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Project Spotlight: Breathe Free

Empowering Victim-Survivors of Domestic Abuse Through the Breathe Free Project

In April and May, Women's Health Matters proudly welcomed three new cohorts of women and three new paid co-facilitators to our Breathe Free programme, recently refunded for three years by The National Lottery Community Fund. This 20-week course, designed with a trauma-informed approach, aims to support women who have experienced domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and help them rebuild their lives.

The new Breathe Free builds on the valuable learning gained over the previous three years and is split into three 'blocks' including:

Stabilisation Sessions: This unique initial six-week phase focuses on the empowerment we strive to instil in our participants. It enhances wellbeing, builds resilience, creates support networks, and fosters creativity for self-care. During these sessions, participants engage in various activities, such as practising setting boundaries and learning self-care strategies and breathing techniques. Additionally, women are invited to a trip to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a symbol of 'recovery in nature'. This phase is vital in setting the foundation for the rest of the programme.

Breathe Free Attendees at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Understanding DVA: The second phase delves into the complexities and forms of DVA, highlighting its impact on women and children. During this phase, participants will learn about all forms of DVA, including coercive control, red flags, financial abuse, coping with grief and loss, and why women stay in abusive relationships, which are crucial in understanding their experiences and developing strategies for recovery.

Future Planning: Women are encouraged and empowered throughout the final phase to look to their futures and next steps. They are offered support with accessing training and employment opportunities and rebuilding their lives after abuse.

One of the most exciting aspects of the refunded Breathe Free programme is the active involvement of our graduates as co-facilitators. These women, who have completed the course and lived through DVA, provide invaluable support and mentorship to current participants. Moreover, these co-facilitator roles will create 18 meaningful and supportive paid work opportunities for women with lived experience.

Reflecting on the previous Breathe Free courses from April 2021 to April 2024, we discovered a significant barrier to leaving abusive relationships: financial independence. We asked women if they would have left their abusive relationship sooner if they had the money to do so. All said yes.

"If you're more independent, you're less likely to get into that situation again."
"It's about trying to break that cycle and independence and employment is a massive part."

To address this, we've amplified our focus on helping women engage in training and secure paid work, with the support of High Speed Training and Smart Works. This initiative boosts their confidence, removes financial barriers to leaving abusive relationships, and reduces the risk of reconciliation. For those who do not want to apply for the paid work opportunities or are unsuccessful, Breathe Free graduates can volunteer in various roles, such as developing resources, devising social media campaigns, and delivering training to social work students. These roles enable them to share knowledge, build confidence, and enhance their CVs.

The Breathe Free programme offers comprehensive support to ensure accessibility and sustainable outcomes. We cover transportation costs, provide creche facilities for those with pre-school-aged children, and offer refreshments during sessions. Additionally, all women accessing WHM services have access to our Digital Drop-In scheme funded by High Speed Training, a weekly drop-in match funded by Jimbo's Fund, and a Legal Drop-In provided by Ramsdens Solicitors. Attendees also benefit from referrals to other services, including fast-track counselling at Impact North and advocacy with professionals such as GPs, Housing and Social Work Services. Essentials like toiletries, clothes, food, and children's toys are available on a 'take as you need' basis.

We are thrilled to continue offering the Breathe Free project for another three years, providing a crucial space for women to recover and move forward from their experiences of DVA. The waiting list for Breathe Free is open, and we can receive both professional and self-referrals on our website:

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