A couple of weeks ago I was approached by Marks and Spencer and offered a £20 voucher to spend to help a charity or local organisation this Christmas and I knew straight away that I wanted to give back to someone who helped me when I needed it most.
Not only did Marks and Spencer help. Kiddicare also got involved. When they heard that one of the little boys in the refuge, aged 2, still couldn’t walk and wore splints on his legs at night, they sent a walker to help him. There is more about his story a little further down this post.
Six and a half years ago my Health Visitor recognised that what I was going through was Domestic Abuse and put me in touch with Women’s Aid. I was one of the lucky ones. I was thankful that I never had to go into a Refuge as my Mum was there for me but some women – and their children – are not that lucky.
Many of them are fleeing a violent partner and need somewhere to go. A safe house. And in Yeovil – just over 10 miles away – Chapter 1 are the charity who provide women and their children with this safe place to go.
Chapter 1 provide housing to vulnerable people no matter who there are and they provide accommodation based services in varied safe house arrangements. They have staff always on hand to reassure and help these women as well as provide opportunities to help discuss their situation – whether it be practical or emotional. Due to the nature of the refuge, I was unable to go to the location of their refuge project. This ensures that maximum security can be maintained in the interests of the women and children.
Instead I met with Julia last Thursday. She is one of the women who runs the refuge and explained to me a bit about how it works.
Julia explained to me that they had a number of different people from different backgrounds all needing the security of the refuge. She told me that many people were so kind this time of the year. The children would get nothing at all for Christmas if it wasn’t for the generous donations they received from various sources. She advised that whilst some women were waiting for their benefits to come through, others simply had no money – mainly down to the extreme power and control that their partners had had over them.
When I apologised that the gifts were not wrapped, Julia told me that it was absolutely fine. This made it easier for them as much of the time they would have to unwrap the gifts they received anyway! ‘The other day we received some gifts from the local WI,’ said Julia, ‘and one of the gifts had a label on it which read “To a five year old girl, from the Grandma to a five year old girl”. I was so touched’.
The first Cast Study which Julia told me about that I would like to share with you is that of Jas (her name has been changed for protection purposes).
Jas came to the refuge with her 2 girls and it was very hard initially for staff to engage with her. She had her head down at all times and was unable to make eye contact. She had originated from Fiji, but married an English man 17 years previous. Although Jas’ English language was very good, there were obvious cultural differences that made communication a little more difficult.
Through the referral process, it was obvious that the abuse that Jas had suffered had been gradually getting worse over the 17 year marriage. As Jas was new to England at the start of the relationship, she was already isolated from her friends and family and assumed that it was ‘normal’ for the wife not to be allowed out without her husband, or to have funds of her own, so she never questioned it.
When her husband became violent, Jas did all she could to hide her injuries from her children, and had no one to confide in. Again, she thought that this was ‘normal’ behaviour and spent all her time trying to please her husband. Her youngest child was being treated very differently from the eldest by her husband. He didn’t seem to like her from the day she was born but the eldest child was showered with love and affection. As the children grew, Jas’s husband began to belittle the youngest child in the same way as he did with Jas, and it was this treatment of her child that became the trigger for Jas to leave the marriage as she found the strength to protect her child, and could see the detrimental effect he was having on her self confidence.
It took months to work with Jas and get her to understand and realise that what she had suffered was abuse – and not acceptable. They worked with her on her confidence and she received counselling. Their Children’s worker spent time with both girls, allowing them to deal with their feelings and helping them to understand about healthy and unhealthy relationships.
At the point of her beginning to look at moving on from the refuge, a property became available for Jas to look at 3 miles from the refuge. She was quite excited, and they showed Jas where to catch the bus from to get there. An hour later she returned in floods of tears and terribly distressed. Her support worker discovered that her husband had always told her that if she travelled on a bus she would be assaulted in this country and if she went in a taxi she would be raped. Also, it transpired that Jas was told not to make eye contact with anyone in the street as it was a ‘sign’ to strangers that she was flirting with them. This information was new to the support workers but explained a great deal about Jas’s behaviour and fears. For her, the realisation that her husband was not protecting her but was controlling her by making her watch programmes where innocent people were being attacked, instilling fear into her so she would not leave the house. This was a huge turning point in her recovery and it helped her to make sense of her abuse.
Jas and her children moved into their new house and continued to receive outreach and resettlement support from the Chapter 1 team. She is excited about her future and has a huge sense of freedom for the first time in many years. The children are happy and settled into their new life.
As I mentioned above, the refuge also houses a little boy who is having difficulty with walking. Again the names have been changed for protection purposes.
Sue went to the refuge in July of this year with her 3 children, Peter (12), Amy (6) and Daniel (2). The family moved from another country and had fled from Daniels father who had been abusing Sue since her pregnancy.
During the pregnancy it became apparent from a scan that Daniel had a problem with his feet, Talipes Equinoarus (club feet). When this was discovered, the verbal abuse became worse as Sue was then ‘unable to carry a ‘normal’ child’.
Since being at the refuge, the family have settled in well and the children are learning to trust. Daniel wears splints on his feet at night, and Sue carries out stretching exercises on his feet and legs during the day.
It became evident that Daniel needed help to stand up on his feet, and this in itself would help his muscles develop to keep his feet in the right position.
The baby walker that Kiddicare have donated will help to make a huge difference to Daniel’s development.
As well as this donation, I purchased toys to help with self-development including books, puzzles and games with the £20 voucher from Marks and Spencer. These are shown in the photo below.
Finally, well as all of this, I was able to donate some brand new items myself including perfume and toiletries for the ladies. Grace also wanted to get involved. Not only did she give her favourite party dresses and shoes she had outgrown, she decided to give her ragdoll, Merida, a new home. ‘I have enough things Mummy,’ she told me ‘and so do my cousins. I will get more presents this Christmas, so I would like to send Merida to another little girl who would like a present and needs something to cuddle’. I am so proud of my daughters kind heart.
Disclosure: I was given a £20 voucher by Marks and Spencer to purchase some items for charity. I was also sent the walker by Kiddicare as a donation. With grateful thanks to both companies for their generosity.