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16 Days of Action – Women’s voices: Breaking out of the cycle of abuse

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I had been with my partner a year before she was ever physically violent towards me. After the first incident I wanted to leave but she apologised, told me she loved me, and promised to never do it again and I believed her. However, this pattern continued to repeat itself and I found myself stuck in a cycle of physical and emotional abuse and manipulation and coercion.

Whilst undergoing CBT I mentioned about an incident of violence to my therapist and she referred me to a small LGBT Domestic Violence charity. After months of support and encouragement that in order to get better I needed to get out of my abusive relationship and heal myself, I took the plunge and decided to get things in motion. After a very long two weeks of toing and froing between the council, my GP, the hospital, housing services and a rejection from one refuge on the grounds that they did not have the right support in place for my mental health needs, I was very fortunate to be given a room in Solace’s specialist refuge for complex needs.

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My experience of being in an abusive relationship has had an unimaginable impact of my life. When I moved into the refuge I hugely struggled with self-harm, depression and anxiety and my sleep was plagued with nightmares and flashbacks to what had happened.

 

My experience of being in an abusive relationship has had an unimaginable impact of my life. When I moved into the refuge I hugely struggled with self-harm, depression and anxiety and my sleep was plagued with nightmares and flashbacks to what had happened. To add to this I used various substances as a way of coping with what had happened which only further impacted on my mental health. When I arrived at the refuge I had zero confidence in myself, virtually no self-esteem and had been coerced and manipulated to such an extent that I believed what had happened was my fault and that I had deserved it.

Solace’s specialist refuge is for women with multiple disadvantage – complex mental health issues and/or substance abuse issues, and with 24 hour support staff. Given the nature of the service, there were times when the refuge was incredibly chaotic however, it felt incredibly safe and for the first time I felt at home somewhere.

I genuinely felt like my keyworker believed in me which enabled me to make positive changes in my life and go on to maintain them.

 

We had various groups throughout the week ranging from art therapy to tai chi to how to cope with trauma and on Fridays we all had breakfast together as a house. Support at the refuge came in various forms but the most important factor was that each service user was in control of what they wanted to happen and we were empowered to make decisions and choices that reflected our individual needs. Having someone give me a hand up and guide me towards independent living meant so much to me and gave me a huge amount of confidence in order to achieve things in a way that would not have happened if I was simply handed something to do. I genuinely felt like my keyworker believed in me which enabled me to make positive changes in my life and go on to maintain them.

After 6 months in the refuge, I spent 2 months in a low support refuge and have now secured a job and am planning on moving in with some friends in the next few weeks. I would not have got to this point without the support from Solace Women’s Aid.

16 days of Action: Our POW facilitator talks about protecting our women

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The POW Project is a Violence Against Women and Girls training awareness programme for young people aged 11-25. The name POW which stands for Protect Our Women, was chosen by the young people of Haringey where the project has been funded to deliver.

The aim of this project is for young people and young adults to have an awareness of the different strands of VAWG. Topics include domestic abuse, sexual violence, trafficking for sexual exploitation, prostitution, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour based violence.

Young people are experiencing dating violence and sexual violence in our schools and communities. This is evident from disclosures made after POW sessions in which a young person may share an experience they’ve been through or about a friend who may benefit from the information they’ve learned.

 

As the project facilitator I thoroughly enjoy working with young people and teaching them about the above topics. With the help of a co-facilitator we are able to guide young people through the course where they will learn how to identify all 8 strands of VAWG as well as when someone may be at risk of violence. We give them the tools on how to safely challenge someone’s abusive behaviour/language (when appropriate to do so) as well as informing them of the different support organisations available and the legal implications of each type of violence. The young people usually engage extremely well in each workshop and are able to freely contribute and offer their opinions on each topic.

POW workshops are a mixture of presentation, group activities, games, group/class discussions and videos. Every workshop surprises the young people as many of them do not have knowledge of these topics. Sexual violence and female genital mutilation seem to generate the most questions and discussion. Young people are experiencing dating violence and sexual violence in our schools and communities. This is evident from disclosures made after POW sessions in which a young person may share an experience they’ve been through or about a friend who may benefit from the information they’ve learned. After a disclosure has been made, safeguarding procedures for the school and Solace are followed.

