A second coronavirus fund grant will help Swindon Women’s Aid keep its shelter open after losing thousands of pounds during the pandemic.
The group has been awarded £5,000 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.
It also received a £10,000 grant in April to help pay for advisors who provide vital reassurance and guidance over the phone. The fund has distributed more than £925,000 through 200 grants to groups across Swindon and Wiltshire to help them deal with the fallout from the pandemic.
Swindon Women’s Aid director Emma Rawlings said a drop in numbers in August meant its funding also fell and with its charity shop having restricted opening times and fundraising events curtailed, the group is more than £10,000 short of making ends meet.
The group relies on funding from Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson for each family it takes in at the shelter, as well housing benefit.
Mrs Rawlings said: “We were very quiet in August, we had eight or nine flats at the shelter empty and that is almost half our income. But we are still left with having to pay our rent and energy bills.
“We don’t really know why it was so quiet when we had been really busy in June and July. We are thinking that maybe because of the lockdown people went on holiday and had weekends away and perhaps that was helpful to relationships.”
In June and July, the group had seen a 30 per cent increase in helpline calls. Referrals to the refuge were up by 63 per cent and to its community services by 16 per cent. “We saw an 11 per cent increase in mental health issues, and that was absolutely a direct result of the lockdown,” said Mrs Rawlings. “We began to see more complex cases coming through, with domestic abuse combined with mental health and cases with children, drugs and alcohol all mixed in.
“Some women were not able to access support services while they were locked down at home with their partners because they couldn’t just make a call when the perpetrator was out or when they did a school run, so by the time they got to us we saw extreme cases coming through.”
After the hiatus in August the shelter is almost full again.
“With the children going back to school, social services are back in there and picking things up again, which means we are getting more referrals,” she said.
“We are just as busy as at this time last year. We talk to Swindon Borough Council every week about how we are doing and what the situation is looking like so that we can provide accommodation for women suffering domestic abuse.
“We are still having to plug a £10,000 gap and I can’t keep eating into our reserves. The grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation is a huge help, I did worry I would have to make someone redundant or cut someone’s hours.”
She said she made some savings by not replacing some staff and spreading the workload across the rest of her team. But the absolute priority is ensuring there is someone there for when women in crisis call on her team.
“At end of the day we have got a 24 hour helpline and we have got to answer that phone when it rings, that is the key thing,” she said.
“No matter what is going on here, when that phone rings and that woman is safe to make that call, we have to be on the end of the phone to pick up her call because she needs us now.”
The Swindon Women’s Aid website is swadomesticabuse.org
People wishing to donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant hould visit wiltshirecf.org.uk