Saturday ended with the four staff and one volunteer (Julia’s daughter) having a pizza on Her Centre’s tab. This was after they gave out 60 food hampers and over 100 presents to 60 families in just three hours.
Her Centre has a tradition of holding a holiday celebration with food and games and presents for both mothers and their children every December, but due to the strep virus and the return of Covid hospitalisations, we agreed to do one more year of food hampers and present parcels instead. Next year we hope it will be a party again.
Her Centre is a women’s advice and advocacy service for women who live, work or study in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. We work with over 1,000 women a year, with over 700 referrals of women experiencing domestic abuse and a further 150 who come to our drop-in directly. Our main focus is crisis support – providing safety planning, legal advice and support in court, helping women into temporary housing and helping with immigration status and benefits advice. But we also provide what women need in the aftermath of these things. Once women leave situations of abuse and start to address the many challenges of money, a roof over their heads, children’s school changes and legal protection orders, they can feel depleted by the difficulty of it all. Her Centre provides a peer support group to share experiences and one-to-one counselling for women who have been traumatised. We have a back-to-work programme with six-month paid placements at the London Living Wage, and free classes in basic English that are always full. We also run basic IT classes, confidence-building workshops and a women’s group.
Three years ago we set up in partnership with the Clockhouse Community Centre, where our offices are based, a weekly advice hub to address the fallout from Universal Credit. That hub is now packed every Friday and the free food giveaway linked to it has a queue out the door. All this is helpful to the families we support as they can see both a solicitor for free at our drop-in and then in another room see the Citizens Advice or Housing Rights adviser on the same day.
Many of the women we see have lost all confidence in the agencies that should be helping them. Our user steering group meets to challenge this and has attended local meetings with the Borough Commander and the Director of Children’s Services as well as a national event with the Ministry of Justice on the travesty that is the family courts. Women who have been assaulted by ex-partners are often required to give these partners child contact, even though 50 per cent of children living with abuse are also being physically abused, and many children are afraid of their fathers. We provide a Children’s Independent Domestic Abuse Advocate to work with the children and the mother to figure out how to stay safe where children want to see their fathers, and how to avoid them where they don’t.
Our young women’s Independent Domestic and Sexual Abuse Advocate works with teenage girls who have been abused by boyfriends or boys at school, building a rapport to help them recognise unhealthy relationships and to build their self-respect, especially after they have been coerced into sending naked pictures that are shared around their schools.
Our team includes eight Independent Domestic and Sexual Abuse Advocates (IDSAAs), who work with referrals from police, GP surgeries, Children’s social services, and other voluntary services. We also have two IDSVAs who take police referrals, a Health IDSAA who trains GPs and takes their referrals, a Housing IDSAA who is three days a week in the council’s Housing Inclusion office, our One Stop Shop IDSAA working with the solicitor at the drop in and a new Sexual Abuse and Stalking Advocate working with women who are abused by strangers or acquaintances, as part of the Home Office Safer Streets campaign.
We also have an Outreach Coordinator who runs our training and back-to-work programme and who sets up our events on key women’s issues that we run three times a year, open to all. Our last event was on the cost of living crisis and had speakers from Welfare Rights, Citizen’s Advice, Southeast London Community Energy on water and utilities discounts, and Deborah Ubee Trust on the mental impact of the cost of living. These events are both informative and a way to give women a platform to raise issues that affect their lives.
While we have healthy reserves and long-term grants from Greenwich council, we still have to secure another £60,000 for next year to keep all our staff and £130,000 to respond to the increased demands due to ever-increasing referrals. This is a yearly challenge that we have now accepted as our reality due to limited funding from the central Government for local services. Our trustee board will decide whether we can draw down from reserves should we not meet our fundraising target. But years of this situation have made us sanguine in the face of this and we feel we will survive to fight another day, just like the women we work with.