Projects such as POW are incredibly vital in aiding the reduction of dating violence with young people. There are many organisations that specialise in supporting young people who have experienced domestic abuse and/or sexual violence but not near as many that provide preventative services for educational institutions and youth centres.

The POW Project is in its third year and has been achieving results with not only the young people but also the teachers who are present during the workshops and who have the opportunity along with the students to become POW Champions. Feedback and data analysis have shown that POW has made a difference to the young people and practitioners. It has given them confidence in their knowledge and skills of standing up against Violence Against Women and Girls.

“The POW project has been a real eye-opening experience; it enables students to learn and talk openly about pertinent issues that are highly emotive and are not always easy to address within education. The whole experience challenged the students (and me!) to rethink these important issues and how much we think we know about them, as well as educating about what we can all do ourselves to help and what other support services are available.”

 

“The delivery of material was really interactive; each workshop covers distinct topics with lots of ways for the students to get involved through discussion and group work. Some of the material is highly-sensitive, but the facilitator handles the topics skilfully and enables students to engage with some very difficult issues and facts. The facilitator created an atmosphere of openness and respect that allowed the students to voice their opinions honestly without fear of judgement. One thing I thought was particularly effective was the way the facilitator engaged the students to discuss points and issues, rather than simply instructing them what is right and what is wrong.

Running the POW project with our Y12 students was one of those most interesting and rewarding projects I have ever been part of,  so much so that I am undertaking training to become a POW Champion to be able to facilitate groups in the future. I would whole-heartedly recommend it to other schools- get on board quick whilst you can!” Ruth Cassell – Sixth Form Academic Coach

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16 Days of Action – Women’s Voices: ‘I’m not defined by having been abused’

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I was thirteen when my relative first abused me. He was nearly 30. I was academic, studious, hardly knew anything about sex. I was terrified, couldn’t believe that he would do that, that he even looked at me like that. I come from a big, sprawling, angry Asian family where I’d spent my life trying to keep the peace. I’d been taught that family was everything. Blood was everything. He told me if I said anything he and his wife would end up getting divorced and it’d be my fault. I tried to avoid him but he kept getting me alone and he did it again and again.

Then one time he scared me so much I ran screaming into another room where my Auntie was sleeping with her kids. I told her. She told my Mum who believed me but said it was best to do nothing.

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My Mum kept me away from him for the next few years. I became isolated, never wanted to go to family functions. People started saying I was weird, that I thought I was better than them. I saw him a few times and he’d laugh and wink at me.

I moved away and made a life for myself. I got therapy, reported him to the police, but couldn’t go through with making the statement because of the damage I thought it would do to my family.

Years later, I learned he’d found religion and was an important member of the community, liked and respected. His wife told me he was sorry and that I had nothing to fear from him.

All I ever wanted in life was a family to belong to and slowly I started being around them again. Believing that the horrors he’d put me through were behind me. Then one day, at a family function he tried to touch me again. I was incredulous. And suddenly I was plunged back into the darkness.

By now I had a lovely partner, two young children, a career, but it was like going back in time. I was that child again, who couldn’t understand why this was happening, who thought it was her fault. I couldn’t sleep because of the nightmares and the flashbacks, I felt sick all the time. Most of my family didn’t know about the past and I couldn’t bear the secret any longer. So I told them what he’d done. They believed me but said they didn’t want anything to do with me. My sister actually said she knew it wasn’t my fault but it was best if I got on with my life and let them get on with theirs. They sent Christmas presents back and ignored me in the street.

I was broken, couldn’t sleep and was barely functioning. I went to the GP who referred me to Solace. I met a counsellor who listened as I recounted my story. She suggested that I come to a group for survivors of child sexual abuse.

