New and innovative domestic abuse service for Bristol

Sarah O'Leary, CEO of Next Link Domestic Abuse Services smiling in front of a wall of pictures.
Today’s Guest Blog is from Sarah O’Leary, CEO of Next Link Domestic Abuse Services.

Today marks the launch of Bristol’s new and innovative domestic abuse service, Next Link Plus. 

Next Link has provided safe accommodation and specialist community domestic abuse support in Bristol for over 23 years. We were delighted that Bristol City Council wants to continue working with us to deliver these services for the next five years. As lead provider, Next Link is joined by Nilaari, Off the Record, Bristol Drugs Project, 1625 Independent People, St Mungo’s, Victim Support and the deaf health charity Sign Health to form Next Link Plus, a new partnership that will offer more specialist tailored support to adult and child survivors of domestic abuse in Bristol.

This new trauma-informed service, developed alongside survivors and underpinned by the principles of the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse, will provide even more support to victims of all genders in Bristol. It will also offer a single point of contact for domestic abuse support in Bristol.

The traumatic impacts of domestic abuse are far-reaching, affecting children and adults’ mental and physical health, housing, economic stability, education, future relationships, and networks of support. In 2022, on average two women a week are still killed by domestic abuse, with far more women taking their own lives because of what they have experienced.

The image is from the next link plus launch. There is a crowd in the foreground of the picture, with a screen on the wall. The slide reads: Next Link Plus, Changing the face of domestic abuse support services.
The Next Link Plus Launch

Although we are celebrating the launch of these new services, we are not celebrating the fact that our services need to exist.

Domestic abuse should not exist and is preventable. We need to challenge the societal and cultural norms that underpin this shadow pandemic and continue to shine a light on the profound and often lifelong impact that domestic abuse has on its victims.

The COVID-19 pandemic was especially difficult for victims and survivors and continues to be so. Now survivors are also telling us how the cost-of-living crisis is having a detrimental impact on their lives. We are seeing more women experiencing economic abuse, putting them in increasingly financially dire situations and facing greater barriers when trying to leave their abusive partners.

Despite this, we also witness every day the incredible strength and inspirational resilience of the survivors we support and how flexible, trauma-informed, accessible and quality-assured services are not only lifesaving but provide a springboard beyond safety and recovery. This is helping people to lead fulfilled and happy lives.

Our vision under Next Link Plus is that all child and adult victims and survivors can get the help and support they need when they need it, that services are accessible for everyone, and that domestic abuse is identified and responded to appropriately.

Survivors who are fleeing domestic abuse can access one of our 52 safe house bed spaces and will be homed in the appropriate setting dependent on their background, needs, sexuality and gender. There will also be culturally appropriate counselling available for all adult survivors, and dedicated support for children and young people.

The image is from the Next Link Plus launch. There is a table full of leaflets that offer information and advice. There is also a huge notice board full of information on Domestic Abuse Accommodation Services.

Victims and survivors will also be able to get support from our specialist domestic abuse services in the community. This includes immediate crisis support, a dedicated Honour Based Abuse and Forced Marriage service and floating support for adult and child survivors living in the community. People will also be able to access recovery group work and a range of dedicated services for survivors who are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, LGBTQ+ survivors, older women, survivors with disabilities and those who have substance misuse or mental health needs.

For many victims and survivors, going to their GP practice or another health practitioner may be the only place they can speak to someone alone. For those facing homelessness or other domestic abuse issues, they may seek help and support from another setting in Bristol. Building on the success of our co-located services, we know that the presence of our staff in other settings not only provides direct support to victims, but also improves the confidence, knowledge and skills of other professionals in identifying and responding to domestic abuse, encouraging a more holistic response.

What we can celebrate today is the strength, courage and resilience of the survivors we support. Here is a poem by one such inspirational young person, who after living in a safe house is fulfilling her dream of studying to work in medicine:

‘Security; Created by all, deserved by all, yet saved only for some.

Here, you’ll create your own sense of security. You’ll build your confidence, your trust.

Released from fear and filled with hope, you’ll begin your new life’

If you or someone you know is worried about their safety and experiencing domestic abuse, please call Next Link on 0800 4700 280 or contact us via our website.