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Charity founders’ mark coming of age with a warning that demand for services is growing

L-R: Hope, Carole, Shirley and Vicky from the Freedom Project

TWO women who set up a domestic abuse support charity over 21 years ago say it is making a difference but demand is rising and funding continues to be a challenge.

Shirley Fawcett and Carole Launder, along with Susan James, started West Cumbria Domestic Violence Support (WCDVS) in 1997 to provide free, community based support to adults trapped in abusive relationships. Serving people in Allerdale and Copeland, and better known as the Freedom Project, it now also works with perpetrators, families and children. It is still the only organisation offering long term support in West Cumbria as part of its mission to help stop domestic abuse.

The charity estimates that in the last 22 years it has supported over 10,000 individuals, and it could be helping even more as services contract and public sector funding reduces.

Between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018 they received 390 new referrals, a 57% increase on the previous 12 months. Of the new referrals 156 were victims, 44 were perpetrators and 190 of those needing help were aged between five and 19-years-old.

Freedom Project staff say whilst there’s a decrease in perpetrator referrals, as other new help is available, but referrals for children and young people has almost tripled in 12 months. They say 90% of children are in the same room, or in a room next door, when abuse is occurring in a household. And that recent figures released by Cumbria Police show almost a third of violent crime involves domestic abuse, an increase of 2% increase this year.

Shirley Fawcett, charity chair and head of public affairs at Sellafield Ltd, said: “Whilst domestic abuse is 5% higher in West Cumbria than the rest of the county, we have seen a big change in how it is perceived and the awareness of the help that is now available. I became involved over 21 years ago because nothing was being done, and it was either not talked about or simply brushed off as ‘a domestic’. There was absolutely nowhere for victims to turn to. This is changing and we are proud of the role we have played. It’s been heartening to see such a collaborative multi-agency response in recent years.

“But there is a shortage of funding, and an ever-increasing demand. We have worked hard to attract funds and our community is very supportive but it’s becoming more difficult. We need people to do more if they want to keep this service.

“Our annual expenditure is approximately £185,000 a year which is all fundraised via grants and donations. We hope community-minded businesses could provide regular support, in kind or financial, and that people share our new social media fundraiser video and donate via JustGiving.

“£10 runs the helpline for two days, £25 pays for a child to attend a group support session and £500 pays for a whole week of group sessions for 20 women and 14 children” added Shirley.

The second charity founder is manager Carole Launder. Carole was a nurse and then a district nurse, before taking a break to focus on her family. She says a ‘Shirley Valentine’ moment, referring to the award-winning 1989 British romantic comedy-drama film made her take-stock. As Carole explained:

“I was the same age as the character played by Pauline Collins, and like her I was wondering what to do with my family grown-up. I also wanted to study counselling and related therapies. It wasn’t long before I was a working as a volunteer counsellor from an office set up in my spare bedroom.

“Over the years Shirley and I, and a growing band of other volunteers, have worked hard to turn to the charity into the professional organisation it is today. We have a paid staff and referrals have risen from 100 a year to nearly 400 a year, with an active case load of about 190.

“What unites us is our drive to break the cycle of domestic abuse in all its forms, leading to permanent changes in the wellbeing of the people of West Cumbria. Left unaddressed domestic abuse can become self-perpetuating and can be passed on for one generation to another so we need to achieve permanent change” said Carole.

Staff at the charity are anticipating an annual spike in calls for help in January following Christmas and New Year festivities. They say a combination of financial pressure, free-flowing alcohol and being indoors puts additional burdens on relationships. Staff say those in domestic abuse situations will get in touch once there’s a private moment to make a call.

Carole who is in her early 70’s and Shirley who is in her late-50’s, have been planning to take a step back from their roles. Their succession plans include the training of two members of staff. Vicky Pike, who is trainee project manager, and Hope Launder – Carole’s grand-daughter – as office manager.

Anyone interested in talking to the team about how they can help should call 01900 67167 or email [email protected]

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