Tamara is an Area Manager at Hestia, looking after 10 domestic abuse refuges for women and children across London. She reflects on how life has been for the women, children and staff over the last few weeks during lockdown. 

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We have had to change the way we work and think creatively, especially as some staff are now working remotely or are self-isolating. The social distancing is hard for those staff in the refuge as they love their jobs and really do want to help.

How do you explain to a young child that you can’t hug them anymore?  The other day a five-year-old came into the office to make a call to a staff member who is shielding, and I heard him say “I miss you so much, have you gone forever?”.  

It’s a lot of change for the women in the refuge, they are used to a lot of face-to-face support, not just from us but from all the other services they use during the week too. Normally we would be encouraging them to get out and about, do college courses and volunteering as part of their recovery but we can’t do that at the moment. So, the nature of our work has changed but we are trying to stay as close to normal as we can during the lockdown. Staff are coping by sharing what they’ve been doing to support people virtually - what’s worked and what hasn’t. That’s been really great. 

We are concerned about the impact of the lockdown on residents, especially when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.

One woman’s mental health has declined significantly since the lockdown. Without college, volunteering and face to face counselling she is struggling. We are concerned that she is getting caught up in the past and the emotions that go with that. 

The level of uncertainty is really getting to some of the families too. Women with children are finding it very tough, especially as the children are getting very bored now. The kids are very in tune with what is going on.

One little boy didn’t want to go for a walk in the park because he was worried he would catch the virus.

They are increasingly restlessWe recently shared out lots of craft activities that we’d been sent – the Children and Family worker was going to do it but unfortunately she had developed a chesty cough so needed to self-isolate.

I really feel for one nine-year-old girl as she moved in a few weeks ago and was due to start a new school but she can’t do that now. She hasn’t played with other children for about ten weeks because of moving area and now coronavirus has shut the local schools.  

Older children are also worried about getting their work done. We recently installed a WiFi booster in one of the refuges much to the relief of one of the teenagers as she has been struggling to upload her homework and as she is self-isolating can't use the desk in the main lounge anymore. 

There are also lots of changes that the families are having to get used to. I recently talked one mum through how to use the food voucher she has just received as part of the free school meals – English is not her first language and I had to stay a safe distance but we got there in the end. Thankfully food bank vouchers are still working and going for a walk to collect the parcels after staying in the house so much is a welcome relief for many families - they are finding the lack of usual routines tough.

One mum has a premature baby in hospital and she’s scared that going to visit her and travelling on public transport will put her baby at risk. 

We are still getting new referrals but things just need to happen more quickly now, especially as it’s harder for people to find a reason to leave the house. So, when someone contacts us we need to get them a safe place urgently as it may be their only chance to leave. The refuges are starting to feel very full and we know we will probably see more families in the next few weeks.

It’s hard for those who were due to get their own place, we can still move people into new housing but it’s a lot slower and more complicated during lockdown. We want people to know our refuges are open but as not all move on options are available for women, we are going to get full quickly.  

Our concern is that many will simply think that there is no where they can go for help because of the lockdown and coronavirus. Only recently we supported a woman and her children who were displaying symptoms. They are now self-isolating in one of our self-contained flats. We are here and we can help. We won’t turn people away. 

Help us to provide essential care packaged including essentials like food, cleaning products and entertainment to women and children in our refuges.

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