Grace House - Women’s Aid Services in Antrim

2 March, 2010

The issue of domestic abuse has always been a taboo subject - many people like to think it doesn't exist or that it couldn't happen to anyone they know.

But it's hard to bury your head in the sand when the facts and figures speak for themselves, and nowhere more so than Antrim where the charity Women's Aid deals with on average 150 referrals per year.

And, PSNI statistics from 2008-2009  recorded 622 incidents with a domestic abuse motivation in Antrim.  PSNI statistics also indicate that only 25 per centof victims of domestic abuse have informed police of their worst incident of violence, so the figure of 622 is just the tip of the iceberg. 

With such a high uptake for support from Women's Aid (Antrim, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey ABCLN), the charity has recently opened Grace House in the town, providing a one-stop shop for women needing help and advice for themselves, and in many cases their children as well.

Indeed the borough is served by two Floating Support workers, who respond to women in crisis and a Community Resettlement Worker, who works with women suffering the longer term effects of domestic violence, with the back up of an additional Floating Support worker. Despite covering two areas, one Floating Support worker notes that two thirds of her case load comes from Antrim.

Women's Aid see this as a positive thing with women seeking help and having the confidence to do so, particularly with an increase in referrals from the PSNI's Domestic Violence Officers.

But for every person seeking help, there are more suffering in silence with statistics showing that one in four women will be the victim of domestic violence.  And, on average, a woman will have suffered 35 attacks before she finally seeks help.

While the charity has always had a presence in the borough, funding cuts several years ago meant the charity had to close its former office so there was no base to provide services in Antrim.  Because of this, support workers ended up having to meet women in public, such as the local Tesco car park, to ensure its vital work continued.

But thankfully that's all changed with the opening of Grace House in the town's Fountain Street.

The new office means that women and children in Antrim who are living with domestic violence will now be able to access support and information in a safe and comfortable environment.

Phase one of the project has established a drop in centre where women can access advice on everything from their safety and security needs to advice on housing and money issues, accessing specialist services, individual or group support, support for your children, emergency accommodation via the Women's Aid refuge.

Women coming to Grace House can also receive training and development, with three programmes currently running, including My Life, My Choices, a programme which promotes self-awareness and develops the knowledge to create change, Journey to Freedom which has been developed specifically for women who have been or are still suffering from abusive relationships, and You and Me, Mum, a course which encourages women to share experiences and helps with building confidence and understanding their children's behaviour.

Women's Aid will be holding an open day in ther Antrim office on Monday, March 8, and local people are invited to drop by  for a cup of coffee or tea and find out about the services on offer for women and children locally, including life coaching and self-esteem and self-confidence classes. 

Phase two is in the pipeline, subject to funding, which will see the second floor of the property turned into a training room for classes and support meetings, as well as a private room for one-to-one consultations.

The charity has also plans for a Safe Haven scheme in Antrim though were sadly unsuccessful in their bid for funding through the Big Lottery Fund's People's Millions schemes, meaning the project has had to be put on the back-burner for the time being.

The project will eventually see a derelict space behind the Antrim premises turned into a ‘Safe Haven Garden’, providing an outdoor space for the children who access their services each year – a total of 2,754 children in the past year.  

Children have often been referred to as the ‘hidden victims’ of domestic violence. Research has shown that children suffer from exposure to violence in a range of ways. A very high proportion of physical attacks are witnessed by children, and often, a child will feel compelled to intervene, risking themselves in the process. 

As well as helping to tackle the issue head on, Women's Aid also aims to break the cycle of violence by challenging attitudes, by going out into the community.

The charity works with schools to help children learn about healthy relationships - sadly research has shown that many young girls believe it is acceptable for their boyfriend to hit them.

A training and consultancy service is also provided, specialising in domestic violence training and expertise for employers, employees and managers.

The aim of working with businesses is to put into context the impact of domestic violence within a working environment.

To deliver such vital services, Women's Aid relies on the generosity of donations and funding, as well as a core group of volunteers.   

If this is something you would like to become involved with, please contact Women's Aid on 25632136 

If you are affected by domestic violence and would like help, contact the Domestic Violence Helpline on 0800 917 1414.