Community unites to save the last Women’s Aid in South Yorkshire

The last Women’s Aid in South Yorkshire faces closure due to a shortage of funding.

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid opened at the start of this year, to help women affected by domestic abuse. It replaced the previous service; Doncaster Women’s Aid -which itself, closed down in March 2016, due to a lack of funds.

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (SYWA) was set up on an grant of £30,000 from Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, following a campaign from the community, ex clients and staff members from the previous Women’s Aid service. That grant is now estimated to run out by next month.

“We’ve been running since January on that small initial grant. Ourselves and the trustees were under the impression, from the start that there would be the same pot of money that we could then apply for annually -that was stated to us on the council’s website, and it’s what was stated to us via councillors,” said Amy Cousens, 22, a Volunteer Support Worker at SYWA, from Leeds.

It was in late July when South Yorkshire Women’s Aid found out that they wouldn’t be able to apply for the £30,000 funding, however SYWA refuse to believe that there simply can’t be any money.

SYWA estimates that it will cost £57,000 per year to provide a full service for the women who attend the centre, and they are certain that the money can be found.

A recent job role, published by Doncaster Council, requiring a Director of Corporate Resources, to provide financial guidance to both the council and Ros Jones; The Mayor of Doncaster, was advertised, with an annual salary of £120,000, -this is just one of the places that SYWA feel the money to save them, could have come from.

Amy Cousens demands South Yorkshire Women’s Aid is saved

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid reports that whilst the centre was closed last year, there were 6,623 reported incidents of domestic violence in the region. They believe that the Borough Council do not have the capacity to deal with the amount of cases that are being seen, nor will it be able to pick up the shortfall of women in need, if they were to close by the end of the year.

“The situation in Doncaster is devastating. Doncaster has some of the highest rates of high risk cases of domestic abuse, but also some the highest numbers of repeat cases of domestic violence,” says Amy.

“We are the last Women’s Aid in South Yorkshire. There are other domestic violence services, however, what we’re seeing nationally is a move from local authorities, to set up and fund generic services that don’t have the specialism, and which are often stripping the women’s only aspect of domestic violence services. They are increasingly not giving the victims the support they need.”

With December fast approaching, South Yorkshire Women’s Aid and its supporters, urgently reach out for help, from those in power.

The charity has also held fundraisers, such as ‘The Free The Female’ event, hosted last month, by Rhian Seymour, 23, an Associate Project Manager, from Sheffield. The event brought attention to the plight of the centre, and it highlighted the severity of domestic violence. A range of speakers shared their experiences of abuse, as well as their trials in business, love and relationships. Attendees had the chance to take part in a self defence workshop,  get a massage, and chat to one another, in an open and trusting environment.

“It makes me feel really sick to hear that South Yorkshire Women’s Aid are spending so much time trying to get funding. They should be spending that time having the helpline and doing therapy sessions -being there to say ‘I believe you’ whenever a woman rings. But right now they’re splitting that time, getting funding. It is a dire situation,” said Rhian.

The matter of saving South Yorkshire Women’s Aid is of importance to Michelle Oxley, 43, a businesswoman from Rotherham. Michelle found herself in an abusive relationship when she was in her 20’s. Once functioning on a daily mix of prescribed medication for depression, anxiety and agoraphobia, Michelle also battled with physical pains brought on by IBS, migraines and insomnia. Michelle is now drug free and living a completely different life.

“Back then, I was scared that I was going to end up alone. I’d met someone who made me feel special, put me on a pedestal, and called me his angel. Looking back now –there were warning signs; the grabbing of my arm when we were out, the control, the talking down to me, the manipulation, the shutting out of family and friends. Had I known what I know now -and there had been the awareness then …maybe I would have walked away.”

“I didn’t know I was in an abusive situation,” said Michelle.

Michelle gained some realisation of her circumstance, when an unexpected visit from her health visitor, whilst her then, partner was at work; allowed her to speak openly.

“That was the first time really, that I had any doubts set in my mind, that maybe it wasn’t right.

Michelle was out of the abusive relationship for thirteen years, before she began therapy and started accessing personal development and well being sessions. Michelle, who now sees herself as a survivor and not a victim, knows first hand that it often takes a long while for those who’ve experienced domestic abuse, to arrive at this mindset.

“The thing is with abuse, you have to see it yourself, and no matter how many friends or family can suspect and tell you… or sit down and talk to you –you will be completely blinded, and it’s not blinded by love; you’re blinded because you’ve been brainwashed …because you don’t know any different,” said Michelle.

Michelle Oxley wants to raise awareness of domestic abuse

“What can start out as a snide comment and a hold on the arm, that’s a bit too long and a bit too tight, can quite easily turn into being held up against the wall, with their hands around your throat. Women need to know that when that happens, that there is somewhere to go, and they don’t have to stay because they’re on the mortgage, or they couldn’t afford a house of their own, or they can’t possibly get a job… You do think, ‘that’s just my lot, that’s just my life’ –well it doesn’t have to be.”

“Awareness of what abuse is, is as important as knowing the help that’s out there. I’ve met two women in my journey since, who have suffered domestic abuse; they have come to me and said ‘what do I do? where do I go?,’ because they’ve not known. They only know to go to me, because they know I’ve suffered it,” said Michelle.

“Feeling lost, and not knowing that there’s anybody you can turn to is the hardest thing.”

Statistics reveal that 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will be affected by domestic abuse in their lifetime, and that on average, 2 women a week are murdered as a result of it. The campaigners in South Yorkshire are committed to saving women from this fate. By continuing to protest SYWA’s lack of funding, they fight to save the facility and the therapeutic one-to-one, and phone-line services, that take place within it. In their efforts to do this, they choose to make a stand; not only for the current 200+ service users across South Yorkshire; but for any woman in domestic danger.

Luchia Robinson


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