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The women and children looking forward to festive fun - in a refuge!

Women and children across Britain and Ireland are looking forward to a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas, this year, after fleeing months of domestic abuse.

10 Dec 2021

Housed in refuges, these women and children are grateful for a safe place to stay and their stay has been made even better by the kindness of Mothers’ Union members across the country.  

Refuges in Armagh recently received many essential items including sauce pans, pots, cutlery, groceries, bed sheets and lots of night dresses. The night dresses came from the shop of a Mothers’ Union member and all the items, including the nightdresses were donated after a member of Mothers’ Union asked the refuges exactly what they needed. 

Sophia Dillon, the Mothers’ Union President of Armagh Diocese, loves delivering a car boot of items to a refuge and seeing the delight on the faces of organisers.

‘A female organizer at one of the refuges said of the items, ‘these are marvelous - that’s Christmas sorted for us!’ she recalled. 

Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Down and Dromore, in Northern Ireland gifted Women’s Aid with a range of items for residents of its refuges. The items included towels, food vouchers, face clothes, baby wipes, soaps, toothbrushes and shower gel.

Roberta Macartney, the Diocesan President of Down and Dromore Diocese, said: ‘All items received in the refuge are given out to those in need. Those on the receiving end may not always know where the items come from, but they know they have been given with love.’

The Manchester branch of Mothers’ Union donated essential items such as toiletries, blankets, small teddies, clothes, toys and games, this year.
  
Its president, Christine Sharp, said: ‘Countering abuse, simply by supporting refuges is a big part of our development plan, which also includes offering them all expenses paid short breaks and holidays.  
‘I’m so pleased and feel humbled that we can bring a little light into people’s lives and keep a family unit together.’

One in three women world-wide has experienced domestic and sexual violence – a shocking statistic that soared following mandatory lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Mothers’ Union has long campaigned for an end to abuse and violence, and last month launched its latest campaign - #nomore1in3, during the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence.  Bishops and Archbishops, across the UK, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, demonstrated their support for the campaign, last month, with a photocall, followed by interviews with the communication’s team of Mothers’ Union, outside Church House, in Westminster, central London.  
 
Gill Smallwood, the Chief Executive of Fortalice, a domestic abuse charity in Bolton, said: ‘Women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse come to us with very little in the way of belongings and so the generosity of organisation’s such as Mothers’ Union is very much appreciated by our residents, as donations help them to provide for their families during this difficult time in their lives.’ 

The Mothers’ Union in Manchester also donated positivity packs for victims accessing community services at Fortalice’s Outreach Support Centre and they were very well received! 

‘We loved the positivity packs, we spent time together colouring and completing the activities’ said a mum of four children. 

Twenty two women and 42 children are living at the Fortalice refuge in Bolton, which contains one and two bedroom flats, as well as flats for those with disabilities. Women stay in the refuge for between 3 and 12 months, depending on their needs and when the risk has reduced for the victim and her family. Gill said that ‘their stay might be shorter if, for example, the perpetrator of the abuse ends up in prison as it will be safe for a woman and her children to return home.’

The women and children in the refuge benefit from one to one support, counselling and various workshops, including those on confidence building and self-awareness. What’s more these services are adding value. A boy who recently had a one-to-one therapeutic session with a specialist Children’s Project Worker said: ‘Before I came to see you I thought I would have to stay quiet and suffer all on my own. Since I have met you I have not had to hide away or worry because I know I have someone who can help me.’

Mothers’ Union in Manchester is among several organisations who donate much needed items to Fortalice, but none will be needed this side of Christmas. 

‘We’re really grateful for all that we receive,’ said Gill. ‘To see the faces of the kids light up when they receive brand new toys, in some cases for the very first time, is so moving. Despite this, we stop taking clothes, second-hand toys and other items around this time as we unfortunately do not have the storage space at the refuge but we welcome pre-loved donations from the end of January.’

Earlier this month women spent time decorating their Christmas tree at Fortalice – a place once described by a former Mayoress of Bolton as so warm and welcoming it was like walking into a ‘big hug’!

‘For many women, this will be the first peaceful Christmas they have had with their children and so it should give them an idea what a Christmas should be like – time to spend with the family without fear or being emotionally abused’ said Gill.