Reflections on The Key

We set up The Key in 2013 for two main reasons – firstly women in our domestic violence groups told us they wished that someone had talked to them about relationships or offered them support when they were much younger – often their first abusive relationships had started in their early teens.  Secondly, because our group work in schools showed that girls and young women not only wanted to learn about healthy relationships and staying safe, but lots of them NEEDED it, whether because they were in an abusive relationship, or they witnessed or experienced abuse at home.  We knew it was important to remove as many barriers to young women accessing the service as possible – we wanted to support people from across the city, so we didn’t have to turn people away if they didn’t live in a certain area.  We knew we needed to provide transport – some women were anxious about making their own way there, or getting a bus, or wouldn’t be able to afford to get there themselves and we didn’t want problems with travel to stop people getting to the support they needed.  At WHM we always try to provide a crèche where funding allows, because we know lots of women can’t attend groups if there isn’t a safe space for their children provided, we wanted interpreters for the same reason.   Thankfully, the lovely folk at the National Lottery Community Fund completely agreed and funded the project, initially for three years.

Originally, The Key had three strands – long term group support for girls aged 13–17 that would fit around school or college, long term group support for young women 16-25 during the day that would have a crèche so those with children could attend, and intensive one to one support for those who needed it, or who couldn’t attend group for some reason.  Group sessions covered things like identifying different types of abuse, learning how to recognise our early warning signs – our gut instinct or feelings in our body that tell us something isn’t ok and the impact of abuse on children – for young women this focussed on how living with relationship abuse could impact their own children growing up and for the girls, we looked at what the impact may have been on them growing up around abusive relationships.  Alongside these sessions around abuse, we looked at what helps us avoid future unhealthy relationships – sessions around what a healthy relationship looks like, what we as individuals want from a romantic relationship, how we can increase our self esteem and also feel stronger in ourselves.  The one to one support we offered depended on what the girl or young woman needed, it could be emotional support or practical support – such as attending court or reporting to the police, or with some we would go through a healthy relationships programme with them that would fit what was going on in their lives.

This worked so well, girls and women came to group loved it (even those who were really nervous at first!), shared their stories, sometimes cried a little, laughed A LOT and worked through what was going on for them.  They also really supported each other, with ideas and suggestions about how they managed to deal with certain issues shared with everyone.  We were clear that it needed to be a really safe environment where there was no judgment, and everyone stuck to that and looked after each other.  If there was a specific issue coming up for a lot of people, we’d add a session on it – such as a self harm session for the girls group and a sexual violence session for the young women’s group.  In our third year we held a Key event that group members planned with us, to celebrate the project and tell everyone how great it was!

When the first three years of funding ended, we had seen how important the project was and what a difference it made for girls and young women in Leeds, but we also knew we could make it better.  The long term support was still the main focus, but we also wanted to add short term healthy relationships programmes in schools which would help us reach more girls, but also help prevent some of them from finding themselves in unhealthy relationships.  Our evaluators from Leeds Beckett University also had a recommendation – that group members who had completed the programme struggled to leave our project as they often still had things going on they wanted support with when.  We totally agreed with this, so wanted to add another aspect to the project – a Moving on Group. This would be somewhere group members could go when they finished their initial group programme to still have support, but it would be every two weeks rather than weekly, would be a bit more flexible around how the group was delivered and those attending would have more involvement in how the group was run.  we went back to our funders and they gave us a further three years.

This time round we also included more sessions around dealing with difficult emotions such as anxiety, stress and managing anger and around our bodies, sex and consent.  We delivered the short programme in schools across the city and added some one-off sessions on recognising abuse in places like youth clubs and colleges.  In our final year we worked with Leeds Children’s Services to produce animations on what it’s like growing up as a girl in Leeds where the girls and young women spoke about what was important to them, including interviews on periods, puberty, sexual violence, difficult family relationships, bullying,  pregnancy and abusive relationships.  These animations will be released to the public soon so keep an eye out for them!  Last year, The Key was recognised at the Children and Young People Now magazine’s national awards in London, where we were shortlisted in three categories, read more about that here!

This month, we’re saying goodbye to this ground-breaking project.  We want to say a huge thank you to the support from the lottery and also to our evaluators Louise and Susan at Leeds Beckett University.  Thank you to the WHM team who have worked on the project – Lucy, Marianna, Nic, Sarah, Aneira, Leeanne and Karen.  Our biggest thank you goes to the girls and young women who have been part of The Key over the years – your support of each other, bravery, kindness and strength has amazed us every single day.  You made the project what it was and it’s been fantastic!

 

 

 

Exciting new video project with Breathing Space

Some of the women from our Breathing Space project are working with Tee Hogan of Teevision to create a film around their experiences.  We have two aims for this piece of work, firstly that other women going through domestic abuse will hopefully feel like they are not alone and are encouraged not only to get help and support, but are also able to work out what support is right for them.

