Meet: Wear Valley Women's Aid (WVWA)


International Women’s Day took place on 8 March. To mark the occasion, we spoke to Ruth Dawson, the Manager and Director of Wear Valley Women's Aid, about the charity’s work helping women build a safer, happier future.

Who does your service help?

Wear Valley Women’s Aid (WVWA) operates a service for adult victims of domestic abuse and their children. We offer emergency accommodation and a support programme for anyone who has experienced, or continues to experience, any form of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is a ‘gendered crime’: victims are predominantly women and children, and perpetrators are predominantly men. There is a distinct lack of accurate data on the prevalence of domestic abuse in the UK, as many victims feel unable to report it. However, it is believed that around one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, whilst two women a week are killed by their partners.

The victims we have supported so far have been aged between 16 and 90, and from a diverse range of backgrounds. We aim to support around 150 families per year.

How long have you worked at Wear Valley Women's Aid?

Whilst we are a Women’s Aid member and share their overall aim of eradicating domestic abuse, we continue to operate as a standalone charity and community hub.

I joined the team ten years ago, having been involved with the charity on a voluntary basis for several years. I personally feel honoured to have worked with so many inspirational women and fantastic children over the years. That’s why I’m thrilled to now take the service forward as a Manager and Director of the charity.

What do you like best about working at Wear Valley Women's Aid? Tell us about your successes.

I consider every woman who comes through our door to be a success. They do the hard part by seeking safety and support; we have the pleasure of providing it. It is important not to underestimate how daunting it can be to leave everything (and often everyone) you know behind, and place your trust in strangers and start a new life.

The greatest satisfaction I receive from the job is helping families to start over. Many former clients have gone on to have the sort of life they, at one point, thought was out of reach. Many have developed their careers, becoming financially independent, or have gone onto further/higher education. However, the most impactful change we see is improved confidence – which is evident in new relationships, family relationships and friendships.

I feel lucky to have developed fantastic friendships with some amazing women, many of which, I feel confident, will be lifelong.

Tell us about some of the projects you are working on at Wear Valley Women's Aid.

Our newest project, due to start within the next few weeks, involves counselling provision. Depression and mental ill health can be devastating. Around 80% of our clients experience low mood, depression, anxiety or another form of mental illness, usually as a result of their experiences. When referred for counselling by their GP, patients are being placed on a long waiting list, usually waiting several months for therapy.

Our aim is to provide immediate emotional support and for clients to begin therapy with our new resident counsellor within two weeks. We have never been in a position to consistently provide this service before and we are grateful to our local Area Action Partnership for funding the project.

We continuously seek to develop our knowledge and skills to be able to meet the needs of our diverse client base. Recently, we have undertaken sensory impairment awareness training, drug and alcohol awareness training, and learned new languages such as French, British Sign Language and Portuguese!

What is the most important thing you’ve learned from working at Wear Valley Women's Aid?

When I started working at WVWA, I was in my twenties and believed I knew everything there was to know. Quite quickly I realised that was not the case!

People and lives are complex. One size does not fit all. Sometimes it can take a lot of time, patience and hard work before a woman can start to feel in control of her life after what is usually a prolonged experience of abuse.

But I learned that women are remarkably resilient. It is inspiring to watch women take responsibility for tackling the impact of their experiences head-on and turn it into an opportunity for positive change. We all need support at some time in our lives: accepting that and engaging with it requires strength. There is no shortage of that within the women I’ve met.

How did you mark International Women's Day?

Celebrating International Women’s Day on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage was an opportunity not to be missed! We set up stalls within several local businesses and spent the day raising awareness of domestic abuse and raising our profile as an organisation.

A huge thank you to Ruth for her time.

Find out more about Wear Valley Women's Aid.