It was a life changing moment, I met other women who’d been abused and some who’d also been ostracised by their families for talking about it. Two workers ran weekly sessions where we’d share and support each other. We played games, did exercises, read poetry, cried and laughed. We talked about the agony of abuse but also that we were more than what had happened to us.

I started to believe that I have worth and realised that I want to live, that despite what’s happened, I can build a good life, that I can be happy and have fun and laugh, that I’m not defined by having been abused. That even though my family pretend I don’t exist, I am somebody and I am free.

16 Days of Action – Women’s voices: ‘My journey with Solace’

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My journey with Solace started in October 2010 and is still continuing.  After over four months of phone calls to the National Domestic Violence Helpline, I was put through to Sarah* in a Solace refuge. The kindness, calmness and reassurance that I felt from her voice gave me the courage to finally make that leap into the unknown for me.  I say “unknown for me”, as I had worked full-time since the age of 15 and owned my own property since the age of 19.  The benefits system was unknown and a total enigma for me.  However, I had been made false promises by my ex and convinced to give up work on the birth of our daughter and thus coerced into “lending” him money to cover his debts.  Needless to say, I lost my home, still had his debts in my name and was destitute.media-card-i-lost-my-home

I arrived in the Refuge in October with my daughter and a bag and a case of belongings and £85.  Sarah was lovely and immediately dialled the number to start a Benefit Claim.  I got to my room.  I still couldn’t quite believe what I was doing, but I already knew that it was the right thing and I was never going back.  I can still remember the feeling in my stomach of being terrified but also excited and relieved.  I knew it was the beginning of our new life.

We moved into our flat about six months later. We had nothing.  The flat was a disgusting mess, so I used my overdraft facility to pay a painter and decorator, buy carpets and a mattress for my daughter.  I then scrubbed and cleaned for days.  I was still in regular contact with Solace, as when I arrived in the refuge I had volunteered to participate in the “Cost of Freedom” project.  Thank goodness.  It was so cathartic and grounding.

Some ten months after moving into our flat, I had a sort of relapse, and felt terrible as I had started re-living things that I thought were long gone and buried.  After all, almost eighteen months had gone by, surely I was mended?  Solace reassured me, and told me that it was perfectly natural and normal and suggested that it might be an idea to put me in touch with the Solace counselling service.  I agreed.  I went on to do media work around the research I had been involved in, which was both rewarding and again cathartic.  I even got a bunch of flowers from the Home Office, how many people can say that?  I started much needed counselling which saved me from making so many mistakes and helped me understand so much about myself and the abuse I had suffered.  I think I have had three rounds of counselling and I am about to start another one next week.

During one of my many meetings with Solace, it was also identified that my daughter would benefit from Play Therapy for an eating problem. She was taking a long time to eat her food and trying to avoid eating meals. I had the pleasure of meeting Linda*, a children’s play therapist who was sensitive, calming and inspirational.  My daughter went on to do therapy with her.  I called the weekly meetings “Special Time” and my daughter loved every second that she spent with Linda.  Every week she would be asking “How many sleeps until Special Time?”  She couldn’t wait for Friday to come round so she could go to her Special Time and see Linda.  She always came away beaming.  We were both really sad when it ended.  My daughter loved every second of her time with Linda and she now eats well.

Six years on, I am still doing Media work for Solace, I am about to start Counselling again and I have a happy daughter with a voracious appetite.

So, thank you Solace. I am still here for you as you have always been for me.

*All the names have been changed

Double your donation today!

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Double your donation to help Make a House a Home for survivors of domestic abuse. Your £5 will become £10. Your £50 will become £100.

Between Midday on November 29th and Midday on December 2nd 2016 your donation will be matched by The Pilgrim Trust when you give to Solace Women’s Aid through The Big Give

Click here to donate to Solace with The Big Give

Making a House a Home

When women and children flee domestic abuse to Solace Women’s Aid refuges, they often leave with nothing except the clothes on their backs, feeling traumatised and afraid. Our project Making a House a Home focuses on solving the isolation and fear that survivors of domestic and sexual abuse feel when they enter our refuges, and the effect it has on their families. Solace will be refurbishing our refuges and providing essentials packs of food and toiletries to help create a more welcoming environment.  We will also provide a Family Support Worker to help women and children with emotional and practical support to help them on their journey towards recovery.

