What’s it like running a refuge in a pandemic?

Sue Wallis, CEO of NDADA, reveals what life has been like at the Devon refuge during the coronavirus pandemic

Sue Wallis, CEO of North Devon Against Domestic Abuse (NDADA), reveals what life has been like at NDADA’s Devon refuge during the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown

What was lockdown like at the refuge?

‘Lockdown was a strange time at the refuge. We had families who were already with us, and we had to work out very quickly how we were going to bring in new families. It was possible to do during lockdown; the government guidance did allow for those in need to seek refuge but travel was obviously much more difficult. We worked with our partners in North Devon Council Housing Department and were even able to move a family on to their “forever” home during the lockdown period due to this effective partnership.

‘The one thing that was completely in our favour was the weather.  The children were able to play in the garden almost every day and many teddy bears’ picnics were on the agenda. As in other homes, there was lots of baking and the residents responded very well to the lockdown in general saying that it enhanced their sense of security.’

Have you had to turn people away due to higher demand?

‘Referrals into our refuge and outreach services during the pandemic have become increasingly complex in nature. We have to balance available staff time (because of Covid-19 restrictions) with the potential needs of the client. In general all referrals have increased since the partial removal of lockdown.’

How are you keeping residents who are already living in the refuge safe?

‘The new referrals into our communal refuge come to us via a “stepping stone” safe house nearby where we are able to get the family tested for Covid-19 and, upon a negative result, move them into the refuge. Once in the refuge everyone follows government guidelines and are supported to do so.’

Have you been given government information on how to protect the residents during the pandemic?

‘There is government guidance for refuge providers and we also have our own policies.’

Have you had special access to testing?

‘We are included in the Care Home Pathway operated by Devon Public Health following a plea from us – we know this is not happening everywhere and we are incredibly grateful.’

How was home schooling during lockdown and how have the kids adapted to going back to school?

‘Everyone is pleased the children are back at school! Children thrive better when in a routine and mums thrive better when they have a moment to think of themselves. Having said that, home schooling was very successful with mothers taking it in turns to supervise. In this particular instance it may well have been easier in the refuge than at home.’

Are residents considered a bubble or are they having to stay separate from each other?

‘We’re one giant household in the refuge – it couldn’t work any other way.’