Lunch talk: Judith Collins, HERstay project

We’ve heard lots in the news lately about domestic violence, so it was good to hear from Judith Collins from domestic violence & abuse charity Rising Sun about the charity’s work and its latest HERstay project.

HERstay is an innovative service provided by Rising Sun that will offer accommodation to 16- to 24-year-old girls from Kent who are pregnant, have been subject to domestic abuse and are at risk from further exploitation and homelessness; the project also gives the child, once born, a chance to be raised in a trauma-free environment.

Judith started her talk to us by putting this project in context and giving us a brief overview of Rising Sun’s work relating to domestic abuse. First, we learnt that domestic abuse is defined as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence”. We learnt that in most cases the abuser is a partner or ex-partner, but it can also be a family member or carer. Often, people think of domestic abuse as temperamental outbursts – but in fact it’s often more complicated than that. It can also include digital abuse, stalking or financial abuse. Children growing up in a house with domestic abuse are also seen as abuse victims.

Domestic abuse can affect people from all walks of life, regardless of age, status or gender etc. Male violence on women is often most talked about (and Rising Sun works mainly with women) but men can also be the victims, though to a lower extent (there are other charities and organisations, such as RESPECT, that specialise in helping them).

In England/Wales, 92% of those prosecuted for domestic abuse were males. We learnt that 2 women per week are killed by their partner. Shockingly, this figure has gone up since lockdown to 6 per week, so it’s no surprise this issue has been in the news a lot. Increased isolation, women being locked-in with their abuser and being unable to reach friends or other modes of support have probably increased the risk. (The same is true for children who were stuck at home with their abuser during lockdown rather than away at school.)

Rising Sun was founded in the 1970s as a women’s refuge – based in a disused pub in Canterbury called the Rising Sun (hence its name). The refuge is now run by the Council, with Rising Sun providing support through a range of special programmes. For example, the charity gives advice to abuse victims and has a helpful “one-stop-shop” via which different organisations can offer advice (the latter is currently done online). The charity also offers practical support to those planning to leave their abuser, as well as therapeutic support. (“Just because the relationship has ended, the abuse and trauma may not have,” said Judith.)

Support for adults is through 1:1 counselling with trained counsellors and through group programmes (e.g., “Family Now”, which supports parents and helps them improve strategies to decrease conflict).

Rising Sun also supports children/young people, trying to break the circle of violence by encouraging healthy relationships through its “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” programme and helping increase the self-esteem of children who have been victims of domestic abuse through its “All About Me” programme. There is also 1:1 mentoring for young people.

Judith gave the example of Matt* who was helped by Rising Sun some years ago when he was 14. Now, at 23 and no longer a child, Matt is able to reflect on his life and have a positive attitude to his future; he also has holds down a good job.

Having given us the broad overview of domestic violence, Judith went on to talk specifically about the HERstay project. Currently, Rising Sun is raising money for Cantercare House, which homes expectant mothers aged 16-24 years who are at risk of abuse and homelessness - we learnt that Kent has the highest % of rough sleepers in the South East.  

The house, in Wincheap, was inherited from a now closed-down charity (Cantercare). HERstay enables the mothers, who often have no family support and have a history of abuse, to recover from abuse and build life skills. It also provides a safe place for the mothers to raise their children in safety. Jessica*, for example, learnt to cook meals, complete applications, apply for housing etc. She stayed until her baby was 18 months old, during which time she applied for and got a place at university. She and her son are both now well, living in a 2-bed flat while she awaits the start of her course.

Renovations to Cantercare House are ongoing, but are behind because of Covid. When the renovations are complete each room will have a kitchenette and sink; this will allow the mothers, who usually stay for a year or so, to be more independent.

Judith ended her talk answering questions from our Members, several of whom shared their own experience during their careers of working with victims of domestic abuse.

Our Club gave a donation towards the refurbishment through our Community Service Committee some time ago. We were keen to raise further funds for the project (specifically for the provision of hydraulic safety gates for the children’s play area at Cantercare House) through Rotary’s district funding scheme. However, we were unable to apply due to already having a district grant. So, in an excellent example of how Rotary Club’s support one another, we got the Rotary Club of Whitstable (one of 9 clubs in our local “cluster”) interested in the project and a a grant application has just been sent off, spear-headed by PP Richard Kemball-Cook, who's had considerable experience as a volunteer helping victims of domestic abuse and their families. We really hope to have a positive outcome as we see this as a very good project in our local area. Several of our Members, including the Chair of our Club Service Committee, have been keen to give it further support. We are thankful for RC Whitstable’s interest and application - we will keep you updated if we are successful.

*Not real names.

For more information about HERstay and a short introductory video, click here.

You can donate to the HERstay appeal here.

For details of help that is available to victims of domestic abuse, click here.

Picture: Mother & baby. Picture credit: Rising Sun.

 

 

Wednesday 31st March 2021

Published by: The Rotary Club of Canterbury

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