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Your donation could help a family like Lucy & Max’s

Lucy suffered many years of horrific abuse from her husband, and she was very worried about the effect on her small son Max, aged 7.

Last Christmas the violence became even worse and she and Max desperately needed to leave their home – but Lucy was afraid they would be left destitute, with nowhere to stay. Then a friend told her about Solace Women’s Aid, and we provided them with somewhere safe to stay, which meant they could escape.

To make sure Max was safe he changed schools and they both lost contact with friends and the life they knew. They felt isolated and afraid, and Max felt confused after years of seeing his dad hurt his mum. Along with a room of their own, Solace also provided them with essential items, such as basic food, clothing and kitchen equipment, to help them find their feet. Most of all we made sure they were safe and warm, and gave them emotional support to help them recover and rebuild their lives. We even helped Max to make new friends.

We are delighted that Lucy and Max have now settled into their own home and are living independently, free from abuse. Max is doing well in his new school, and Lucy is now working and both are feeling positive about the future at long last. With your support, Solace can be there for more children like Max this Christmas.

And between Midday on November 29th and Midday on December 2nd 2016 making a donation will go even further as it is double through The Big Give Christmas Challenge. Find our more and donate here

*Max and Lucy’s story is true but their names and image have been changed to protect them.

16 Days of Action – Young women & girls invited to become champions to help end violence and abuse

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There’s an AMAZING new project coming your way in Haringey and Islington!

Is it fair to be treated differently because you are a girl?

Are you free to say no and do what you want in a relationship?

Are you able to express how you feel without being judged

 

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WHO CAN GET INVOLVED?

If you’re 11-21 years old, living or studying in Haringey or Islington and passionate about injustice towards young women and girls then WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! Come be a part of a creative, fun, vibrant, positive, exciting project for young women and girls that can’t be done without YOU!!!

 

WHAT IS THE PROJECT?

Over the next 5 years Solace Women’s Aid, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, will run an exciting project where women and girls will be supported and given opportunities to help themselves and other young women and girls challenge and change the way they are seen in society and their communities when it comes to violence and abuse.

This is the time for young women and girls’ voices to be heard! #WomenAndGirls

HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?

You can become one of our CHAMPIONS through your school, college or community group. Let a teacher or staff member know that you would like to run this project in your school. Ask them to email info@solacewomensaid.org

WHY SHOULD I GET INVOLVED?

There are so many great opportunities! You can help shape the project for young people by:

  • Designing materials and social media websites
  • Co-delivering workshops to young women on Violence Against Women and Girls in your school, college or community setting
  • Gaining AQA Levels 1 and 2 accreditations and work experience.

If you become a CHAMPION you can…

  • Develop important skills – assertiveness, organisation, planning and presentation
  • Increase potential future employment opportunities by helping organise event and residential trips
  • Have fun and meet new people!

At the end of each year we will hold big celebration events where we will celebrate achievement and recognition of young people’s participation and hard work in raising awareness on violence against girls and young women.

NEED A LITTLE OF YOUR OWN SUPPORT?

We have Youth Advocacy workers providing one to one support to young women and girls who have experienced/are experiencing violence, abuse and any other issues such as, low self-esteem, lack of friends, bullying, sexual harassment, unhealthy relationships, peer pressure, depression and anxiety.

We also will run and a 10 week educational programme to increase awareness and a better understanding of violence against young women and girls. The main aim is to help you build up your confidence, resilience and knowledge to help you recognise unhealthy and unsafe relationships and help you advocate for yourself and others.

Sound exciting? Contact your school/college/youth group or us on info@solacewomensaid.org

We can’t wait to have you on board!

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16 Days of Action – Women’s voices: “The light that guided me through the darkness”

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I want to begin this with saying thank you to every single person who has been involved in making Solace possible. The work you do is priceless and it has changed my life and that of those around me for the better. Words cannot express how thankful I am to you for extending your hand in helping me climb out of the ditch, stand firm and see the world and myself and to walk towards my destination, no matter how uneven the pavements might be.

