Earlier this year Trafford Domestic Abuse Service opened the first ever male refuge in Greater Manchester after listening to male victims across the region about the help and support they felt they needed. So far it has proved to be a resounding success.
As part of International Men’s Health Week, we wanted to look at how the refuge came about and the collaborative work that was done across Greater Manchester to secure the funding to make the idea into a reality.
Our team spoke to Samantha Fisher, CEO at Trafford Domestic Abuse Service and Rhys Dower, the Domestic Abuse Manager and Commissioner for Trafford Council about the journey that led to the launch of Oak House.
Can you share how the idea for the refuge came about?
Samantha: Trafford Domestic Abuse Services (TDAS) opened in the heart of Trafford in 1990 with the launch of its first safe accommodation refuge for women and children, Phoenix House. Since then, the organisation has grown and adapted its services to meet the needs and demands of all local victims and survivors.
In 2020, TDAS secured funding for a specialist male support worker and through campaigns and awareness across the borough, the organisation saw referrals to the service almost double.
We saw that when support was available many male victims came forward, their support needs were identified and the demand increase. TDAS now provides a variety of support for male victims including a support line, community outreach, 1:1 and a group called True Colours Programme alongside a specialist children and young person’s service.
Rhys: As a partnership, we understand anyone and everyone could be a victim of domestic abuse. I realised early on in my role that the only safe accommodation provision for male victims in the Borough and across Greater Manchester was temporary self-contained properties.
At Trafford Council, we aim to be inclusive. By analysing MARAC (Multi-agency Risk Assessment Conference) referrals, monitoring the increase in referrals through TDAS and by gathering evidence from a robust joint strategic need assessment we were able to demonstrate an accurate evidence base which showed the demand and need to provide male domestic abuse support and accommodation.
Samantha: We listened to the experiences of the men accessing our services throughout their journey to recovery and a common emotion felt and shared by the men was isolation. They told us that without support from peers, life often felt isolating and overwhelming. Men accessing the support said they would like a safe place where they could talk to other male victims so they did not feel so alone, where they could have their voices heard and understood with others who share their lived experiences.
How did you work collaboratively to achieve your vision?
Rhys: As a partnership we were able to provide robust data which showed the need and demand for support for male victims. We aligned the proposal for the refuge with recommendations from both national and regional strategies.
The supporting legislation to underpin the proposal came from the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which highlighted that every local authority had a duty to provide accommodation-based services to any victim of domestic abuse within the legal definition of domestic abuse, regardless of gender.
We also reflected on the Greater Manchester Gender Based Violence Strategy and recognised the importance of including male victims which also meant providing a proper housing response for male victims.
Samantha: We had the opportunity early on to share the vision for Oak House with the recently formed Greater Manchester male victims working group and were able to ensure the proposals were developed by experts with experience.
TDAS and Trafford Council then approached the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to champion the idea of a collaborative cross-commissioning model. This meant the refuge would be funded by local authorities across the region meaning that male victims from across Greater Manchester would be able to access the service.
We have been able to deliver on this project by having a strong partnership approach with open lines of communications, honesty, and respect.
How has the voice and experience of survivors helped develop the service delivery for male victims?
Samantha: We were hearing time and time again from men that they felt isolated in their self-contained properties and spoke about how a shared refuge could be a safe place where they could talk to other male victims, so they didn’t feel so alone. They wanted a place where they would have their voices heard and understood by others who shared similar experiences.
Rhys: By engaging and responding to the feedback of those with lived experience, we were able to identify what victims wanted. They wanted choice and to have informed options which make for better outcomes. This can be incredibly empowering.
We listened to the experiences of men accessing the services and developed our strategy with the understanding and knowledge of the barriers that male victims face. There is often a stigma for men experiencing domestic abuse; feelings of shame that they were in an abusive relationship and fear that they may be less likely to be believed if the perpetrator was a women, of the same sex or within the family.
Since the launch of Oak House in April 2023, how are things going?
Almost instantly we were able to observe the vital benefits of peer support. Residents within Oak House have created their own support network creating a WhatsApp group, taking it in turns to cook meals and have been fishing together in a local lake.
The refuge is prioritised for male victims based in Greater Manchester and at present we are fully occupied, supporting six males at present, and due to demand, we are providing additional support to males on an outreach community basis.
Rhys: Over the next 12 months, we will be evaluating the demand and successes across Greater Manchester. With this information, we hope to provide accurate data which shines the light on how Oak House has provided life changing outcomes for the male residents.
We hope by sharing our vision and partnership approach to launching Oak House, that it encourages a positive cultural change in the way domestic abuse services and commissioners approach service delivery. A lot of positive changes can be achieved with an accessible and open-minded way of working to ensure their services is inclusive of all victims.
This is some of the feedback from male victims so far:
“Before I was down, struggling with my mental health – spoke to TDAS and I was then in the refuge – on arrival I spoke with someone, who is always here, my mental health has got much better – if I need anything TDAS sort it.”
“I was in a bad situation and emotionally at minus 1000 I am now at the refuge and I am at Plus 10 and improving slowly every day – TDAS has helped me and I have no words to express my gratitude.”
“I had a terrible time, the person who assaulted me ruined my life – at the refuge I feel relaxed, I feel happy I feel this is a home – I have a job, I feel I am back.”
“I was scared – I came to the refuge and now I have a life – my support worker has allowed to breath – I can take small steps.”
Many thanks for this piece which was written by one of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Practice and Partnerships Team with Samantha Fisher, CEO at Trafford Domestic Abuse Service and Rhys Dower Domestic Abuse Manager and Commissioner for Trafford Council