Today’s blog comes from Anna Smith, Chief Executive of One25. Anna represents One25 on the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse, which will harness the expertise of city partners to achieve the goal of making Bristol a city free from domestic abuse and gender inequality.
One25 works with vulnerable women across Bristol. We have drop-in and a van outreach services to work with and engage women who street sex work and a programme of work called Peony for women moving away from sex work and vulnerability. Our Pause Bristol programme works with women recovering from the trauma of having children permanently removed, supporting them to break the cycle of birth and removal. One25 celebrates 25 years of supporting women to change their lives in 2020 and has been an integral part of the emergency response group meeting to discuss domestic abuse throughout lockdown.
When Covid-19 emerged, we considered the extreme vulnerabilities of our women and, in the knowledge that they often having nothing and no-one in their lives, decided to stay open during lockdown. The team transformed their work to an outreach service, dropping food and essentials to women and offering a phone and service for one to one. For group work we have been able to offer yoga and wellbeing Zooms which women have engaged in. The trust we build with women is best done face-to-face, so this has been very challenging but the women have responded well. Some have written anonymous postcards to each other with messages of support which we have put in their food parcels. As one of our clients said:
“I didn’t realise how much I needed drop-in until I couldn’t come in (because of COVID). Drop-in is amazing, and all of you are amazing.”
In the first seven weeks of lockdown we helped 18 homeless women get into safe housing, supported four women onto a script, delivered over 300 food bags, handed out 33 mobile phones and welcomed 32 women to our van, 96 times. By maintaining our scripting service, we have been able to support women to reduce their dependence on drugs. We have also been able to organise contraception for the women in the Pause programme. Since lockdown has eased, we have been undertaking socially distanced walks with women. This week we open our doors to the women again and are so pleased to see them back. We will maintain some of the Zoom groups and ensure all services are carefully thought through to keep women, volunteers and staff safe.
We know that there are many unsolved issues around domestic abuse including quick access to somewhere safe to stay and even access to a phone to get support. During lockdown, women have returned to or were locked down with abusive partners, or they have felt unable to leave. We also believe that some women thought services were shut and so have put off reaching out for support. As Bristol unlocks we are going to face unmet need and an increased demand for services, as well as responding to worsened abuse and the impact on mental health.
One25 welcomes the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse, as it will bring together committed partners in an informed approach to find solutions for the needs of people experiencing abuse. We know from involvement in Bristol One City that it is all about putting the issues of the city first and working together to find what is best for Bristol and its residents. Members of the commission will meet over the summer to form recommendations for how the city can prevent domestic abuse and support survivors, with the findings to be shared in the autumn.