Domestic abuse – some things old, some things new

After 16 years of hard work, dedication and achieving success for Broxtowe Women’s Project (BWP), founder member Andrea Lucy-Hirst has decided to step down from the management committee. A conversation with her reveals how recognising the need for a local domestic violence service led to BWP and provides a few of her thoughts on what has and hasn’t changed over the years….

It is more than 20 years since Andrea was a Community Development Worker for Notts County Council, with Eastwood as part of her area. She also lived in the borough.

She was working with Ellie Lodziak and several other women based at the Scargill Walk Centre in Eastwood.  They ran a weekly women’s group and it was evident that domestic violence was a regular experience of at least half of the women.

As Andrea says, although there was Nottingham Women’s Aid, it was an expensive bus ride away and this –  as well as the stigma, the not being believed and the issue of childcare – deterred many women from seeking help.

Andrea takes up the story: “Initially we set up a group called Broxtowe Women’s Issues Network and included women from two other women’s group – one based in Stapleford and one in Beeston.

“We applied for a small amount of funding from the County Council and were able to do some awareness-raising about domestic abuse across the borough. We used leaflets, mainly distributed via libraries and community groups.  There was also a display called The Tip of The Iceberg that we borrowed and I arranged and took it to every library that would have it.”

It soon became clear to Andrea and her colleagues, including ones working in the childcare team, that women were more likely to access support if it was locally based.

 “We came to the conclusion that women in the north of the borough including Stapleford needed their own local service,” Andrea explains. “We talked to both Nottingham Women’s Aid and Midland Women’s Aid about setting up a local service to cover Stapleford and the North of Broxtowe and both organisations were happy for us to do that.

“We had the opportunity of putting in a bid to the European Commission for money to support our work but that was unsuccessful.  However, the work we had done for it provided a good foundation to look for other funding.  It took some time – we created a working party with representatives from Housing, Victim Support, found a treasurer, volunteers from the women’s groups and a Councillor and retained the name Broxtowe Women’s Issues Network.

“We registered as a charity and finally, after what seemed a long run-in period – we had a very small package of funding from three sources for three years– Comic Relief, for a part-time outreach worker; Lloyds TSB supported a 10-hour- a-week information awareness post and Boots supported an admin post for 10 hours each week. The County Council agreed to a small grant which essentially paid for the rent and some other costs.

“We started the project in January 2001 in one room based in a GP’s surgery in Kimberley.  The outreach worker’s caseload built up very quickly but I cannot remember the numbers.  They seemed overwhelming at the time.”

The Information Awareness Worker developed a logo and leaflets, created a display and ensured that this went out to different places in the area covered.  She also developed talks to local services, women’s organisations, parish councils and community groups.

During this period, the name changed to Broxtowe Women’s Project. Strong partnerships with local agencies and community groups also started to be built.

 Power and control

Asked if the women helped the differed in any way from those BWP sees today Andrea says: “I personally think the women then compared to the women now share all the same issues –  domestic abuse, the power and control and how it manifests itself has not changed.

“What has changed are some of the methods used to control – e.g. tracking, stalking and harassment of women, the negative uses of mobile phones, sexting, videoing and the ease of sharing images via phone, tablet or computer. Coercive behaviour was not recognized in any legal sense then, but it is now.”

Something that Andrea does feel has changed is the domestic abuse is viewed by society and the professionals involved. “There has been an incremental change in how domestic abuse is responded to,” she says, “resulting in a more joined-up approach and multi-agency working between the police, women’s aid agencies, the courts, social care and health. There is better information sharing and protection of the high-risk cases.”

She says that she believes the public are generally more aware too, referring to programmes like the Archers, which, through following Helen’s story, had a great impact on listeners. There have been domestic abuse story lines in other popular soaps. These all play a part in the awareness-raising, she acknowledges.

Perhaps the most important point Andrea makes is that being more aware has not stopped domestic abuse.  “I would like to believe that the attitudes towards women experiencing domestic abuse are changing and that it has become more of a public issue than a private issue.  It may mean that individual women are able to help identify and support their friend or relative to seek support.

“I believe that awareness that has been supported by good training in agencies – such as health visiting, maternity services, Sure Start, social care workers, GPs with their earlier recognition and positive intervention – may have resulted in women being encouraged to seek help at an earlier stage.

“We have a better information highway for women through new technology and all the ways in which we can reach people. Social media has a very positive part to play.

“However, word of mouth between women i.e. a woman who has been well supported through her domestic abuse and then passing that on to another woman she knows experiencing domestic abuse, I believe is one of the best ways of getting a woman to seek help. That is why a local, quality service is so important.”

For the past 11 years Andrea has been a Trustee of BWP. “From that I have learnt a lot. I have learnt that it’s important to be resilient, to always focus on what the project is meant to deliver and its targets and outcomes for women. I have come to appreciate the value of listening to or reading the feedback from service users and looking for ways of developing and improving services.

“Working together as a team and respecting each other’s points of view and to take decisions in the best interests of the organisation.  Working on having good relationships with staff and the management committee and recognising people’s strengths and expertise. It’s particularly important when there are difficult issues to deal with.”

Asked what she is most proud of, Andrea says: “I am continually proud of the excellent services that BWP delivers to women. The staff team and the management committee have always focused on the best outcomes for women. We have always had excellent partnership working which helps the women we support and to underpin all the activities that BWP is able to carry out.”

Everyone at BWP recognises the huge part Andrea has played in helping the organisation go from strength to strength. Thank you, Andrea, you have helped many women turn their lives around.

While Andrea is stepping down from the management committee, she is not cutting all links with BWP. She will continue to raise funds for BWP through ADA, and is already looking to recruit new volunteers to the group and to develop new ideas. We know she’ll succeed!