Tag Archives: domestic abuse

Supporting Survivors: How tackling domestic abuse helps us deliver on the Homes for Cathy Commitments

By Iain Turner, Corporate Compliance Manager at Wandle

Wandle is a founding member of Homes for Cathy and, like many other members, was set-up in the 1960’s in response to concerns about rising levels of homelessness. Our founding members wanted to provide homes for families in desperate need of the stability and security a good home brings. Over 50 years on, that aim hasn’t changed, and we are still working to try and end homelessness, by providing safe and affordable homes in South London.

Few people will value a safe and secure home more than a survivor of domestic abuse. Under our long-term strategic plan, we began a project in 2019 to overhaul our approach to domestic abuse. Our aim is to achieve accreditation from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) – an organisation which is driving a step change in tackling domestic abuse across the social housing sector.

Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. It’s an issue that can impact anyone, from any walk of life – regardless of gender, sexuality, class or race. Ian Wright’s recent documentary about growing up with an abusive father shone a light on the long-term impact it can have on children and grown men too.  According to research by homelessness charity St Mungo’s, 32 per cent of homeless women said domestic abuse contributed to their homelessness.

My experience leading our project

Our domestic abuse project is sponsored by our Chief Executive, Tracey Lees, who has been passionately talking about the subject for as long as I’ve been at Wandle. When Tracey asked me to be the project lead I was surprised. I was Wandle’s Policy Officer at the time, working in the Governance Team. I have no hands-on housing management experience, no lived experience of domestic abuse, and had very little knowledge or expertise on the subject.

Fast forward almost three years I’m a trained domestic abuse champion, I’ve attended countless webinars and learned more than I could have imagined about the impact of abuse and how housing providers can support survivors. It’s been emotionally draining at times, but I’ve learned to openly talk about the subject, regardless of whether it might make some people feel uncomfortable (while being mindful of the impact this can have on those who have witnessed or lived through abuse). It’s an uncomfortable topic but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

Supporting our staff

One of the key changes we have made at Wandle is to acknowledge that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of abuse. It’s not something that affects just our residents – it’s something many of our colleagues will live with too. Many providers may think just about their residents when addressing domestic abuse – and that’s the approach we initially were taking – but this changed when we made contact with Hestia and went through their ‘Everyone’s Business’ programme. Hestia worked with us to develop an employee focus policy, raise awareness and train managers and a group of champions in how to support colleagues who may be enduring abuse or supporting someone who is. This work has obviously helped inform our approach for residents too but having a separate policy has really helped us make clear to staff that support is there if they need it.

Meeting our commitments

So, how does our focus on supporting survivors of domestic abuse link to our work as Homes for Cathy members? We have signed up to the nine commitments, one of which is meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups. Given that potentially one in three of our female tenants will endure domestic abuse in their lifetime, we know that tackling domestic abuse certainly helps us towards meeting that commitment. There are numerous ways we can do this, whether it’s transferring someone to a property away from their abuser or putting extra security in place to keep someone safe in their home. Even just signposting to other support services can be a vital first step.

There is still work to do, but we’ve definitely started seeing the benefits of our new approach. We have unfortunately seen a rise in cases since the pandemic hit, but we’ve also provided more support to survivors than ever. We have numerous examples of our Housing Team going out of their way to support survivors, even arranging removals in the dead of night so that a young parent could move without her abuser knowing. We are offering smart doorbells to survivors so they can see who’s at their door and we have a new online web app, developed by Hestia and the Post Office. This signposts to local and national resources, while leaving no internet history, which might otherwise be found by abusers.

Most importantly our automatic response is to believe anyone who tells us they are enduring abuse and will investigate any reports of potential concerns. There’s no doubt that tackling domestic abuse can help Homes for Cathy members meet their commitments, sustain tenancies, and most importantly save lives.

Iain Turner, Corporate Compliance Manager, Wandle


Wandle is a founding member of the Homes for Cathy group. Founded in 1967 as the Merton Family Housing Trust, it has since grown into an organisation with over 7,000 homes across nine south London boroughs.

