Earlier this year, the Maverick crew voted to make Refuge our second charity partner, in addition to the Felix Project. To find out more about Refuge and its vital work for women and children, we caught up with Jess Carmody, the charity’s Senior Community Fundraising Executive. She filled us in and explained how we can help Refuge through the Maverick Group’s 2021 CSR programme.
Jess, thanks so much for taking time out to speak to us; it’s great to have you here. Could you tell us a bit about Refuge and what you do?
Refuge is there to help women and children experiencing domestic abuse. On average, two women are killed every week by a current or former partner in England and Wales, which means services such as our emergency accommodation are absolutely vital. We also advocate for a strong response to those who commit domestic abuse from the criminal justice system, and prevent future abuse through education, training, and awareness-raising.
When a woman contacts Refuge, how do you help?
We have digital live chat which runs Monday to Friday, 3pm to 10pm and a 24/7 freephone National Domestic Violence helpline, which both provide practical information and emotional support. They’re also a gateway to our 47 refuges, which can provide accommodation quickly for women escaping abuse. The refuges are more than a roof over a head. They give women the time and space to think about their futures. We also have community outreach teams for women who don’t want to enter a refuge, and Independent Domestic Violence Advocates who give guidance to women going through the courts. Refuge runs public awareness campaigns and advises Government, too.
I’m glad to say that these services change – and save – lives. We know that 96% of our clients feel safer when leaving our services, and 76% see an end to all physical abuse.
What impact has Covid-19 had?
Women experiencing domestic abuse also more isolated than usual, with many unable to go to work, drop the kids off at school or have coffee with a friend. The Helpline team received many calls from women who were being abused in their own homes.
We increased the Helpline’s capacity and launched our live chat function on the Helpline website. This option meant women could contact us online, Monday to Friday, from 3pm to 10pm, and, most importantly, in silence. That way, they could reach out safely, even if only for a few minutes behind a closed door.
We also launched a web form service in December 2019, which enables women to send the team a secure message, letting them know a safe way and time for us to contact them back. This proved invaluable over lockdown.
It’s clear that Refuge has evolved at warp speed to respond to a hugely challenging situation… but where does the story begin?
It all started in London in 1971. The organisation, which was then called Chiswick Women’s Aid, opened the world’s first refuge in West London, to help women and children escaping domestic abuse. Back then, domestic abuse was seen as a “private matter”, to be dealt with “behind closed doors”. Refuge’s founders refused to turn a blind eye and helped the organisation to grow. We’re now the country’s largest single provider of specialist support, helping more than 7,000 women and children on any given day.
It’s great to hear how Refuge has grown, but it’s also deeply saddening how much you’re needed. If people want to help, what can they do?
A really practical thing you can do to support us is to store our Helpline number in your phone (0808 2000 247). You can then recommend it quickly to someone if you think they might be experiencing domestic abuse. You can also raise awareness by displaying our Helpline posters, which you can download from our website.
Another brilliant way to help Refuge is to raise funds. Our work depends on money from the public, so we would love it if you could support us. It costs just £52 for a woman to spend a night in a refuge, which will enable her to be safe and also get the support that she needs to rebuild her life.
The Maverick team has been getting into the fundraising spirit and we have an initiative every month. There’s been a Grand National sweepstake, cocktail-making masterclass, and a Euros sweepstake is on the cards for June. Have you got any advice for us and other potential fundraisers?
My number one tip is do something you love. Many people think you have to run a marathon, but this could not be further from the truth! We have hundreds of people fundraising for us every year, doing everything from floristry, to yoga classes, to maths live streams, to gaming, to readathons – anything goes! If you do something you love, you’ll enjoy the experience, be more passionate about it and probably raise more, too.
Tip number two is to ask everyone you know to sponsor you. You’ll be amazed how many people will show an interest in what you are doing and support you.
So, what’s next for Refuge?
As lockdown lifts, women will have more opportunity to reach out and access support from us, and we need to be there for all of them. We can already speak to women in any language on the Helpline via interpreters, but we are beginning a programme of web content translation later this month. We’re also making the service as accessible as possible for women with additional needs. In the future, we’ll continue to adapt to help as many women as we can.
Jess – we’re in awe of your work and so proud to be supporting you throughout 2021. Thanks for giving us an insight into Refuge.