Leeway - protecting the vulnerable during lockdown and beyond

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CAN’s research into the state of the VCSE sector across Norfolk during the COVID-19 pandemic has been building a comprehensive analysis of information needed for future sector planning. It also reflects the resilience which many charities and voluntary organisations have shown in adapting to delivering their services at this time. 

Leeway has been supporting children, young people and adults who experience domestic abuse in Norfolk and Suffolk since 1974 by volunteers in 1974, when it was established by volunteers with a grant from Norwich City Council. Four decades on Leeway has seven safe refugees and a team of around seventy providing advice, support and information.  1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and 750,000 child incidents of domestic abuse are reported in the UK every year. It’s Leeway’s stated aim to provide free and confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic abuse. 

In common with most other charities and voluntary organisations across Norfolk, Leeway has had to change the way it delivers services. Face-to-face and group work has naturally had to be shelved for the duration. Again, as with so many, this is a key element of how their services are usually – but cannot at present – be delivered. Leeway has taken precautionary action to ensure that they can maintain contact with all their service users, whilst also keeping their teams safe.  

Breaking free from abuse is not easy, and home is not a safe place for many people. Lockdown has led to increased isolation and vulnerability for some victims, and it’s often not safe to simply pick up the phone. Whilst technology can itself be a medium for abuse, it has proved a boon for maintaining contact.   

Media and PR Officer, Rhys Lloyd, says: “A lot of people have embraced email, video, and Skype to stay in touch. If anything, technology has enabled us to help more people.”  

And Leeway has some innovative ways of protecting those trying to contact them.  

“Our website has a ‘quick exit’ button that diverts discreetly and instantly to Google if the person seeking help is unexpectedly interrupted. Email has generally, however, proved easier and more discreet for some. We will also be offering a live online chat service soon” explained Rhys. 

Dealing with domestic abuse takes time. It doesn’t just go away, and it can be a long journey. Leeway’s advisers start with a risk assessment based on urgency of need and the safety of the individual. Advice and support are then tailored to that person’s need, helping them become aware of options and possibilities open to them. Practical workshops are also providing for those not familiar with the skills needed to help re-establish themselves independently. 

Raising awareness and improving people’s and organisations’ understanding of the issues surrounding domestic abuse is also an important part of Leeway’s work. Domestic abuse costs the UK economy around £9 million  each year, and it is known that three-quarters of people experiencing domestic abuse are also targeted at work, often by employers who have misunderstood reasons for high levels of absence, poor time-keeping or reduced productivity. Leeway’s experienced trainers deliver awareness training to businesses, health services and the public sector. 

And last month Leeway secured significant funding from Norfolk County Council to continue its work after lockdown, which will see the creation of three new jobs and fund temporary accommodation. 

Find out more about Leeway’s work here.  You can also read about the range of important roles fulfilled by their dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. And you could join them!