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Chronicle special report on Holywell-based Delyn Women’s Aid

One in four women will be a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to statistics.

And staff at Holywell-based Delyn Women’s Aid estimate the real figure is even higher.

ELEANOR BARLOW went to meet the dedicated team of employees and volunteers who provide support for women living with violence

LEAVING an abusive partner is not as easy as many people think, as the staff and volunteers at Delyn Women’s Aid know only too well.

The organisation, based in Well Street, Holywell, not only offers advice, support and a refuge for women who are victims of domestic abuse, it also helps them to formulate plans for leaving and dealing with solicitors, getting their children into new schools, seeking medical support and sorting out benefits.

Refuge support worker Tracy Tanner said: “Our service is all about providing what they want.

“We have a drop-in service where people can come in for help filling in forms, making appointments and just having a chat about what their options are if they were to leave their partner.

“We can give advice about getting benefits and help them become independent, but sometimes they do want to go back and work things out with their partner.

“It can be quite hard seeing someone go back to an abusive relationship, but we can’t force them to do anything. We have to let people make up their own minds.”

The organisation’s team of seven employees and eight volunteers man a phone line 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and it has a refuge which can provide accommodation for up to seven families who have been forced to leave their homes due to abuse.

Outreach worker Jacky Parry explained it’s not just practical support which is needed when a woman leaves an abusive relationship.

She said: “A lot of the women have been told for years that nobody else will have them and they can’t do anything.

“We try and build their confidence back up.”

As well as one-to-one counselling, Delyn Women’s Aid runs the ‘Freedom’ programme, where women meet to discuss their experiences.

Jacky said: “It does help to share experiences.

“Some of the women who come to the Freedom programme are still with their partners, while others have left.

“We get some people who don’t like to talk much but like to listen, and others who find it helps to talk.

“You see people grow in confidence as they take part and even though they’re discussing a difficult subject they do have fun and make friends.”

Jill Davies has been volunteering at the women’s aid for four years.

She said the experience had made her look at things differently.

“It does open your eyes,” she said.

“If you’ve not been in that kind of situation it’s hard to imagine, you think people can just leave.

“Working here you learn that it isn’t really like that. It’s not black and white.”

Last year the centre cost about £330,000 to run and was funded mainly by Government grants, but spending cuts mean the future is looking uncertain.

“It is a worry,” Tracy admitted.

“Some of our services might be reduced if our funding is not the same.

“We try and provide transport and crèches for any classes we put on, but if the funding isn’t there we may not be able to – which means it won’t be as easy for women to access our services.”

She added: “It’s hard for us to try and plan anything in advance because we just don’t know what will happen.

“We do some fundraising, but the majority of our income is through grants.”

Child and family worker Suzi Skinner is funded by Children in Need, but the future of her role is also in doubt.

She said: “The funding for my role is yearly and we have to bid for it.

“Normally I find out whether it will be continued a few days after my last wage for the year.

“It is difficult because I never know whether I’ll be able to carry on with the work I’ve started.”

Suzi works with children and families in the refuge, as well as providing community education sessions in schools.

She said: “For children who come into the refuge I provide a range of support.

“There is practical support, such as getting them into school and making sure they have clothes and toys, but we also offer emotional support.

“Sometimes children just need someone to listen to them, because often they feel like they haven’t got a voice and aren’t given a choice in what’s happened.

“And sometimes they just need somewhere to play and have some fun.”

Women who come for help have not always been the victims of violence, as abuse can take many forms.

Jacky said: “A woman might be being financially or emotionally abused.

“The problem is that they don’t realise they’re being abused and, because they’re not being hit, they’re more reluctant to come for help.”

Christmas is traditionally a quiet time for the refuge, according to the staff, but things start to get busier when the festivities are over.

Tracy said: “People tend to try and hold it together over Christmas. We start to get busier from around December 27.

“The busiest time for us is probably the summer holidays, because if women choose to leave they have six to eight weeks when children are off school to sort things out.”

Tracy says the main advice for anyone who is living with domestic abuse is to get in contact.

She said: “Please get in touch, you are not alone. Our services are available to anyone who is in an abusive situation.

“We won’t force people to do anything they don’t want to, we are just here to listen.

“Leaving an abusive relationship takes a lot of guts – but we are always here to offer support.”