When Sharandeep Flora walked through the doors of the Getaway Girls project five years ago, she was a shy 13 year old, with no confidence or sense of direction.
Now, the 18 year old from Harehills is a young entrepreneur with her own DJing business, and she says the help she has received from the charity has transformed her life.
Sharandeep is one of the thousands of girls who have been helped by the charity, which supports young women aged from 11 to 25, over the years.
Most of them come from vulnerable or poorer backgrounds, many have emotional or other issues.
Above all the charity - which operates from a terraced house in Bayswater Grove, Harehills - has given them a voice.
The Yorkshire Evening Post spoke to some of the current crop as part of our ‘Suffragette Spirit’ series, marking 100 years since some women were granted the vote, and the ongoing gender equality battle.
“Getaway Girls has been the most important part of my life. Without it I wouldn’t be who I am,” Sharandeep says.
“I started off quite shy.
“Then I started going to the groups, and most importantly I started with Vocal Girls, a music group, and from there I discovered my love for DJing.
“And now I have a career set for me and I have started my own business.”
Sharandeep is part of the Global Girls project, which discusses girls’ rights and issues in Leeds and around the world.
The group is currently working with Plan UK, a humanitarian organisation, on a campaign for children’s and young women’s rights.
Asked what they key issues affecting young women in Leeds are, Sharandeep says safety and prevention of sexual harassment are always on the agenda.
“It is good to get some support if you have gone through it,” she says.
The group also ran its own campaign on body image, and what she calls the perpetual “pressure to be the ‘perfect girl’”.
In a year when gender equality is a talking point at local and national level, and 100 years after emancipation began proper, do Sharandeep and her young friends feel equal to men?
“No definitely not,” she says.
“Why are we fighting for opportunities, why are we fighting for equal pay, why are we fighting for everything?”
She and many of her friends are advocates of young people being given the vote at 16.
“It’s important for me to have my voice heard,” she says.
“It’s our future that the vote goes towards.
“The decisions that are made are going to impact all our futures more than the older generation so we should be a part of that vote.”
She also believes that politics should be taught as a mandatory topic at GCSE to allow more young people - and especially girls - to get politically active earlier.
“I didn’t know what a suffragette was when I was at school, it was more coming here that taught me,” she says.
“Obviously you knew about feminism but I never knew what it actually meant until I came to Getaway Girls and learnt about girls’ rights.
“At the end of the day, it’s about equality for both sexes. We need to bridge the gap.”
Another regular at Getaway Girls is 16 year old Vanessa Makunova.
She enjoys the activities the project offers but says above all it has been a “comforting” and “calming” addition to her life, helping deal with pressures like exams, relationships, family, cultural differences, and more.
“We don’t have a voice in society. This place helps me, it give me confidence,” says Vanessa.
Otylie Cervenakova, 15, agrees.
She came to Leeds from the Czech Republic eight years ago speaking no English.
“It was hard but I started coming here and I got confidence to speak so that helped me a lot,” she says.
Getaway Girls started 30 years ago and currently runs 16 projects helping girls dealing with everyday teen issues like exam stress as well as often traumatic experiences with drugs, sexual exploitation and poverty.
Flavia Docherty, director of the charity, says it is “all about empowering girls, raising aspirations and building resilience”.
It’s also about nurturing future leaders, and that’s exactly what will be happening this weekend.
A two-part leadership programme for girls aged 15-18 is starting on Saturday, and attendants will receive a qualification in youth and community work.
The charity is also working with Women’s Lives Leeds, a consortium of organisations which came together last year to make Leeds a “woman-friendly city”.
For Flavia, it’s all about “women and girls having a voice about things that matter to them”.
See https://www.getawaygirls.co.uk/ for more about Getaway Girls and its work and events.