I came to Solace, eight months ago, frozen in time and completely dead on the inside, like a lifeless doll. Having tried therapy numerous times through other services, I was unsure as to whether this was going to work for me. On the first day, I was also a little lost in finding the address given that there were no signs, but that in itself attributed to feeling safe immediately.

Week after week, a little bit of me, came back alive. When I had tried therapy in the past, I needed to first explain the cultural side of things and go through a geography session of which part of the world I came from to the therapist but I didn’t have to go through that with my therapist from Solace. She knows how to help people that come from a minority ethnic background. I think this is very important and valuable, as not only does it save time and energy but also plays a big role in building the trust that is needed to open up and get on with the issues that lie at the core.

The dynamics of my close relationships have changed for the better, my career has taken a new direction, and I am finally following my passion of writing and doing a masters in a field that I enjoy. But most important of all I feel reborn.

In such a short amount of time, my therapist has helped me help myself. The dynamics of my close relationships have changed for the better, my career has taken a new direction, and I am finally following my passion of writing and doing a masters in a field that I enjoy. But most important of all I feel reborn. My therapy sessions have come to an end, but I know my healing has just begun. There will be ups and downs but I now have the armour to protect myself, the knowledge to notice the patterns, the courage to face the winters and my therapist says that I can always come back if I need more sessions.

I have always been sceptical of institutions but I have seen the work that Solace does first hand, and I hope to be in a position in the near future to support Solace to continue to do the life changing work they do. Unfortunately, there are far too many people who have experienced what I have and don’t have the privilege of coming to a place like Solace and meeting someone as knowledgeable, understanding, inspiring and caring as my therapist. I want to also thank the group facilitators of the arts therapy as that also hugely helped me.

I can say that I feel that I have a deeper understanding of what happened in my life, why I responded the way I did, why I have felt so disconnected from my body. I am learning to just be in the moment and enjoy the gift of being present. I don’t feel dead on the inside. I no longer want to be rescued. In short, feel that I have choices and more tools to take care of myself, something which was I was lacking before.

I am a survivor of war, child sexual abuse and human smuggling, honor based violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, addiction, failed systems and old traditions. And I still have so much love and hope for this world.

Donate to our Christmas appeal today and make a difference to a family like Lucy & Max

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Abuse does not stop just because it’s Christmas

Every day many families like Lucy and Max suffer horrific abuse. Please donate to Solace Women’s Aid’s Christmas appeal today and make a difference to a family like theirs.

 Lucy and Max’s Story

Lucy suffered many years of horrific abuse from her husband, and she was very worried about the effect on her small son Max, aged 7. Last Christmas the violence became even worse and she and Max desperately needed to leave their home in Islington – but Lucy was afraid they would be left destitute, with nowhere to stay. Then a friend told her about Solace Women’s Aid, and we provided them with somewhere safe to stay, which meant they could escape.

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“It was the first time I felt listened to and believed,
and thanks to Solace my son and I are now both safe.”

To make sure Max was safe he changed schools and they both lost contact with friends and the life they knew. They felt isolated and afraid, and Max felt confused after years of seeing his dad hurt his mum. Along with a room of their own, Solace also provided them with essential items, such as basic food, clothing and kitchen equipment, to help them find their feet. Most of all we made sure they were safe and warm, and gave them emotional support to help them recover and rebuild their lives. We even helped Max to make new friends.

At Solace, we know we couldn’t provide such support without donations from generous members of our local community. Thank you.

We are delighted that Lucy and Max have now settled into their own home and are living independently, free from abuse. Max is doing well in his new school, and Lucy is now working and both are feeling positive about the future at long last. With your support, Solace can be there for more children like Max this Christmas.

*Max and Lucy’s story is true but their names and image have been changed to protect them.

