The Acorn, the refuge's newly redecorated communal lounge - post makeover
This newsletter aims to share with you the challenges, changes and achievements of our Bournemouth Refuge, writes Rio Argent, BCHA's Bournemouth Refuge & BCP Outreach Senior Practitioner.
Over the past four months, we have been working incredibly hard as a team to enhance the quality of service we provide to all survivors of domestic abuse who may be resident with us, or seeking support in our local community. Our overall goal is to take the bronze standard of accommodation and support, and increase it to the gold standard in every way possible. We hope the content of this newsletter demonstrates the progress we have made.
A refuge by definition is ‘the state of being safe or sheltered from danger or difficulty. A physical place that provides shelter.’ However, we believe our service offers much more than just accommodation. Our refuge is somewhere a person can pull back from the world, be inspired and find their people. It also offers a period of reflection, growth, meditation and detox. Through some creative ideas and additional funding, we are in the process of transforming the service into not only a place of safety, but also somewhere that offers the space and time for recovery and healing.
So what do we offer, other than a room and a bed?
We have 18 accommodation units – but only two of these are self-contained. Therefore, it is even more important that we raise the standard of the rooms to ensure our residents move in without regret.
Our Room 10 project has been an exciting adventure for the Refuge team. We can't thank BCHA's New Leaf repairs service enough for the excellent work they've done. They have taken one self-contained flat and renovated it to the standard we would all appreciate if arriving with our children for the first time. The makeover has brought colour and calmness into the room, but with the long term objective of using it as a ‘template’ for all other rooms when they become vacant.
Everything about the room is now gold standard - we have done away with the supermarket own brand shampoo and replaced it with a more luxury brand. We have increased the tog on the duvet. We have ensured the new resident has access to easy and convenient food options upon arrival by introducing frozen meals, cold drinks and cereal bars. Before, we would have stocked a dry food cupboard. Who wants to boil pasta on moving day?
As well as Room 10, we have embarked on a programme of major repairs, which will be undertaken by New Leaf, involving the upgrading of all of the communal spaces. Our front doors have been repainted in beautiful pastel colours and the walls are now a calming shade of lilac. Already, we are seeing residents coming out of their flats, meeting up and using the halls for a chat.
What was known previously as ‘The Snoozilum’ has gone through a total re-brand. ‘The Acorn’ is our new communal lounge that is separate from the main building. It is used mainly by our full time family therapist, Vera Lizunova – we are grateful to AFC Bournemouth who have funded Vera’s role for one year.
Vera provides art and play therapy for the families, as well as trauma-informed therapy on a one to one basis with residents. We have already noticed a new calmness among the residents as they attend their weekly sessions.
The Acorn also hosts our weekly Pattern Changing course for the residents, which is led by Anna McLaughlin, who is also a refuge support worker. Anna also delivers a new virtual Pattern Changing course to survivors of domestic abuse in the community. Each week, two groups of around 20 women log into the Microsoft Teams online course and learn various coping strategies and long term life skills in order to reduce the risk of domestic abuse. This virtual course has been made possible thanks to funding from the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner’s Safer Dorset Covid-19 Fund, so that Covid-19 did not create a barrier to survivors accessing this course. From this funding, we have seen a dramatic increase in referrals for the course, which was also enhanced by a social media campaign and radio advertising.
In June, prior to the introduction of the virtual course, we received seven new referrals. In October, we received 23 new referrals. The virtual course is popular and we are meeting individual needs for those who have to self-isolate or shield, who may have childcare needs, who may work full time or do shift work, and who would rather not meet with strangers to talk about such a delicate subject. We even offer an evening class so that mums can grab a cuppa once the kids are in bed and really process the content of the course.
As a result of the increase in referrals, we have added the Freedom Programme for the first time in Bournemouth and Christchurch. Faith Shimongola is our lead on Freedom and will be delivering a virtual course to the community starting in January 2021. We will now be triaging all new referrals to decide which course will work best for the individual. Our outreach workers have also been trained to deliver Freedom in the community.
We have also seen a rise in our young people referrals for these kinds of courses. We believe this is due to our social media campaign reaching out to more young people. Between January to August 2020 we received two referrals for the age category 16-24 years. However, since August, we have received 24 referrals.
This demonstrates our need to be providing a more bespoke course or service to young people across Bournemouth and Christchurch and we are currently exploring a Recovery Toolkit, with the ambition of introducing a Family Intervention Service similar to the one in Poole. Carrying out preventative work with young people is a key priority.
We now have a full time children’s support worker - Nicole Shearing - have introduced one-to-one work with a child or siblings, focusing on the child’s emotions and behaviours, which we appreciate are linked to their own unique experience of domestic abuse and their mother’s trauma. Children often arrive with challenging behaviours, such as high levels of separation anxiety or presenting as non-verbal.
Through this one-to-one work and our group sessions, we have found that these outward behaviours decrease or disappear completely.
The group sessions are the time for fun and to engage with other children and Nicole has arranged a different session each day of the week for mothers to sign their children up to. These classes align with any community class, so that we offer the same options available to any mother outside the refuge. Popular classes have been messy play, cinema club, and gardening.
We are also in the process of starting a breakfast club, ensuring all children leave for school or childcare with a healthy start, whilst taking the pressure off mum as she prepares for the school run.
Nicole also organises each child’s birthday party and we have had bouncy castles, cupcakes, party food and music. We held a superb Halloween party in our playroom and we are busy preparing for our ‘elf’ Christmas part. We have even had our first Baby Shower. One resident came to us with an eight-week old baby boy - she felt she had never celebrated his arrival, so we wanted her to have her own event to take away some of this guilt.
Nicole’s role has been extended until the end of March 2021, and we are currently looking at other funding opportunities as she provides such a vital service to the families. Nicole is going to attend the Women’s Aid ‘You and Me, Mum’ training, which will allow her to deliver a ten-week programme for mothers with experiences of domestic and sexual abuse in the community.
We are also renovating the playroom so that we have a baby sensory area (we currently have four children under the age of one) and we would also like a book corner to encourage our children to read by introducing group story times and a mini-library.
Our outreach service has now merged into one team in line with the BCP local authority merger. We currently have three full time and one-part time support workers operating across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, working with domestic abuse survivors in the community.
We have seen an increase in referrals for this service, which is in line with the national trend to which covid-19 and lockdown has contributed greatly. Earlier in the year we started working with referrals that have come directly from Dorset Police attending a domestic incident. We make a call to any medium risk victims, offering them our outreach service, which has enabled us to speak to more male victims, as well as taking on clients who may have otherwise been harder to reach.
Our outreach referrals show an increase across Bournemouth and Christchurch - between August to October, we received a total of 25 agency referrals, 13 self referrals and 139 Public Protection Notice referrals
The first week of the November 2020 lockdown triggered a very high volume of helpline calls. Weekly on average, we accept around 10-20 calls from people asking for practical and emotional support. During the week commencing 1 November, we received 41 calls.
Christchurch was a new addition to our service this year as a postcode area, and we have seen referrals double since August.
Our outreach workers also provide a drop-in service at the following venues:
- West Howe Cornerstone Church; every Monday between 12-2pm
- Water Lily Project in Christchurch; every month starting 1st December between 12-2pm
- Citygate Church in Bournemouth; every Wednesday 12.30-2.30pm
Thank you so much for reading and supporting us. We are excited to share with you our progress, but even more excited about the next coming months.