The Preston domestic abuse charity brought back from the brink of closure
When Salma Ali walked through the doors of Preston Domestic Violence Services (PDVS) as a children’s worker sixteen years ago, it was a very different organisation to the one which she now manages.
Back then, the charity employed dozens of people, provided a host of services to victims of domestic abuse and later became responsible for the women’s refuge in the city. But it was the loss of the contract to provide that secure accommodation for Lancashire County Council several years ago which sent PDVS in a different direction.
By the time the authority recently advertised a fresh contract to run its refuges, PDVS had been so slimmed down that it was unable to bid for a service which was once one of its core functions.
Today, the charity’s staff total just six – all of them, including its manager, part-time.
When Salma took charge of the organisation, she was unsure whether she would be building it back up – or closing it down.
“We have got a number of victims who have relied on us for support for years and I was really worried about what they would do if we had shut,” Salma recalls.
“Now we are operating year-by-year and it’s crucial that we get longer-term funding to make the organisation more secure. At the moment, there's a one in twelve chance that an application for small charitable grants is successful.
"We could probably help the double the number of people if we had a full-time service."
PDVS has been helped in its quest for sustainability by a donation of office space from the social housing provider Community Gateway Association. Salma says that she could not be more grateful for the lifeline – because while the charity may have been scaled back, the need for its services has not.
The organisation’s helpline – which once operated round the clock, but is now limited to office hours – took more than 750 calls last year.
"We could probably take double that number
Along with counselling support and work to make victims’ homes more secure, the charity’s main work is to provide a drop-in service for Prestonians experiencing domestic abuse.
“They don’t need to be referred by anybody, they just need to call us and we take some very basic details – we don’t ask a lot of questions,” explains Salma.
“It’s a bit like a triage service – the support worker will do a risk assessment and look at what support they require. We can then refer them to one of our outreach workers who will be able to see them on a more regular basis and provide ongoing emotional and practical support.”
Staff encounter victims at various stages of domestic abuse and the service is tailored for their individual circumstances. One thing the charity never does is try to control the decisions made by a victim who has been brought to their door by the controlling behaviour of an abusive partner.
“They need to be able to speak to someone who understands and is not saying, ‘Why are you putting up with that, why don’t you just leave?’
“It’s so easy for someone on the outside to say that, but it’s not as simple as just leaving – some people feel they would have to leave everything they know, including their family and friends,” Salma says.
One of the PDVS support workers – who wants to be identified only as Kerry – runs the 12-week “Freedom” programme for abuse victims, which explores the “tactics, attitude and belief system of the dominator”.
“They can be quite open groups,” says Kerry of the hour-long sessions.
“Some people really want to open up and others understandably find it really hard – so I don’t encourage them to say anything if they don’t feel comfortable. They can leave the room whenever they want.
“A lot of women will say they can’t believe they are ever going to get out of the situation they are in when they start the course – and for some it can take years.”
Salma adds that the sense of satisfaction experienced by staff when they see they have made a difference, makes a difficult job worthwhile.
“One outreach worker supported someone for over two years and she has now filed for a divorce and got her share of the property.
“She also still lives in Preston, because she is confident and will call the police if there’s an issue with her ex-partner.
“To see that change in her and how she has been able to escape and be free from the abuse is just lovely.”
And however traumatic the job for PDVS staff, Salma never forgets that they all have something they can cherish which is so often denied to their victims – a safe place to call home.
“When you’ve had a bad day or are not feeling well, what’s the first thing you want to do? Go home.
“But for these women, that’s the place where all the abuse is happening – so for them, there is nowhere they can go and shut their front door and feel like they are in their sanctuary.”
“HE WAS VERY CLEVER AND MANIPULATIVE”
Over the 30 years she spent in an abusive marriage, Amy – not her real name – gradually recognised the troubled state of her relationship.
But it was only when it came to a sudden and shocking end that she realised the extent of the abuse she had suffered.
“Eventually, I discovered my husband was a paedophile and I had him arrested,” Amy recalls.
“Two weeks later, he killed himself.”
“I knew something wasn’t right and I’d been flagging it up for ages, but people were saying it’s just married life – for better and for worse and all that.”
It was only in the devastating aftermath of her husband’s suicide that Amy was able to reflect on how he had controlled her and dominated her life.
“He was telling the children from an early age that I was useless – he was very clever and manipulative,” she says.
But it was not until she had attended group sessions at PDVS that she began to appreciate how she had come to be in that situation in the first place.
“What surprised me was realising that I ended up in the relationship I did because of the way my Dad was. For me, had my Dad been a loving, kind, supportive dad, I would have recognised that certain things in my relationship shouldn’t be happening.
“But if you have been brought up in an abusive household, you have no reference points for what is normal.
“I now know how I’ve been manipulated all my life and I can spot the signs. I once said I’d never go into another relationship, but I’m now feeling confident that I won’t fall into that trap again.”
‘MEN CAN FEEL ASHAMED’
The majority of people supported by PDVS are women, but the charity is keen to work with male victims of domestic abuse – if only they would approach them.
“Some men are ashamed of it and they will ring and make an appointment, but then cancel it,” support worker Kerry says.
“But it’s down to us to persevere and try to reach out to them. They need to know we’re on their side.”
112 – people used the PDVS drop-in service
471 – hours of counselling provided by volunteers
774 – calls to the charity’s helpline
*Figures cover April 2018 to March 2019
‘WE WANT TO LESSEN THE DEVASTATING IMPACT OF DOMESTIC ABUSE’
The social housing provider, Community Gateway Association, says it was only natural that it wanted to support a charity offering help to its own residents – and the wider community in Preston.
“Whilst we support victims in a number of ways, such as re-housing and making their current homes more secure, we recognise that we are not always best placed to provide the specialist support that individuals need in such circumstances, Louise Mattinson, Executive Director of Customer and Communities, said.
“We are therefore always keen to work with and support local organisations who can provide such support.
“PDVS are a well-regarded, long standing charity who share our values and commitment to improving the quality of life for many of the most vulnerable in our communities. As a community-based housing association, we are delighted that we are able to support them to continue their fantastic work,” she added.
HELP IS AT HAND LOCALLY
Anybody suffering from domestic abuse in Preston can call Preston Domestic Violence Services on 01772 201601 during office hours or visit pdvs.org.uk. Please note, the charity can only assist residents who live in the Preston City Council area.