‘We try to make Christ­mas spe­cial for the women and chil­dren we help’

San­dra Hor­ley CBE is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence char­ity Refuge. She lives in Lon­don with her hus­band and has one daugh­ter.

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Women Who Lead O -

One in four women in the UK will ex­pe­ri­ence do­mes­tic abuse at some point in their life­time. As head of Refuge, which pro­vides emer­gency ser­vices to 6,500 women and chil­dren ev­ery day, my pri­mary fo­cus is keep­ing them safe and help­ing them re­gain con­trol of their lives – on Christ­mas Day and ev­ery day.

I work in a highly pres­surised, ev­er­chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, jug­gling the needs of my team and the women and chil­dren we sup­port rais­ing funds and aware­ness, and per­suad­ing politi­cians to in­tro­duce sen­si­ble poli­cies. It’s a 24/7 oper­a­tion. Pro­vid­ing ser­vices is ex­pen­sive and I think about how to keep Refuge afloat ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment.

While study­ing in Birm­ing­ham, I got a job di­rect­ing a project for home­less and abused women. One of my first cases was a wo­man whose hus­band had taken a ham­mer and chisel to her face. She had 250 stitches, was a mass of pur­ple bruis­ing and had to be fed through a straw. I’d never al­low this now, but a priest came and per­suaded her to go home. Of course, her hus­band did it again and she was soon back.

Refuge opened the world’s first refuge in Chiswick in 1971, with women and chil­dren flock­ing to it in their hun­dreds. I started work­ing for them in 1983. Women and chil­dren were squeezed like sar­dines into our di­lap­i­dated, rat-in­fested Vic­to­rian house; they slept on mat­tresses in the hall. The 24-hour cri­sis line could only an­swer a frac­tion of the calls that came in.

I worked in our front­line ser­vices for 25 years. I still try to visit the refuges and com­mu­nity ser­vices and will al­ways feel fond of the orig­i­nal Chiswick refuge. I feel proud to see how Refuge has grown from one house to the largest sin­gle provider of do­mes­tic and sex­ual vi­o­lence ser­vices in the coun­try.

This year marks my 35th year at the char­ity. I’ve stayed be­cause I be­lieve ev­ery­one has a right to live in safety. Know­ing that what we

do makes a dif­fer­ence to the lives of women and chil­dren keeps me go­ing. The world has changed since I started – women to­day are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing other forms of vi­o­lence and abuse, in­clud­ing FGM, mod­ern slav­ery and hu­man traf­fick­ing. I’ve over­seen huge growth at Refuge – through helplines, cam­paigns, ad­vo­cacy, outreach and the refuges them­selves. But there are still not enough ser­vices to sup­port all those who need help.

One of the most chal­leng­ing parts of the job is the cuts. I’ve led Refuge through cut cy­cles too many times. Some ar­eas of the coun­try now have no refuge pro­vi­sion at all. Th­ese safe houses pro­vide a life­line to thou­sands of women and chil­dren. I’ve learnt to keep knock­ing on doors and cam­paign­ing, no mat­ter how dispir­it­ing it gets. To lead a char­ity, you need en­ergy, pas­sion, be­lief and be able to keep giv­ing it 100% even when it gets tough.

Run­ning Refuge can be all­con­sum­ing, but I have a sup­port­ive hus­band and tune out by walk­ing in the coun­try­side with my fam­ily, spend­ing qual­ity time with my daugh­ter and trav­el­ling.

For many of us, Christ­mas is spent with loved ones but, for thou­sands of women, the fes­tive sea­son of­fers only in­tim­i­da­tion,

Ev­ery­one has a right to live in safety

vi­o­lence and iso­la­tion. Christ­mas is a busy time at Refuge, as we strive to make it as spe­cial as pos­si­ble for the women and chil­dren we sup­port. This year, donors can en­sure all the women and chil­dren we are sup­port­ing over the fes­tive pe­riod re­ceive a present by pur­chas­ing an item from our Christ­mas Gift List. It is really im­por­tant for them to know peo­ple care.

If I could be granted one wish, it would be for a world where women live free from dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence. No one should ever live in fear of abuse.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.refuge.org.uk/christ­mas-gift-list

San­dra: ‘I feel proud to see how Refuge has grown’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.