The supported housing scheme offering a lifeline to vulnerable women

A traumatic past and mental health challenges are a common factor for many people at risk of homelessness.  However, women in particular are often at greater threat of living with complex, multiple disadvantages that can lead to them becoming homeless, especially where dependent children are involved. 

Homes for Cathy spoke to North Star Housing Group, one member organisation that is committed to offering a lifeline to vulnerable women to support them away from homelessness.  North Star’s Hestia Service provides accommodation with intensive support to women in Teesside. In the two decades since the service’s inception, it has helped around 120 women gain the opportunity for a more positive future, with a secure, settled home for life, the cornerstone of its philosophy.

North Star’s Pauline Byrnes, Hestia manager, says, “Our USP is that once our service users no longer require support, they can remain in their home. If they want it to be a home for life, that’s exactly what it can be. Once support is no longer required, the property reverts to general needs property. This provides service users with the stability they’ve never had and from there they can start to address the other issues they may be facing.  All we ask is that they fully engage in the support offered at the outset.”

Hestia’s service users are referred from a range of agencies including the local authority’s homeless service, mental health services, social care and probation and all are classed as homeless.  Some have experienced failed private rental tenancies because of their mental health problems, while others have fled domestic violence or forced marriages.  The service has also supported women with mild learning difficulties, as well as women whose children have special needs, many of whom receive no support from their families. 

Properties from general needs stock

New service users are offered a property from North Star’s general needs stock which becomes a supported tenancy (Assured Shorthold).  These are properties dispersed throughout the local area, rather than located in one dedicated block. They are usually terraced houses with a small back yard, typical of Middlesbrough’s traditional town centre housing stock.  The properties are hand-picked to ensure they are located in areas where tenants can feel safe and come equipped with furniture, soft furnishings, white goods and kitchenware, ready for tenants to move into.  Every property offered is newly decorated to a high standard, ensuring a homely and welcoming environment where tenants want to stay.

Pauline comments, “Our service users take an enormous pride in their new home, often adding their own finishing touches such as cushions and pictures to really make it their own.”

Floating support is provided through a dedicated Hestia service coordinator, offering person centred support. This could include support with all aspects of managing a tenancy, budgeting and rent payments and liaison with North Star’s welfare benefits officer to ensure they are claiming any back-dated benefits they are entitled to.  Service users may also be supported to engage with other services, access recreational activities, education, volunteering opportunities and employment and build links in their local community.

Floating support to break homelessness cycle

Pauline adds, “From the point of referral, we work closely with all the involved agencies such as mental health and social care to identify any risks and draw up a risk management plan.  We also link in closely with other local support services in the area such as the CAB and credit unions.”

The approach certainly works, helping women rebuild their lives and gain hope for the future.  Says Pauline, “On average the support we offer is required for around 18 months but it’s enough to break the cycle of homelessness.  It’s wonderful to see our service users’ self-confidence and self-esteem improve to the point that they can move on in their lives and start to live independently.”

AB’s Story

AB was removed from the family home by Cleveland Police due to concerns regarding her safety. AB is of Pakistani descent, her marriage was arranged, and she moved to the North East to live with her husband and his extended family. During eight years of marriage AB was physically, financially and mentally abused. She was barred from using basic facilities such as the family bathroom and was told to bathe from a bucket of water, even after she gave birth to her daughter. She was beaten regularly by all the family with sticks, hands or pulling out AB’s hair and was made to cook and clean from 7am until 12 midnight every day of the week. AB managed to get to a phone one day and phoned 999, Police took immediate action, and AB was placed in a safe house. AB was unable to take her daughter, and it became clear that her signature had been forged on to numerous documents; one example is that AB’s signature was on a document which gave up her parental responsibilities, another was to claim carer’s allowance.  All documents were signed fraudulently by the husband’s family, without AB’s consent. AB did not have basic living skills, she had had hardly any communication with the outside world, lacked confidence and was unable to do the most basic of tasks. With support from Hestia, AB is now going to the shops, paying her bills and will soon be awarded full custody of her daughter who is now living with AB full-time. The final custody hearing is pending.