Covid-19 Action Fund winners: domestic abuse

The Covid-19 Action Fund provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. Hundreds of pandemic projects nationwide are being run or assisted by Churchill Fellows, using the international expertise they gained during their Fellowships overseas. Here are the Action Fund recipients working on domestic abuse issues.

December 2020 awards

Gudrun Burnet: empowering survivors of domestic abuse to access safe housing


Numerous reports have shown that domestic abuse has risen during the pandemic, whilst a recent Women's Aid survey found that 20% of survivors tried to leave their homes during the pandemic but were unable to access alternative suitable housing. A survey from the charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) additionally showed that, of those who needed housing advice, 41% could not access it and over half were concerned about their housing situation due to the perpetrator's actions. With the recent legislative changes around housing and evictions, arising from the pandemic, many domestic abuse survivors are confused about their rights.

Gudrun Burnet from Chertsey in Surrey is the CEO of the charity Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse, and the co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA).

She will use the grant to deliver a housing law education programme for survivors of domestic abuse and domestic abuse workers. The programme will empower survivors to exercise their rights when dealing with housing problems and increase the capacity of workers to support survivors in securing safe and stable housing. This in turn will help provide safety and recovery for survivors, whilst reducing homelessness. The programme will be delivered online by Law For Life, a charity dedicated to ensuring that people have the knowledge, confidence and skills needed to secure access to justice, in conjunction with DAHA and Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA).  The programme will be tailored to incorporate the latest legislation around evictions and other relevant housing topics for domestic abuse survivors.  Following this, resources will be created for domestic abuse services, who will be able to access the programme. Gudrun's Churchill Fellowship to Australia, Canada and the USA in 2016 explored international practice around domestic abuse and housing, and was supported by the National Housing Federation.

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Nicola Sharp-Jeffs: preventing economic abuse


Statistics show that one in four UK women have experienced domestic abuse in a current or former relationship, and 95% of victim-survivors have experienced economic abuse as a form of coercion and control. For women experiencing domestic abuse, work may be their only safe space and contact with work colleagues their only access to support. For many, this has been taken away during the Covid-19 crisis and the prospect of having to work from home long-term creates isolation and increases risk.

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs from Essex is the founder of the charity Surviving Economic Abuse, which has seen a rise in economic abuse cases during the pandemic.

She will use her grant to develop expert training and a free resource to equip employers with knowledge, skills and confidence to support their employees' economic wellbeing during and after Covid-19. The resource will help guide discussions around economic wellbeing and will help employers to recognise the signs of economic abuse. It will also offer advice on practical support that line managers can offer, actions that can be taken by employers, and information about specialist domestic abuse support services and how to access them. Training will be conducted alongside this via webinars and online workshops, to guide employers and line managers using the resource. Nicola hopes that by building economic wellbeing into workplace systems and processes, and by normalising conversations around economic abuse, many cases will be prevented or acted on at an early stage. Nicola's Churchill Fellowship to Australia and the USA in 2016 explored supporting victims of financial abuse (a sub-category of economic abuse). 

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Sudarshan Bhuhi: empowering BAME women affected by domestic abuse


Numerous reports have shown that domestic abuse has risen during the pandemic, fuelled by the lockdown and reduction in access to safe spaces outside of the home. Yet many cases of domestic abuse go unreported, particularly amongst BAME and migrant women  - due perhaps to lack of knowledge of how or where to access help, being new to the UK, language barriers, low-self-esteem and confidence, being isolated, or even lack of awareness that they are experiencing abuse. This has been exacerbated during the pandemic as the NHS, usually the only point of contact for this group of women, has had to transform its services to tackle the virus.

Sudarshan Bhuhi from Redbridge in London is the founder of Aanchal Women's Aid, a domestic abuse charity, which has seen a rise in uptake of its services during the pandemic.

She will use her grant to launch a pilot project called Chai Chat, which will provide a digital support channel and education programme for 80 hard-to-reach BAME women affected by domestic abuse. Through weekly 90-minute online sessions, participants will be equipped and empowered with knowledge to take informed actions, including understanding their rights and where they can access help. The women will receive therapeutic support, guidance, information and connections to other specialist services, as well as an online self-care toolkit and access to an e-learning platform. Sudarshan will engage with faith establishments, GPs and health services, and launch a social media campaign to encourage women to sign up to Chai Chat. She hopes this early intervention model will lead to further prevention, and be replicated to reach more women across the UK. Sudarshan's Churchill Fellowship to India in 2016 explored policing infrastructure against domestic abuse. 

View Sudarshan's profile 

June 2020 awards

Becky Rogerson: preventing domestic abuse


The rate of murders linked to domestic abuse appears to have doubled during the lockdown period. Many potential victims are trapped in abusive relationships and do not have the space to make calls to helplines or visit professionals who could identify warning signs. Whilst friends and family members are encouraged to report abuse, many often don't know how or who to, and pathways can be blocked by legislative restrictions and lack of accepted practice for this amongst police and service providers.

Becky Rogerson is the director of the domestic abuse charity Wearside Women in Need, based in Sunderland.

She will use her grant to promote a campaign that raises awareness and equips the community in supporting its members and reporting abuse, and to develop a  model that ensures services respond to the community with open pathways and support. She will initially develop this in the north-east of England. She will provide advice, a toolkit, a helpline and website with resources to empower the local community, and she will launch a model of community support from local services and the Northumbria Police. Her aim is that this model and campaign could be replicated to other regions across the UK. Becky's Churchill Fellowship explored legal and community responses to domestic violence across North and South America. 

View Becky's profile 

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