Campaigners say new domestic abuse refuges desperately needed

A shadow of a man with a clenched fist as a woman cowers in the corner.

Demand for domestic abuse refuges in Norfolk is outstripping the number of beds available. PICTURE POSED BY MODEL. - Credit: PA

An official report has warned of the urgent need for new refuges for victims of domestic violence in Norfolk, with demand for safe accommodation outstripping supply.

Campaigners say the shortage has led to the "heartbreaking" scenario where some victims, unable to find somewhere safe, are returning home to their abusers.

The report, from Norfolk County Council, found that around 26 women are referred to Norfolk refuges each week, but on average there are only 13 spaces available for them.

The report, part of County Hall's strategy to tackle the issue of domestic violence, said this translated into an estimated shortfall of 36 beds for people seeking refuge - at a time when recorded domestic abuse crimes in the county have increased by almost 20pc.

There were just under 11,500 recorded domestic abuse crimes in the county in 2020, with the highest rates in Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

While attempts are made to get people into temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfast, hotels or shared homes, campaigners say there are occasions when that proves impossible.

Founder of Dawn's New Horizon, Lorraine Saunders, says the charity need help to find bigger premises

Lorraine Curston, founder of Dawn's New Horizon. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Lorraine Curston, founder of domestic violence support group Dawn's New Horizon, based in Sprowston, said it was vital extra bed spaces were made available.

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She said: "It is a huge issue. Especially during the pandemic, the lack of spaces meant people have had to stay where they are and suffer in silence.

"We have had people who have come to us saying they have had nowhere to go, but the organisations we put them in touch with have had no spaces they can offer.

"We have been able to put some people in bed and breakfast until something is available.

"But sometimes people go back to the homes of their abusers. It is heartbreaking.

"Some may be able to go to friends of family members, but some of them are on benefits and can lose their benefits if they take somebody in, or the person can lose their own benefits.

"It is a nightmare. I'd be very much in favour of more bed space because it is very much needed."

After years of trying, Dawn's New Horizon has just been granted charitable status, which will mean it can seek funding to provide emergency accommodation.

In some cases people have been sent out of county, although the county council says the nature of domestic abuse means getting people away from their local area is sometimes necessary.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of Norfolk County Council's Conservative-controlled cabinet on Monday (December 6).

Councillors agreed a Domestic Abuse – Norfolk’s Safe Accommodation and Support Strategy, which aims to work with other organisations, such as Leeway and Orwell Housing, to tackle the problem.

The county council has been awarded £1.8m from the government - and the district councils £30,000 each - to help support the strategy.

One of its aims is to increase the amount and flexibility of safe accommodation.

Norfolk currently has seven refuges - one in each district along with safe houses in Norwich and North Norfolk. There are currently no refuges for male victims of domestic abuse.

The strategy states that the council will work with providers, districts, housing associations and Homes England - the public body set up to encourage house building - to investigate ways to provide more accommodation.

That could be through re-purposing existing buildings, leasing buildings or building new refuges.

James Bullion, Norfolk County Council's director of adult social care, welcomed the "progressive agenda" of tackling domestic abuse.

Bill Borrett, chairman of Norfolk County Council's adult social care committee. Picture: Matthew Ush

Bill Borrett, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for adult social care - Credit: Matthew Usher

And Bill Borrett, cabinet member for adult social care, said: "I think it is not really understood what a pervasive issue this is and how it affects many other areas of the county council.

"I really do think what is proposed is a step change in the understanding, facilities and support which will be available to people."

The strategy also includes improving engagement with domestic abuse victims and survivors and increased support for children affected.

Almost a quarter of calls to Norfolk police are related to domestic abuse.

Paul Sanford who is taking over as the new temporary chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary. Pictur

Norfolk police's chief constable Paul Sanford. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Norfolk's chief constable Paul Sanford has said the force was working to ensure it addressed perpetrators’ behaviours and educated police officers around domestic abuse and areas such as coercive control.


What to do if you are the victim of domestic violence

If you, or anyone else, is at immediate risk of harm, phone the police on 999.

The silent solution: If you can’t speak or make a sound when calling 999, listen to the operator's questions, then tap the handset. If prompted, press 55. Your call will be transferred to police who will know it’s an emergency.

There is support available to help you whether you are currently experiencing domestic abuse or have recently left an abusive relationship.

Local organisations include:


Leeway refuge services

Website: www.leewaysupport.org

Email: referrals@leewaynwa.org.uk

Telephone: 0300 561 0077


Orwell refuge services (Haven Project) (covers South Norfolk)

Telephone: 0845 467 4876

Email: havenproject@orwell-housing.co.uk


Victim Support

Website: www.victimsupport.org.uk

Telephone: 0808 1689 111 (National Helpline, 24 hours)

0300 303 3706 (Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care, 8am-5pm Monday-Friday)

Email: vcu.eastofengland@victimsupport.org.uk


Pandora (covers King's Lynn and West Norfolk)

Website: www.pandoraproject.org.uk

Email: referrals@pandoraproject.org.uk

Area covered: King's Lynn and West Norfolk

Advice Line: 07526 257857 (10am-3pm Friday only)


Daisy Programme (covers Breckland)

Facebook site: daisyprogramme.org.uk

Email: help@daisyprogramme.org.uk


Dawn's New Horizons

Website:  www.dawnsnewhorizon.org.uk

Email: dawnsnewhorizon@yahoo.com

Telephone 07854 044680 (9am-5pm seven days a week)


National Domestic Violence Helpline

Website: www.womensaid.org.uk

Telephone: 0808 2000 247



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