A group from the North Yorkshire coast is leading the way in making a dramatic improvement to women’s lives by lifting the lid on issues they face during the menopause.
Menopause Meet formed at the Hub community centre in Newby and Scalby this year, offering 10 two-hour sessions in which 12 women shared their stories about how the menopause affected them, as well as receiving expert advice.
The women met as strangers, but so strong are the bonds they forged that – inspired by the famous Kettlewell WI Calendar Girls – they have produced their own tastefully nude calendar to increase awareness, raise funds and support women.
This comes amid calls for the Government to make the menopause a protected characteristic and to require employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees.
The initial idea for Menopause Meet came from Tina Boden, then micro-business consultant for the Hub, a community centre run by Newby and Scalby Town Council. She championed a grant application to North Yorkshire County Council’s stronger communities team, which helps communities to help themselves. This secured £1,000 to start the group.
But the driving force behind the group and the calendar is Helen King, the head of support services at the Hub.
“Tina stepped out and I took on devising the group,” said Helen. “Initially, it was going to be a group of ladies getting together to talk about the menopause. However, just after we were awarded the grant, there was a Davina McCall programme about the menopause.”
The programme, Sex, Myths and the Menopause, saw the TV presenter tell her menopause story and tackle taboos from sex to hormone treatment.
“I realised we needed to be dealing with other issues, not just sitting around talking. So I contacted our gynaecology consultant at the hospital, who agreed to be my clinical support for this course. She spoke about what happens to a woman’s body during the menopause. It was amazing. She stepped in and out during the 10 sessions, forming a bond.
“We also did dance through the menopause, which was for relaxation. To get 12 ladies who didn’t really know each other in a room after five weeks, without a drink, dancing away and laughing their heads off was a sight to be seen.
“On week one these ladies walked into the room, some of them quite broken and in need of help. We threw the tissues up and down the table in the first two or three weeks. As it progressed, they formed bonds and friendships. It is a lifelong friendship group now.”
The idea for the calendar arose from a trip by Helen to see Calendar Girls on stage. The members of Menopause Meet responded enthusiastically.
The calendar was shot around Newby and Scalby, using settings ranging from the Hub and the chemist’s to the cricket and rugby clubs and allotments. Each page will include a menopause fact, useful links and an area in which women can note anything from appointments to how they are feeling.
“It is going to be very much for ladies around the country, not just locally,” said Helen. “We hope sales will fund events like train the trainer groups, giving employees from larger companies a full day of training that they can take back to the workplace and form their own support groups.”
The calendar is called Seeing You Through the Menopause 2023. Local county councillor Derek Bastiman gave £1,000 from his locality budget towards the project.
Louise Smith joined the group because in 2019 she was having a tough time with perimenopause, which was made worse by being unable to get an appointment with a doctor during the pandemic.
“For me it was just brilliant,” she said. “It was 12 women I’d never met before, so it was scary at first, yet they were 12 women who all had a story similar to mine.
“This wasn’t just about medical treatments, this was about everything that you could do to try to make life a little better while going through the menopause. It aligned with how I was feeling about it, because I felt physically and emotionally unwell, and trying to cope with hot flushes, lack of sleep and everything that went along with it.”
When Sarah Marton, who is a children and families worker, joined the group she was struggling with symptoms like brain fog and difficulty remembering things, including names.
“It made me feel like I was not on my own,” she said. “It was really powerful to be among other people who were sharing the same experience. Laughter was so important, too. We laughed so much and I made new friends who will be lifelong friends.”