The College partnered with Cambridge Women's Aid to accommodate women and children escaping domestic violenceELIZABETH LIVERMORE

Content Note: This article contains discussion of domestic abuse

St Catharine’s provided a total of 1,456 nights of accommodation for women and children escaping domestic violence over the summer.

23 women and children were housed by the College between 27 April and 3 September. The women and children “benefited from the safety, comfort and security of life in College”, a press release sent to Varsity detailed, while also having access to a team of porters and ongoing CCTV operation.

The College’s provision of accommodation was formulated in partnership with Cambridge Women’s Aid, a charity who supports survivors of domestic abuse.

Following the advice for students to return home in March 2020 and the commencement of national lockdown, the majority of St Catharine’s accommodation was unoccupied.  St Catharine’s therefore approached Cambridge Women’s Aid at the start of lockdown to offer accommodation free-of-charge for affected women and their families.

A woman who was helped by the partnership expressed her gratitude “to St Catharine’s for their thoughtful kindness. At the moment I can’t find the words to explain what it has meant to me and my daughter, and the psychological safety it has offered us.”

Another woman housed by the College provided the following comment: “I really believed I would have to live out my life with my husband’s misery and abusive behaviour… You all played an important first part of my new journey of my future happiness. My time spent at St Catharine’s was very good: comfortable and so quiet!”

While a small number of students remained in the College’s accommodation, properties occupied by students were not included in the partnership with Cambridge Women’s Aid.

The College’s provision of accommodation to domestic abuse survivors comes amid an acute shortage of refuge spaces across the country triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between the 23 March and 31 May 2020, there was a 40.6% reduction in the number of available refuge places in England compared to the same period in 2019.

Meanwhile as women and children were increasingly vulnerable to domestic violence amid the pandemic , the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline surged to 40,000 during the first three months of lockdown while in June the number of calls to the helpline was 80% higher than usual.

The partnership between St Catharine’s and Women’s Aid “focused on finding an imaginative way to deliver “pop-up respite beds” using temporarily vacant College accommodation.” With both partners hoping “they have established a collaborative model that can be used by other organisations to open up space for families in the future.”


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Angie Stewart, Chief Executive Officer at Cambridge Women’s Aid, commented on the partnership: “It is hard to describe how touched we were to receive such a generous offer. Not only did the pop-up accommodation at St Catharine’s provide a true sanctuary to women and their children at a dreadful time in their lives, it also meant we actually provided an enhanced service during lockdown instead of a reduced service as was common for many UK organisations.”

Master of St Catharine’ College, Sir Mark Welland, expressed his “immense pride” that “St Catharine’s community could join together with Cambridge Women’s Aid to devise an imaginative way to offer support and safety to these women and children when they needed it most.”

In order to preserve the safety of the families involved, details of the provisions provided by the College could only be released following the agreed end of the partnership as students begin to return to Cambridge for the new academic year.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article their is support and information available via the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is always open on 0808 2000 247, as well as on their website: https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ or Cambridge Women's Aid - information about their services can be found at https://www.cambridgewa.org.uk

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