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News Guardian, Thursday, December 8, 2011

Secure complex providing shelter and support for families fleeing domestic violence in the borough By Tegan Chapman

WHEN Julie’s violent husband held a knife to her throat in front of their young son, she decided enough was enough and called time on their abusive marriage. Referred by police to a scheme run by the domestic abuse charity Harbour Support Services, Julie and her son are now out of harm’s way, in a new £1.6m refuge opened in North Tyneside last week to offer a temporary haven to women and children fleeing domestic abuse. The refuge complex, consisting of 14 flats and houses, has been created by Isos Housing in partnership with North Tyneside Council and is being managed by Hartlepool-based Harbour. The centre replaces the previously used eight-bedroom bedsit-style accommodation in Whitley Bay, and was official ly opened on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Julie and her son are among the first to seek shelter at the refuge, but sadly they will not be the last. The complex is expected to be much in demand as studies suggest that one in four women in the UK faces domestic abuse at some point in her lifetime. Even more horrifically, an average of two women are killed each week by a violent current or former partner. Because many women arrive in a hurry and with no belongings, the flats and houses are all fully furnished and equipped. Works by north east artists Neil Canavan and Dick and Emily Ward have been commissioned as part of the project to make the refuge feel more like a home to those using it. The complex includes a creche and a

£1.6m refuge offers hope to abuse victims looking for new start From left, Linda Arkley, Lesley Gibson, Isos Housing chief executive Keith Loraine, Bill Carr and Jackie Axelby at the new refuge. Right, Harbour outreach worker Jessica Murray with one of the artworks featured there. teenagers’ room with its own television and games console. To ensure the complex, built by Newcastle firm Surgo, is safe and secure for the residents, there is only one entrance, accessible by using a security key fob, and its exact address is only shared when necessary. Harbour believes that providing a good-quality temporary home can be

the first step in rebuilding abused women’s sense of self-worth. Lesley Gibson, director of Harbour, said: “Women coming into a refuge are usually at a very low point in their lives, feeling they have no value and don’t deserve anything better. “Our view is that providing accommodation of this standard, exceeding their expectations, can be the first step

to them recognising that they do have value and a valid place in the community. “A small thing like the bedding being ironed – and the beds made – can make all the difference, because somebody has taken the trouble to do that for you.” While living at the new refuge, women receive support, both with practical

tasks such as finding permanent accommodation and also in building their confidence so they are ready to live independently in the community. Children living in the refuge are also offered support by Harbour staff as they often carry with them the effects of witnessing the abuse. Isos Housing chairman Jackie Axelby said: “We are proud to be providing a facility of this quality and one which is fulfilling such a vital role in the community. “At a time when budgets for supporting some of society’s most vulnerable people are being squeezed, it’s especially pleasing to be opening up a new facility of this kind.” Bill Carr, area manager for the Homes and Communities Agency in the north east, said: “It is excellent that our investment has meant this scheme can go ahead. “These temporary homes will not only make a difference locally but will also complement a similar scheme recently opened in Durham. “Our partners have done a fantastic job in creating a place that is not only safe, but also welcoming.” Borough mayor Linda Arkley added: “North Tyneside Council and its partners offer a wide range of practical and emotional help to those who have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse, and this new facility will strengthen that support. “We will continue to do all that we can to encourage those who experience abuse to come forward, report it and seek help.” Anyone needing advice or assistance can contact Harbour staff in North Tyneside 24 hours a day on (0191) 251 3305. n Julie’s name has been changed for her protection.

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