What is it really like in refuge? What is it really like in refuge - is refuge for you? I understand how hard it is to make such a big decision to leave everything you’re familiar with but remember this could be the BEST move you ever make to live a life free from abuse. I hope my insight into what living in a refuge is like helps you decide if this is the best option for you. There is a misconception that a women's refuge is a sad, depressing institution with strict rules and regulations - this couldn’t be further from the truth. I thought by sharing what life is really like for those escaping their abusive partners, this could help you decide if this is an option for you, or if you have a family member or friend who is currently living in an abusive situation then this might just help you have that first conversation with them about their options. Here at Next Chapter we support nine single women and twelve families across our two refuge sites. Depending on how you look at it, it is sad that we are at capacity most of the time as it shows just how many women and children are still experiencing domestic abuse, but on the other hand, we are grateful to be able to provide the vital support and safe space for those women and children that need it when they are most vulnerable. First Impressions Our family refuge is purpose built, modern and airy. As security is the first thing that needs to be considered, I can reassure you that it has a secure door with CCTV cameras and no signs outside to reveal what the building is. Inside, there are laminate floor hallways that are easy to negotiate with pushchairs and whilst we don't have a lift, our staircases are wide and easy to use. Throughout the building, you can hear children playing and mums chatting and it's a friendly and welcoming place, with light painted walls and a bright feel to it. Our refuge is not an institution so whilst there are things that we ask residents to do (or not do) so that everyone can live safely and happily together, there are no rules as to when people should wake up in the morning, or anything like that. The days are your own although we do ask you to be in by a certain time in the evening so we can make sure the refuge is secure for the night. Our Recovery Refuge is a converted Victorian family house, which means that some of the hallways are smaller than our family refuge, but we think that it is still warm, friendly and welcoming. There are some more rules and structure at our Recovery Refuge, as you might expect, but this is all part of your recovery journey and your commitment to the future you want. What happens when I first arrive? Often women arrive at the refuges with very few possessions or depending on how quickly they needed to flee, perhaps nothing at all. Every room is made up with a food pack, towels, toiletries, and nappies if you need them, and all our rooms are dressed with new quilts, duvet covers and pillows. If we know that you might not have had a chance to pack before you get to us, then we will try to get together some of the things that we think you might need for your first few days and our support staff will help you settle in and make sure that you have everything you and your children need for your first night with us. Our Children and Young People's team will provide your children with a toy box to help them settle in. Flatlets We call our rooms, "flatlets" as they are more like studio apartments, each with their own lounge/bedroom area, kitchen with fridge/freezer and bathroom. Our flatlets vary depending on the size of the family. We provide bunk beds for the children and either a single bed or sofa-bed for Mum. We have cots available if you need one. In our Recovery Refuge, as it is a converted building, the rooms are a little smaller, but we still offer flatlets with their own kitchenette and lounge/bedroom area, with a single bed. Most rooms have access to their own bathroom facilities, which are next to your flatlet. Flatlet in our family refuge Communal Lounge Our communal lounge in our family refuge offers a large space with lots of soft seating and we are just in the process of updating our TV to a large smart TV with access to Netflix, which is only possible due to the generous donation from a local business. There is also a conservatory which is accessed from the lounge and a secure garden area which means that it is a lovely family space during the day and offers the opportunity for you to relax together with the other residents in the evenings. Family Refuge lounge The communal lounge in our Recovery Refuge is the hub of the house - from the shared breakfast every morning, through to support sessions, group sessions and evening activities. I am delighted that the lounge is so well used and offers the opportunity for our residents to spend time together and support each other. The Recovery Refuge also has a lovely large garden which we are just using for our first attempt at growing vegetables! Laundry Room We have a dedicated laundry room for that all important washing - there are two washing machines and a dryer in each refuge, they are in constant demand, but there is always time to get your laundry done. Buggy Store At the family refuge we have a large buggy store so you have somewhere to store your buggies. Free.....? That can't be right.... For those eligible we apply for housing benefit to cover your housing cost, we do ask you to pay a personal charge of £5.30 per week, this covers all your utilities. We also ask for a weekly deposit of £5.00 for a single occupant and £10 per family. Your deposit will be returned to you after your fob is returned and housekeeping have serviced the room for re-let. The deposit is also there to cover any damage or breakages (other than accidental) or any additional cleaning costs at the end of your stay. Don't just take my word for it.... I've worked for Next Chapter, managing our refuges for a number of years and it would be natural for you to think that I'm a bit biased, so here are some things that our previous residents have said... “The communal settings are very important, it gives me a space to sit and chill away from my room” “Even just being able to sit and relax on the sofa for an hour or so in the evening can make a difference as I was unable to do this before’’ "Refuge saved my life, it was tough!! At times I rebelled against the house rules and thought staff were trying to tell me what to do, when really that really was not the case" "To see my children, play and smile again and for me to be able to talk to other adults’’ Our clients do understand what it’s like to be in this situation and often try to look after each other, Many of our clients become good friends and stay in touch after they leave. Of course, our support doesn't end when you leave refuge, we continue to work alongside you to help you settle into your new home and start your next chapter.