The film will also be a training tool for professionals. The women were reflecting on what it feels like to be properly heard, or not, and what it’s like to have been through trauma and then have to work with someone you don’t know, such as a new Social Worker.

Some of their messages to professionals were;

  • Remember that we feel isolated and anxious
  • Please pay full attention to the person you’re trying to help
  • Professionals should work together when needed
  • Women would like full feedback from MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences), they felt they were being spoken about, but don’t know what is being said.

Group members also said that they felt professionals didn’t always understand how complicated being in an abusive relationship is, that saying ‘just leave’ or ‘just call the police’ isn’t always helpful.

One woman said –

“I couldn’t call the police to my house if he was violent because I knew people who would make you disappear.”

They also talked about the fact that in multi-agency meetings, women and men were often held to different standards. So, if the child’s dad attended one meeting, they felt he was really praised, but if mum attended all of hers, but then missed one, she was judged much more harshly.

“He’s treated like a prince in meetings.”

The film is still in its early stages, but we’ll keep you posted and are looking forward to showing it to the public!

Summertime and the living is….busy!

Although it already feels like summer was a million years ago, as usual it was a busy time here at WHM.  As some of our groups close over the summer holidays, we use it as a time to go on trips if we can, or catch up with women and girls for one to one appointments (and sometimes even to go on holiday ourselves!).  Here are some of the highlights of our summer.

Hannah, or Rainbow Hearts Wellbeing Case Worker supports women on a one to one basis. She fills us in on some of the things she’s been up to over summer –

“As the Wellbeing Case Worker working with women who are seeking asylum I have recently been focusing on the link between mental health and physical health. I have supported women in getting Leeds Cards so they can access reduced cost gym and swimming sessions. This has helped women to build up their support networks and get to know their local area better, as well as improving their physical health. Women seeking asylum often struggle to access gyms or exercise classes due to the cost, the Leeds Card offers women the opportunity to be able to go to the gym or go swimming at a reduced cost which makes it more accessible for all women to attend. The women who have been have enjoyed the sessions and are keen to keep going!”

Picnics featured A LOT in our summer trips, with Rainbow Hearts, Breathing Space and our Leeds Domestic Violence Service groups.

Tayba fills us in on the Breathing Space trips –

“The women and children enjoyed a picnic in Temple Newsam and a walk around the farm where they got to see a pig giving birth. This was all topped off by some cooling ice-cream and lollies. Many of us were also running away from the swarm of wasps! A great day out though.

On another trip, the women also went to Roundhay Park and had a picnic, again enjoying the greenery with the beautiful sunshine. Walking in nature is one of the things we talk about when we look at self-care in our groups.

The final trip for the Summer break was to Meanwood Farm. Again, connecting with nature and animals is very therapeutic and a fun day out with the kids.

Finally, the women expressed their appreciation and gratitude for having the opportunity to have day trips with the children during the summer break, which can be very testing for 6 weeks. Days out don’t have to cost much, kids get to run about, you get to take a break from boring chores perhaps- a great way to keep some boredom at bay!”

 

Rainbow Hearts also enjoyed a gorgeous day in Roundhay Park in the summer and took one of our favourite photos ever –

 

Lastly, our girls and young women’s project The Key went on an awesome trip to Yorkshire Wildlife Park. Some of the day was a bit rainy, but that didn’t stop us having a great day. They were filming the TV show ‘Big Week at the Zoo’ while we were there so we were able to have a bit of a nosey at that too. We had such a fantastic time, with one little boy saying his favourite animals were ‘the monkeybears’!  You can tell Sarah was on photo taking duty as, by the end of the day, we had only taken photos of otters!

Thanks to all the team, the women & girls who came along, and also the children who joined us too for making it a summer to remember.

 

 

A poem about moving on.

A woman who attends one of our group wrote a moving poem about her experience –

I have layers of pain all running through my brain
I don’t wanna feel it in my vain
He put his hands over my lips I feel him upon my hips
I just wish this was a dream but it’s all been seen
All I feel is fear
On my face there’s a tear
Don’t do it to your wrists
It will all be bliss
I wish I didn’t feel sad
Wish I could call my dad
Just throw away the key
Lock the door
Rose you’ve been here before
You’re strong
It will not last long
Don’t listen to that song
All the lyrics are wrong
Rose you can work hard if you tried
You nearly died
I need to find myself
It’s not good for my mental health
Think of the kid’s mind
Their feelings are not blind
Tell yourself why do you keep going back
Just think ‘been there, done that’
He’ll never change
He’s out of your range
Stop walking on the edge
Push him to the hedge
He is your ex boyfriend
Now that’s the end.