A Bring and Share Supper was held in The Hub recently, primarily raising awareness of the Dorset Women’s Refuge and related services that help those suffering at the hands of domestic abuse perpetrators.

It was well attended and received great support from the Lyme Bay Ladies network who worked hard to promote the event. However, the organiser informed us that apologies were received from 2 people who’d hoped to attend, because, ‘the content would just be too raw’; one admitted to suffering from it personally and the other was supporting a male family member who had recently confessed to being a victim of it too.

Organiser of the supper, Lyme 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.”

Tracey continues: “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”.

The presentation given by Katie Bielec, the 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.

Local resident, Sue Wheeler, levels her praise at 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 WDDC were issuing in error. They also supported her application to be housed within West Dorset.

Sue comments: “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. They were the voice I didn’t have and I’ll always be grateful to them. It’s ironic that local authorities frequently put people in situations where they’re reliant upon charities to help fix the problems that have been created”.

Within the refuge, there are 2 Domestic Abuse Support Workers, 1  Family Worker, 1 Children and Young Persons Advocate, 1 Stalking Advocate and a Sexual Violence Advocate who provides specialised support for any woman and child requiring a safe place to live. The Family Worker, Children’s Worker, Sexual Violence Advocate and Stalking Advocate, also support those living within the community too, alongside a team of domestic violence and abuse support workers.

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 explains: “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 3 days. When people arrive, they have to apply for new benefits which can take up to 6 weeks to come through, therefore we need to utilise community resources to provide additional support for the women and children”.

She adds: “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 2 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, Chair 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.

Margie comments: “ 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.”

She adds, “After the trip to Crealy, we received lovely thank you cards from the mothers saying it had been such a joy to see their children laughing and enjoying the rides, just as all the other children at the Adventure Park were doing, and for a short while, all their worries seem to disappear.”

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 able to offer safe refuge to men and also to 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. They state that for every three victims of domestic abuse, 2 will be female, 1 will be male. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6-7 men suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime.

ManKind also stated back in 2015, that in the UK, they believed there to be just 19 organisations offering refuge for men, with a total of 78 spaces. Of these, only 20 spaces were dedicated to male domestic violence victims, the rest being for victims of either gender. 7 of these places could not accommodate men and their children.

They also reported that male victims are over twice as likely as women, not to tell anyone about the partner abuse they’re suffering from, and only 23% will tell a person in an official position.

Tracey explains: “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.”

Katie adds: “Children who experience different traumas need the support and guidance to provide them with the skills and the knowledge of healthy relationships. Early intervention is key when supporting a whole family. Each young person’s journey will be different and the paths they go on will be different – at times, they will make wrong choices. We need to support them to know their options, so that they can make positive choices.”

Before the supper concluded, an enormous wave of gratitude was bestowed on Karl, the Manager of the Lyme Regis Co-Op and his team, who have generously hosted a basket by the till for over 2 years. It has resulted in at least 200 bags full of food and toiletries being passed onto the refuge.

Lyme Forward, was also praised for creating the Lyme Regis Food Bank, which has helped people get back on their feet.  The Manager, Chris Tipping, said, “Since re-launching last May, we’ve provided 471 ‘person/weeks’ of food, or the equivalent of feeding a family of three for just over three years. We’ve helped 56 adults and 36 children from the area, each directed by one of the nineteen professionally-responsible groups to help clients deal with whatever it is that’s causing their food emergency. One of our volunteers recently wrote in Charmouth’s ‘Shoreline’ magazine, “Regardless of the reasons people find themselves in this position, no one should go hungry in this day and age. It is not for us to judge, but simply to help because we can.”

The Bring and Share Supper concluded with a fact-packed Q&A session and there was a final call to action to local residents and businesses in Dorset, identifying simple ways they can help victims of domestic abuse, regain their self-esteem and become survivors of it.

Tracey adds: “It’s easy to completely lose your self-worth and to feel unlovable, especially when you’ve led a lonely existence in an abusive relationship and been brainwashed into believing it. When you’re living in the refuge, simple things like being able to have a hair cut, or being able to take your children to the pictures, are such boosts to your soul. 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.”

Margie concludes: “Donations of money really help, even small amounts like a few pounds a month via direct debit, as that helps us predict what we’ve got coming in. Or if you’d like to donate goods or services like the ones Tracey has outlined, that would be marvellous too. Please contact our team at The Friends of the Dorset Refuge via email friendsofwestdorsetrefuge@gmail.com. Every ounce of kindness will help to repair a huge number of people and most especially, the children. It’ll also go a long way to healing their mental scars and potentially preventing the cycle of domestic abuse from happening again when they grow up.”

Further Info and Contact:

Tracey West: 07817 156 391 tracey@wordforest.org
Katie Bielec: katie.bielec@theyoutrust.org.uk
Margie Barbour: margiebarbour@aol.com
You First: theyoutrust.org.uk/service/domestic-violence-abuse
Friends of Dorset Women’s Refuge: facebook.com/pg/friendsofdorsetwomensrefuge
ManKind: www.mankind.org.uk


29th May 2019

Thank you to everyone that came along to this important event

Tracey West

CEO, The Word Forest Organisation