Philanthropic Women Supporting Women’s Organisations in Bedfordshire

Our Core Purpose

The core purpose of EVOLVE is to pursue gender equality at a local level. It provides a safe space for intelligent and purposeful conversations between women which lead to defined actions and the provision of resources for voluntary organisations in Bedfordshire, which support women.

This collaboration between women, recognises the increased potential in harnessing the skills, dynamism and expertise of local women to collectively address local issues of gender inequality and social injustice against women.

What are the problems?

We recognise that the social and economic context within which women are placed contain structures and systems which disproportionately adversely affect women. They have been the hardest hit by the recession. The impact of austerity and spending cuts continue to leave women facing a ‘triple jeopardy’ of cuts to jobs, benefits and vital services.

Where are the solutions?

For many decades a vibrant and committed community of women’s organisations – the ‘women’s sector’ – has helped to secure greater equality for women. These organisations have helped vulnerable women to develop the skills, confidence and support they need to make positive changes in their lives. And they have campaigned to change the underlying structural factors that stand in the way of women’s equality.

The Rosa Report found that 60% of women’s organisations have struggled to maintain their income over the last five years; two thirds of these have seen their income decrease, three have had to close as a result; three quarters said that their income does not cover the full cost of providing a service, We need to ensure that gender is on the agenda; to raise awareness of the need for, and value of women’s organisations.

The situation is becoming critical. We risk losing the wealth of experience, expertise and understanding of women’s needs that these organisations have built up, the costs will be borne by all of us, but especially by the most vulnerable.

How will Evolve help this situation?

Using a targeted approach, we aim to lift those organisations in Bedfordshire which support women facing challenging times.

As well as holding events to highlight the issue of gender inequality, we actively raise funds for organisations and charities which directly support women, through the Mark West Fund for Women.

EVOLVE seeks collaborative women who want to be part of a strategic and collective movement to create a practical and apolitical movement that will deliver positive changes with a long term positive legacy, here in Bedfordshire. Join us.

Impact and case study

Our impact

Evolve has been set up to raise funds for women’s groups in Bedfordshire and last year, we distributed over £50,000 to local women’s projects through the Mark West Fund and the Tampon Tax.

We received 17 applications for grants of up to £5,000 and from these 9 projects were selected by our specialist decision-making panel.

Details of the projects supported


Azalea established in 2008, based in Luton. Supports women trapped in/or vulnerable to sexual exploitation; poverty, alcohol, and drug use. Its services meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs, to enable these women to build new lives away from sexual exploitation, violence, addiction, and poverty. Azalea provides: Street outreach to women selling sex, providing food, basic goods, support and helps where needed; signposting to other services either at Azalea or externally.


The King’s Arms Project established in 2011 as a homeless charity in Bedford. The money from the MWF will support vulnerable women in Bedford. This will include rough sleepers, the homeless, clients struggling with addictions, people escaping from abusive relationships, ex-offenders, the unemployed, and people with no recourse to public funds and refugees.


The Hope Programme established in 1985 as Luton Rape Crisis Centre, in 2012 they expanded across Bedfordshire, and became the Hope Programme. Supports victims of rape and sexual violence in Bedfordshire to enable them to cope and recover as far as possible from the immediate impact and aftermath of abuse.


Families First Bedfordshire targeted service working with families who have experienced domestic abuse, parental substance misuse and/or parental mental ill health. With money from MWF they intend to: focus on women and children who have experienced trauma, often the result of domestic abuse or substance use. They will use the funding to deliver yoga meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. They will deliver 9 courses for up to 10 women on each course. Each course will last 4 weeks and will be in locations accessible for different communities. They will also offer the programme to other organisations, engaging 90 beneficiaries

Our Approach

BLCF set up a panel of local experts within women’s community work who made the final decisions as to who should be awarded funding but the level of need and the remarkable quality of work being carried out, was evident from the outset. These, then are the motivating factors to ensure that this fund is sustained by building a direct link with Evolve. The advantage to donors and female philanthropists who wish to donate is that there is an established and effective fund carrying out targeted work in the local community on issues they care about. In addition, we have the expertise and grantmaking skills to easily demonstrate the difference and impact, their donations are making.

For further information: Please call Michele Rigby on 01525 306 690

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Mark West Fund

The Mark West Fund for Women is a specific fund targeted at supporting women and girls to achieve their full potential by funding locally based community groups who have the expertise to address issues of inequality at a grassroots level.

The aim of the fund is to improve the lives of women and girls through social change grantmaking and educate the entire community about the benefits to society when the potential of women and girls is realised. The fund is named after the former Chief Executive of the Foundation, Mark West who was passionate about addressing issues of inequality.

Our Priorities

All successful applicants must be able to affirm that their project is based in Bedfordshire and is targeted at women and/or girls aged over 11. In addition, the project must incorporate one or more of the following strategic priorities:

  • Address issues of poverty and homelessness
  • Promote education and literacy
  • Provide health activities and programmes
  • Address issues of violence and safety
  • Provide opportunities to develop economic self-sufficiency and enhance prospects for the future
  • Criteria and application forms can be found under the Grants section on the website.

If you would like to support the fund, please do get in touch michele.rigby@blcf.org.uk