Since 2010, WaveLength has helped to make some Women’s Aid Centres (WACs) into more homelike places, where people fleeing domestic violence can connect with others, find companionship, and comfort themselves during an incredibly difficult transition. We visited Havering WAC to talk to managers Kirsty and Tilly about our donations of radios for women’s bedrooms and a big communal DVD player.
Havering Women’s Centre
Since 2010, WaveLength has helped to make some Women’s Aid Centres (WACs) into more homelike places, where people fleeing domestic violence can connect with others, find companionship, and comfort themselves during an incredibly difficult transition. We visited Havering WAC to talk to managers Kirsty and Tilly  about our donations of radios for women’s bedrooms and a big communal DVD player.
To stop their abusers harming them, women or families are sent to refuges in different counties while they wait to be rehoused by the council or save up for a private rental – processes which take on average one year. Kirsty said, ‘They’re in a new borough where they haven’t got friends, haven’t got family, haven’t got a local connection. They don’t know which bus to get, they don’t know where the shops are.’
Tilly agreed. ‘You’re isolated in your relationship, then the refuge is isolating as well.’
‘Would you let a stranger abuse you 35 times?’
Abuse is controlling and slow. An abuser might start saying, ‘I don’t like you going out with him’ or ‘I don’t like you wearing that,’ until the victim is completely isolated, and feels she has nowhere to go when the abuse becomes physical.
When they come to Havering, Kirsty said, ‘A lot of ladies haven’t even gone to Tesco’s and bought their bread. It can be that mad. Mum’s literally in the house, keeps it clean and tidy, indoors, away from her friend, isolated from friends and family, doesn’t have visitors… And leaving – especially if they’ve been with their partner for a long time – it’s like learning how to live life again.’
It cuts across all cultures, professions and ages. ‘We’ve had vicars’ wives, policemen’s wives. A lady of 101 called up last week, because she’d experienced it in the past, and she needed counselling.’ Despite this, there’s still a perception that domestic abuse happens to ‘other people’ – housing office staff recently assumed a resident in her fifties was enquiring about housing for someone else.
‘Did you see EastEnders last night?’
Residents gather together to watch certain programmes, such as EastEnders, which recently ran a domestic violence storyline, on the communal TV. ‘Everyone thinks other people’s lives are perfect, so when there’s domestic violence things on, we make a point of watching it and having a discussion. It makes you feel normal to feel you’re the same as everyone else. You wouldn’t believe how important it is, talking about it.’
‘I think the DVD player’s going to be a fantastic thing to give our ladies. In the communal area, they can come in and chat with each other, the kids can hang out together, the mums can have a cup of tea… And it’s nice for the mums in the evening when the kids are all in bed and they can relax.’
‘Don’t you have a TV at home?’
When WaveLength delivers the communal DVD player next week, Havering will enjoy ‘cinema nights’ – with popcorn! – at the refuge’s ‘Kid’s Club’.
Tilly said, ‘It’s trying to get away from the stigma when the kids go to school. They’re embarrassed sometimes that they’re in a refuge, but with this we can give them a bit of normality.’
‘For the mums, it’s a bit of an escape from the day, we all need that sometimes. You’ve had a hard day, the children have been hard, and you’re sitting with your own thoughts just going round and round… it’s something to focus on. ‘
Sally’s Story: Sally had been with her partner since her teens. It wasn’t until his drive to isolate her – including banning her from speaking to her adult children – had driven her to suicidal thoughts, that a health worker told her she was experiencing domestic abuse. She came to Havering with just two suitcases.
‘It’s surprising how isolated you can be even within your own family.
‘When you come from a home where you’ve had everything, to have nothing is very sobering. To look in a cupboard and to see your own knives and forks and plates… that’s what hit me most, the feeling that it’s not your own.
‘Everything here’s just so different and you just want to feel normal, and being normal is having the TV, the radio, and you just want to feel safe. I didn’t realise I missed the radio so much until I got it. I was awake at three o’clock this morning and had the radio on. It’s a lovely thing to do, you really do make a difference when you do things like that. Music’s such an uplifting thing.
‘I need to make a home somewhere. It’s my space. It’s taking control back – if I don’t want to put the radio on, I don’t have to. If I don’t want to put the telly on, I don’t have to.’
Amy’s Story: At the moment, the centre has six children in residence. Four of them are Amy’s.
‘I struggle to keep four kids happy in the flat, and it’s difficult to manage them when I’m doing laundry downstairs. My eldest daughter Lila is thirteen, and the hardest thing she finds is that she can’t have her friends in here, so for her to be able to watch TV, watch a DVD… She comes down here and has her time for herself.
‘When we’re somewhere like this it’s nice to keep the kids in a normal atmosphere, and it gives family time which is important.’
After the Refuge
Havering is only the beginning of Sally’s and Amy’s new lives. The refuge supports residents through their transition periods, but they may flounder afterwards.
Sally told us, ‘With lots of other women you all help each other out and don’t have to make any explanations. When you’re back out there’s no TV, no radio, no kids’ club. Up to about three months women still come back because they need that connection.’
Most families moving on from the refuge can’t afford their own TVs and radios. Government grants are available; but can take months to come through. That’s why WaveLength is considering loaning TVs, through the Women’s Centres, to people like Sally, Amy and Lila when they’re ready to move on, until they get back on their feet.
What do you think? Are TV loans a good idea? Let us know how you feel about our initiatives with WACs by dropping a line to [email protected], Tweeting us at @WaveLengthHelp, or writing on our Facebook wall!