected.”



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