The charity I work for, the Switch project, supports women who fall through the cracks of public services in the Tees Valley area. In the six years we’ve been running, we’ve helped hundreds of disadvantaged women facing their darkest hour. But now we’re weeks away from closing and I worry where these women will turn.
Women like Tara*, who faced domestic abuse for more than five years. When we met Tara she was living in a women’s refuge. Her husband had thrown her out in the middle of the night; she’d been severely beaten but had managed to grab her car keys so she could sleep in the car.
Her husband rang the police and Tara was arrested for drink driving – she had switched the car engine on to keep warm. Fleeing to a refuge meant resigning from her job, forfeiting her tenancy and leaving a place where she had spent most of her life.
She had no idea what support was out there or who to ask for help until she was referred to us. Our team supported Tara during her court case, ensuring she had access to the right advice. It resulted in a restraining order against her husband.
We helped her through the accommodation bidding process from the initial application to finding furniture for her new home. We made sure she knew what her rights were and how she could get what she needed. Now safe and happy in her own home, she says we saved her life.
We’ve helped many disadvantaged and vulnerable women like Tara. Most have suffered domestic violence or sexual abuse. In a system that is fragmented and confusing – and shrinking fast – our support stops women becoming lost.
We might step in to provide support to manage drug and alcohol dependency, accompany them to detox programmes and hospital appointments, help them find a job or assistance with developing life skills and self-esteem. We do whatever it takes to make sure these women are ok – that might be doing their food shopping, sorting out their hair or making sure they have clean clothes.
Our interventions have stopped children going into the care system. We have also helped children to be placed back into the care of their mothers. Many women have been in such a dark place that they cannot do basic things for themselves, let alone their children. By lifting some of the burden from these women, and making sure all the support they need is in place, they have the space to get strong enough to cope and look after the children they love.
Without a safety net like ours, women in need are often overwhelmed by a series of appointments, referrals and meetings with several different organisations. This at a time when many of them are so crippled by depression or substance misuse that they can barely face getting up in the morning.
We received funding from the Big Lottery Fund in 2012 for three years. The positive impact of our project meant funding was extended for a further three years, to keep the project going.
Local organisations and councils across the Tees Valley area are extremely supportive of our work, despite their own budget constraints and struggles, but the sad reality is that our funding runs out at the end of this month. Unless further funding sources are identified within the next few weeks, the project will close.
We are trying to continue as normal, but we are also building contingency plans for the women we help. It breaks my heart to think that, in a matter of weeks, I will no longer be able to support these women. We have handover plans ready to ensure that women receive support from various agencies and organisations if we have to close, but I worry how they will navigate all this when some of them are still very fragile, and taking it day by day as they try to turn their lives around.
*Tara’s name has been changed to protect her identity
The Supporting Women in the Community and Home (Switch) project is run by social justice charity Nacro.
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