As a new service for abused women is launched in Ellesmere Port, CHRIS SMITH talks to a counsellor about the help available to victims
A REFUGE for battered and abused women wants to explode a few myths about domestic violence.
By doing so, Ellesmere Port Women’s Services hopes to encourage more victims who are living in silence to let their voices be heard.
Its unit in the town, called the Port Refuge, is managed by Stonham, England’s largest provider of housing and support for vulnerable people, and members of the Women’s Aid Federation of England. The building is owned by Wirral Methodist Housing.
It provides safe emergency housing and support for women and children fleeing violent and abusive men, and provides six modern, furnished rooms for them.
Support worker Marilea Schofield said: “We want to take away a few of the stereotypes about domestic violence.
“For example, it cuts across all classes of people. Our unit is for women from all walks of life. People might think it is just one type of woman who is affected by domestic abuse, but it really isn’t.
“And we don’t just see people who have suffered physical violence. Abuse can take many forms, including mental or sexual.
“All ages can be affected too. In the last six months, we have had some older women in their 60s and 70s come to us after their families have grown up, having suffered many years of abuse.
“But I would say Ellesmere Port is no better or worse than any other area across the UK in terms of domestic violence and abuse.”
Miss Schofield said the refuge – the location of which we are not disclosing – also confounds expectations.
“Despite what people might think it might look like, our unit is a friendly, welcoming and safe place. In fact, we have got it quite trendy.”
Because the refuge works hand-in- hand with others across the region and the UK, they tend to “swap” victims.
Miss Schofield explained: “We want to keep the women very close to their home area, but not actually in the town where the abuse has happened.
“If they have children, there are considerations like schooling, and then there are their families and friends.
“We take most of our referrals from Wirral, Liverpool and Warrington, and swap with them, so Ellesmere Port women would go to refuges in those kind of areas.
“Sometimes, of course, we might not have room for women and they can be placed elsewhere. We help everyone who comes to us for help.
“We only have six units, which are like self-contained bedsits with a living area and facilities. They are for women with children, and one is designed for larger families or a person with disabilities.
“The majority of women who come to us have children.”
Victims can refer themselves or be pointed in the refuge’s direction by police, social services, the national domestic violence helpline, homelessness units at district councils, and other agencies.
The national helpline receives at least one call for help or advice from women every day.
And not every case study ends with the women leaving the man forever. “I have helped reunite some families,’ said Miss Schofield.
She and her co-worker Phyllis Kelly are hoping to set up their own website shortly to let women know how to contact them and to see what the building is like.
“If they can see in advance what it’s like, it will make them a lot more comfortable coming here,’ said Miss Schofield.
They have also just launched a domestic violence tenancy support and outreach service specifically for Ellesmere Port women who don’t want to enter the refuge, and are looking for advice or someone to talk to, or those who have left the refuge and still need support.
“They may want to stay at home because they don’t want to uproot their children or because of other circumstances.
“So we want to let people know we are here for those women too, and urge them to contact us, in the strictest confidence of course,” she added.
Miss Schofield said a programme to help male victims of domestic violence was “something for the future”, as abuse affects both sexes.
The refuge and women’s services are a charitable organisation and receive funding from local businesses and groups. Back in October, they got several thousand pounds from the Vauxhall Motors plant.
Miss Schofield said they use donations to buy items like settees, a TV and renewing equipment and facilities.
She explained: “Items wear out a lot because of the number of women and their families coming through the unit.
“We always need things like new pillows, towels and quilts so we have new bedding for each new family that arrives. We feel little things like that are important.
“Anyone who can help us fund those sort of items should call us.”
The Ellesmere Port Women’s Service and Port Refuge can be contacted on 0151 355 4679/4759, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com