Connie Muttock: How I’ve been inspired by Commonweal’s work to champion the housing needs of women | IWD 2021
When I joined Commonweal in 2019, I was asked which of our projects most inspired me. Having come from a background in the women’s sector, for me it had to be one of our projects supporting survivors of violence against women and girls, Rhea and Amari. Today, on my last day in post at Commonweal, and on International Women’s Day too, I am prouder than ever of these projects.
Run by our partner Solace, both projects are innovative in that they address a previously unmet need. Rhea does so by providing housing for survivors with low support needs who cannot access refuge, such as women with older male children. Amari does so by providing step-down accommodation to support survivors of sexual exploitation as they progress towards independence.
In both of these projects, I am struck by the commitment and can-do attitude that enables Solace and Commonweal to meet survivors where they are, rather than expecting them to adapt to services. Only this way can we ensure nobody falls through the cracks in provision.
The success of this approach is borne out in the evidence. Just last month, the final evaluation of the Rhea project found that it has improved outcomes for survivors’ wellbeing, empowerment, confidence, and capacity for self-advocacy, as well as their ability to ‘hope and dream’ for the future. The project’s success relies on a close partnership between Southwark Housing Department and Solace, and in a blog to mark the evaluation’s publication, Southwark’s housing lead Leanne Werner urged other councils to learn from this work.
Beyond these two projects, Commonweal has continued to highlight the housing injustices facing some of the most marginalised survivors: from rough sleeping women in relationships who are turned away from support, to victims of trafficking, staying in unsafe accommodation or with nowhere to go.
In 2020, Commonweal agreed a renewed focus on violence against women and girls in its strategy, acknowledging how much more there is to be done to tackle this injustice. As I wrote for International Women’s Day last year, housing is an insurmountable barrier for too many survivors. The pandemic has exacerbated these issues even further, with homelessness applications from those experiencing domestic abuse up 40% on last year.
But this year, there is also hope for the future. Under the Domestic Abuse Bill, local authorities will soon be obliged to provide vital accommodation-based support for people experiencing domestic abuse. Such services are life-saving, and I hope many local authority housing departments will learn from the partnership approach Solace and Southwark have taken. Communicating the value of this approach is an exciting task I leave to my replacement.
On both International Women’s Day, and my last day at Commonweal, I want to celebrate and thank the women I have had the privilege to work with – from fantastic colleagues and trustees, to passionate partners.
Their commitment and drive has inspired me in my time at Commonweal, and I have learnt so much from all of them. I am leaving Commonweal to continue championing the needs of survivors of domestic abuse in policy – and I am proud to take the learning and inspiration from these women with me.
With their commitment to continuing to tackle violence against women and girls through new property-based pilot projects and research, I look forward eagerly to seeing what Commonweal will achieve in the years to come.