The GAP Project is run by Tyneside Cyrenians. GAP was initiated following a piece of research conducted by the Drug Interventions Programme at Government Office for the North East during 2005. The study found that there's an active network of sex workers in Newcastle and across the region which is largely hidden.
In response, a weekly drop-in in Newcastle city centre was set up by a group of multi-agency professionals and three women involved in sex work in January 2006, with the aim of providing a safe place for women to meet up and tackle the issues that impact their lives. The women attending the group named it 'GAP' - Girls Are Proud.
As more information came to light about the extent of sex work in the city, it became evident that a specific service was needed. GAP Project Deputy Manager Laura Mcintyre says: 'We now employ three full time Support Workers and work with 40 women at any one time.'
'Almost all the women we work with have all disclosed experiences of sexual and/or physical abuse in relation to sex work,' adds Laura. A general characteristic of this group is their limited access to mainstream services such as healthcare, housing and benefits. There's also a history of non-compliance within the Criminal Justice System and the 'revolving door' syndrome of repeated short prison sentences is common. The context in which this group of women live their lives predicates the need for a specialised, pro-active approach from service providers to maximise equal access to support, accommodation and healthcare.
The key aim of the GAP project is to help increase choices and improve the lives of women involved in sex work. Recent projects have involved the making of a short Blue Tooth film with Alice Media giving safety tips for sex workers, weekly theatre workshops, and a photography project in which GAP attendees worked with a local photographer to create photographs intended to raise awareness of their experiences.
The project, called 'I See, You Don't See', had Newcastle depicted from their unique perspective, while the participants recorded audio tracks describing the meaning behind the images. These narratives and images have been published in book and DVD format. One GAP attendee who took part in the project says: 'My work from the photography is now in the public library – WOW!'
GAP Project won an Inspiring Voices award.