A BRING and share supper was held at The Hub in Lyme Regis last week, primarily raising awareness of the Dorset Women’s Refuge and related services that help those suffering at the hands of domestic abuse perpetrators.
The event included the opportunity to learn more about the refuge, as well as a presentation about the work of the Dorset and Hampshire charity You First, which supports vulnerable people including those suffering domestic abuse.
Event organiser and Lyme Regis resident Tracey West said: “I wanted to make people here on the edge of Dorset, more aware of what’s available if they are experiencing a crisis. As patron of the Women’s Action Network Dorset (WAND) I’ve met so many women who have benefited from the lifeline our women’s refuge and the related support services that the Dorset and Hampshire charity, You First, offers.
“These are vital, life-saving resources and we’re incredibly lucky to have some of the best facilities in the country, but the reality is, the refuge sadly lacks funding to buy many of ‘the basics’ and they’re utterly reliant on two things; donations like unused bedding, mattress protectors, towels and even cutlery, etc. and upon fundraisers done by kind-hearted people that help them plug the gaps.”
A presentation by Katie Bielec, service manager for You First and spokesperson for the refuge, revealed the incredible differences to countless lives the service has made, but exposed just how stretched it is. She gave a sobering explanation about how referrals to the refuge work and the actual processes women and children go through when they arrive, often with little more than the clothes on their backs.
‘Support when I needed it most’
Local resident, Sue Wheeler, has praised the work of the You First charity. After becoming homeless in 2017 following a period of serious illness and a logistical breakdown between the local authority and benefits agency, she connected with them via the Bridport Food Bank.
Sue explained that without intervention from You First, she simply wouldn’t have been able to contest some of the bills that the district council were issuing in error. They also supported her application to be housed within West Dorset.
Sue commented: “The outreach service does a great job for women at the refuge and they supported me when I needed it most of all – I can’t imagine what would have happened without them, the work they do is incredibly important and complex.”
According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, on average, the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour. The You Trust, a charity providing a range of support services across the whole of Hampshire and Dorset, state that in their region 5,722 people have been referred to their domestic abuse services, in the last year.
Katie said: “Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen over 1,100 people referred into the domestic abuse service (this does not include numbers for our children’s service, stalking or sexual violence service).
“Those coming into the refuge may at times have to leave at just a moment’s notice, arriving with nothing but a handbag and school bag. Our role is to make it feel safe and warm, providing simple items such as a teddy on the bed, toys in their rooms, toiletries in the bathroom and food for three days.
“When people arrive, they have to apply for new benefits which can take up to six weeks to come through, therefore we need to utilise community resources to provide additional support for the women and children.
“Domestic abuse is a devastating crime which affects everyone. Research indicates that it’s thought up to 10 women a week commit suicide due to domestic abuse and a further two are murdered by their partner/ex-partner, or family member.
“Support is required for everyone experiencing domestic abuse, whether that involves coming to the refuge, or living within our community. Our role is to help provide people with skills to live independently, away from fear and harm, and to no longer need the intervention of a service like ours.”
Margie Barbour, chairman of the Friends of the Dorset Refuge, a volunteer-led support group that raises funds and awareness for the service, explained how their group were enormously proud to deliver a critical source of income for the refuge, as well as providing advocacy for what they do, within the Dorset community.
She commented: “Once the Friends understood how low the women feel on arrival at the refuge, they decided to see if, as well as providing essentials, we could give them the extras that can help build self-confidence.
“Local hairdressers and beauty salons were approached and they offered reduced price treatments and we paid the difference. Paying for day trips to Crealy, Abbotsbury and the Sea Life Centre at Weymouth, have ensured that the children get a day out during the holidays.
“We are always grateful for any donations to help with our support of the refuge.”
Support for men and LGBT community
The Dorset Women’s Refuge offers 16 beds to women and children and it’s frequently full. Dorset is one of a tiny handful of counties that’s also able to offer safe refuge to men and members of the LGBT community, in different accommodation.
According to a report published in March 2019 from The ManKind Initiative, the first charity in the country to support male victims of domestic abuse, 13.2% of men and 28.9% of women aged 16 to 59, had experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16. This is equivalent to an estimated 2.2 million male victims and 4.8 million female.
Tracey commented: “I know the rates of reported domestic abuse to women are incredibly high but we must be cognisant of the fact that it happens to other people too. Dorset is incredibly lucky to be one of the places offering safe haven to women, men and members of the LGBT community, notwithstanding, the latter two are in low numbers.
“A wide range of specific supporting services are required to help adults and children through their particular period of crisis and also to encourage and nurture wellness and good mental health once they come out the other side.”
Following presentations at the bring and share supper, thanks were given to Karl Josko, manager of the Lyme Regis Co-operative store, which has a basket where at least 200 bags full of food and toiletries has been collected for the refuge. Lyme Forward was also praised for re-launching Lyme Regis Foodbank last year, which has helped people get back on their feet.
The event concluded with a question and answer session and local residents and businesses were asked to identify simple ways they could help victims of domestic abuse to regain their self-esteem and become survivors of it.
Tracey commented: “If there are any Dorset businesses prepared to give vouchers or sponsor things like swimming passes at the local leisure centre, or day visits to attractions, pedicures, hair treatments, or to pay for items to go into the refuge rooms like toasters, cutlery, plates or mattresses, it would absolutely relieve the pressure on a ridiculously stretched system.”
Anyone interested in supporting Dorset Women’s Refuge should email firstname.lastname@example.org