Here’s how your donation could help

£14 could pay for an emergency support call to our advice line

£24 could pay for child care so a woman can attend counselling

£40 could pay for a woman to attend 1-1 counselling

£140 could pay for a child to attend regular art therapy sessions

Find out about our volunteer: Amanda

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I have been volunteering with Solace Women’s Aid for five months now and have found the experience to be enlightening and it has given me a renewed passion for helping women that need support and understanding. I have always had an interest in helping others and now have a dedicated platform in order to achieve that.

I started working with the Change and Challenge department as a volunteer IDVA within Solace who deal with low to medium risk cases at the front line. In that role I learned so much about how Solace operate, the support that is offered and about how inter agency cooperation is achieved. My supervisor offered me a lot of expert guidance and support and allowed me to experience a vast array of situations. Within this role I have had phone and face to face contact with clients, I have gone with them to court to support them in that setting, I have attended a MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference), sat in on Solicitors sessions with clients and attended the ARISE workshops which were fascinating as I got to learn a lot about Domestic Abuse, I got to listen to the service users and interact with them. I saw how valuable these workshops were for women who had experienced domestic abuse as they learnt a lot and also got to share their thoughts and feelings with other women who had been through similar things. I also attended a session of the Women’s Voices Group which was really good, I do enjoy being at the front line and engaging with the service users.

Throughout my volunteering experience, I have had the opportunity to take part in many volunteer training sessions. They have been invaluable and really good at informing me about many aspects of Domestic Abuse. I have learnt a lot from these sessions, it helps to reinforce the information I will need to go forward and become a professional within this field. I am hoping to hone the skills and have the experience necessary to gain employment and be able to help service users in my role as I feel that it is important to do something in your life that makes a difference. That way I can feel positive about any work that I do.

I was able to move from the Change and Challenge department to Enfield SASS (Solace Advocacy and Support Service). Here I have supported and worked in different areas with some extensive work on OASIS and working with the IRIS project which works with GP surgeries to offer women support who are experiencing domestic abuse. With the IRIS project I have been able to attend court with service users, shadow with risk assessments, upload case notes onto OASIS, I have also been able to experience making  referrals to MARAC, IDVA’s and Social Services. I attended a session of IRIS training which is delivered to GP’s which was extremely insightful. I got to see first-hand the difficulties faced with trying to get the service utilized to its full potential. It was wonderful to see how skilled, efficient and cool headed my colleagues were at delivering the training in a pressurized environment. I also had an opportunity to attend a steering group for IRIS where I met with stakeholders for the service including the commissioners for the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group), the Domestic Violence Coordinator and the Clinical and Safeguarding lead for Enfield.

I am currently pursuing the Accredited Volunteer Award Training Programme which runs over three months. I have completed two sessions already which go much more in depth with the information offered. I am finding it interesting and challenging and I am sure it will be invaluable in terms of what I will be able to offer Solace and other women’s services in the future.

I have very much enjoyed my volunteering experience with Solace, and I feel confident that it has given me the skills and knowledge necessary to do a good job working within this field. I very much hope that I have offered Solace my time and skills in a positive way and that I have been a useful addition to the team who are in my opinion really great, they have offered me immense support, been very friendly and always there to help out and answer questions when they arise. I am looking forward to progressing further with the support of Solace and the rest of my team.

Amanda – Enfield SASS

Feedback from Jeasmin Chowdhury – IRIS Advocate Educator (Enfield)

Amanda has been with the Enfield SASS Team approximately since April 2016.  During this period she has consistently provided a very valuable contribution to our team.  She  is  extremely hard working, approachable, and resourceful. Due to Amanda’s competence we have been able  to entrust her with important tasks which require  great accuracy and promptness in order to comply with strict deadlines.  Once she is given instructions for  tasks, Amanda needs little guidance in completing them and does so confidently, requiring minimum further input from us.

We have pleasure in reporting that Amanda continuously demonstrates  commitment, passion, dedication and thoroughness in every task she completes.  With her growing  knowledge and understanding around domestic violence and her demeanour,  she is always able to establish  a good rapport with service users.

I have personally really enjoyed working with Amanda and I look forward to continuing  having her in our team.

 

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