“Everybody knows somebody”   

“Everybody knows somebody” is the powerful phrase at the top of Wearside Women in Needs (WWIN) ‘Findaway’ Project’s webpage.  

It recognises the awful reality that we all know someone that has been affected by domestic abuse and that we can all find a way to help those people.   

Often family and friends are the first to know or be concerned about domestic abuse happening to or being perpetrated by a close family member, relative, friend or neighbour.  

In WWIN’s survey of survivors in 2020, 62% said they told a friend or family members about the abuse before anyone else.  

Communities hold the key to early intervention and can be the connection to services helping their family member or friend navigate systems and find advice and support. Following fatal domestic abuse, it is often family members who are representing the victims voice within Domestic Homicide Review processes.  

Isolation from family and friends is a cause for concern in risk assessing domestic abuse and maintaining supportive links to family is a vital part of safety planning.  

However, this is not always easy or straight forward for families, but community interventions are growing to help with this. New and innovative projects are emerging to ensure strong community responses to domestic abuse.  

One such example is Wearside Women in Need. Some of my team had the opportunity to visit their service recently and to hear about their new project ‘Findaway’, a service embedding itself in the community and proactively engaging with those who are the first responder to their families and friends to give them the confidence and guidance needed to stay involved, stay engaged and support their loved one as best they can.  

One mother of a victim of abuse told the helpline: “I was angry with her [daughter] for staying in that relationship but having talked through the situation I have a better understanding of why and how I can support her… it was really helpful.” 

The team talk candidly about the challenges communities face, the realities of trying to get help for a loved one and the fear, frustration, despair, and desperation felt by many who feel helpless or ill-informed to help.  

That’s where ‘Findaway’ comes in, with a small team of development workers the project provides a helpline for family and friends offering informal support to equip and empower local communities to create space for action.  

‘Findaway’ aims to alert family and friends to the early signs of domestic abuse; make the invisible confusing early signs more visible and understandable and equip families with the knowledge they need to enable a supportive approach.  

Key elements include establishing a peer support network, providing information and guidance, reducing isolation and normalising people’s experiences as well as encouraging communal support and creating a safe space to share learning.  

‘Findaway’, have a strategy driven by communities and have spent 12 months planning and mobilising this work, informed by survivors through their ‘who did you tell survey’ (2020) and supported by national voluntary organisations who are experts in the field including Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse (AAFDA).  

Comic Relief has committed five years of grant funding which also incorporates shared learning to ensure this project will have a wider reach, they are paving the way for early intervention and pathways to services.     

The Coordinated Community Response (CCR) has been the framework of multi-agency working in the UK for the past 20 years, pioneered by Standing Together the CCR brings services together services to ensure local systems keep survivors safe, hold abusers to account and prevent domestic abuse.  

Victim/survivor voices are at the centre of this model, and it recognises the role of family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues as the first point of contact and likely disclosure for victims of abuse. ‘Findaway’ is providing a practical intervention which enhances the role of friends and family and empowers them to be part of the CCR. 

Showcasing and sharing good practice is a key part of the DAC office day-to-day work and we look forward to the development of this project and seeing the impact this makes in responding to domestic abuse.  

WWin said: “Findaway is open to anyone aged 16 and over and living in Tyne & Wear or Northumberland. Our service includes: An anonymous phoneline, peer-support groups, educational workshops and resources.  Our trained advocates can provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to effectively support the person you’re worried about. We believe we all know someone affected by domestic abuse, and we can all help. If you’re worried, talk to us.”