Hello, I’m Margaret and I’m the Coordinator for Bridge House Refuge. Where do I start to describe my role? I’ve been at Bridge House for thirteen years and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve enjoyed it. I like my work and I find it very rewarding. I enjoy working with other women; not just physically helping them when they are fleeing domestic violence, but also supporting them with the other issues that they face like supporting to build their self esteem and increase their confidence.
I’m a very mothering figure and I love having the children around. I like knowing that they’re in a warm environment where they can try to forget about what has been going on around them or the things they have witnessed. Bridge House is a good place for children and they’re always happy here. It’s great having Amanda to do activities with them and you can really see them develop whilst they are here.
I enjoy lots of thing about my job and I particularly like working with the families when they are reunited or the mums move on with their lives and start new relationships. I like seeing how the men interact with the children and one case of a family particularly sticks in my mind. When they became homeless the mum and little girl came to live at Bridge House and the dad stayed in another one of Action Homeless’ projects. The daughter Amelia is quite a shy little girl anyway but when she was at Bridge House she became very withdrawn and missed her dad a lot; it was wonderful when we were able to find them a family home and they were all back together again. I think people have the perception that I don’t like working with men but that’s just not true; I think it’s really important to find good male role models for children in society.
A normal day for me can be quite varied but my role mainly consists of processing referrals and working with the women. All of the women at Bridge House will have suffered domestic violence in some form so I spend a lot of my time listening to them talk about their experiences and helping them to deal with their trauma. In my previous job I worked in the community which dealt with very severe instances of domestic violence. Fortunately I’ve never had a case like that at Bridge House but domestic violence and domestic abuse is always awful. The emotional and mental trauma which results from domestic violence can make people mentally ill and often people don’t recognise the mental health problems which are associated with domestic violence.
My job can be difficult because women cope with domestic violence in very different ways and they have all had different experiences. I must work with each individual on an individual basis. There is no one cap fits all solution when it comes to dealing with domestic violence.
When I get home each night I summarise my day. I’m not very good with names but I think about each person I’m supporting and make a list of who I need to get in touch with the next day. I think it’s important to reflect on your day because then you can self-assess. It’s just me working at Bridge House on the women’s cases so I have to make sure all interventions are as clear as possible, making reflection more important than ever. I also have a lot of cases so I find that summarising everything means that I can leave it for the night and get on with it the next day.
An important part of my job is helping the women to make their own choices and ensuring that they do what’s right for them. I sit down with them and explore the different options they have available. It’s crucial that I listen to what they want. It’s their life and I have no hidden agenda; I also work to create a dialogue between different people and especially with outside agencies. It’s about creating trust. When I work with the women I think it’s important for them to know that they need to put in what they want to get out. They need to take responsibility for their own future, especially because they’ve come out of a domestic violence setting where they have been so powerless.
I think the best thing about my job is that I can just be myself. I believe that you should treat everyone the same way no matter what – we’re all human beings. If I do that one thing then I can live with myself.
I must be honest when I’m working with the women and be sure that I don’t offer them any false hopes. The key focus of my job is to help the women get what they want, so I must be flexible and work with their individual needs. What people don’t often realise is that a refuge is a positive and celebratory space; it’s not a space to grieve. Bridge House is a place for new beginnings, it’s a fresh start. It’s amazing to see what the women can achieve after what they’ve experienced. I’m always so pleased when they move on because it’s great for them and their families. In this job I can’t take rewards for myself because the women have been through so much. Any rewards are theirs.
I always try to smile because I want people to feel welcome when they arrive at Bridge House. My role is challenging because I’m constantly meeting new people who have experienced domestic violence and I must find the inner strength to support them. Domestic violence is very challenging and what is particularly difficult is empowering the women to believe that they are able to achieve their goals. As well as the support which I give to them, the women also have counselling to help them come to terms with their trauma. The women soon realise that they’re not on their own but that they are surrounded by women who have had similar experiences and are there for them.
I manage Amanda, our Children’s Services Coordinator and support her because she’s not come from a domestic violence background. I work to ensure that she knows what’s going on and can handle situations which arise when I’m not there. It’s great having Amanda at Bridge because she allows the mums to have one-to-one time with me.
I often find that when mums have experienced domestic violence it can be really difficult for them because they think they have upset their children. Amanda works to bring out the happy side in their children and also helps to strengthen their relationships with their mums. You can really see the change after the families have been here for a few weeks. I love working in such a homely environment, especially when there are children around. Happy children make you feel energised and joyful yourself.