What’s it like spending Christmas at a refuge?

Mother and child hugging at Christmas
NDADA's CEO Sue Wallis describes what Christmas is like for the women and children who have fled home and are spending the festive season at the refuge

NDADA’s CEO Hannah Ashford describes what Christmas is like for the women and children who have fled their homes and are spending the festive season at the Devon refuge

How do the children adapt to Christmas in a new setting?

We aim to make it fun when children arrive at the refuge. Often the staff will take the children on a treasure hunt to show them around the house and garden. The hunt ends in their new room, where they find a backpack with their name attached on the label. These backpacks are filled with things they may need including pyjamas and activities. There are plenty of Christmas activities over December which the children love. We offer lots of support to the mother/parent as we know if they are feeling safe, their children will benefit.

Do you exchange gifts?

Every year we are humbled by our wonderful North Devon community who rally around to ensure all the residents have presents. The Barnstaple and District Soroptimists wrap the presents, and these are delivered by ‘Mother Christmas’.

Do you have a traditional Christmas lunch together?

We are lucky to have a big communal kitchen and dining area, making cooking a Christmas feast more than possible! However, not all our residents like to do this for a myriad of reasons. The cost-of-living crisis is causing many worries this year, so we will be using funds donated to the Christmas appeal to provide festive food to our residents.

How do you accommodate residents’ different ways of celebrating?

We are always sensitive to the cultural needs of our refuge community. We celebrate and acknowledge lots of religious festivals but there is no need for residents to participate if they do not wish to. We also recognise that families often have their own Christmas traditions so we always ask if there is anything they want to add to the festivities.

Christmas must be a difficult time to escape to the refuge.

The risk of domestic abuse escalates around Christmas. Financial pressure, alcohol and social activities can mean relationships may worsen during this time. Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s day’s Day, 2-4 women in the UK will be killed by their partner and countless more will be harmed. Escaping to a refuge just before Christmas can difficult, but not as difficult as being abused or worse during that period.  

How does the team balance looking after those in the refuge with being there for their own family?

We know our staff can give a better service to our clients when they meet their own needs first. Therefore, we are happy for staff to book time off to join in with their family fun, such as school plays, Santa trips and shopping. We like to have a presence at the refuge and remain on-call over the Christmas period but this is shared.

Please, if you can, make a donation to NDADA’s Christmas Appeal 2023. Your donation will go towards food, gifts and essential items for women and children living in our refuge this year. Thank you so much.