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Sport helping East Lancashire domestic violence survivors
After a summer celebrating sporting achievements, ANNA MANSELL spoke to domestic abuse survivors whose own certificates are as precious to them as any golden medal.
AT one time or another many of the women seeking help from the HARV Domestic Violence Team have fought for their lives, battling against a daily torrent of physical and mental blows.
Now they’re fighting back with the help of a unique activities’ scheme run by the Hyndburn And Ribble Valley support network.
The organisation is the only one of its kind in the country to receive Sport England funding for a full-time sports co-ordinator and activities — such as boxing, Zumba Fitness, cycling and yoga — for its clients.
One year into the three-year programme, firm friendships have been forged and confidence is growing. But more importantly, heads are being held high.
Sport inclusion co-ordinator Laura Leverentz has worked with the group from the start, building up the sports programme to suit the participants.
She said: “It’s not an obvious outlet for issues, but with the support of the group, women start to trust in others and their guard comes down. I can see how far they have come and how much their confidence has grown.”
With an eight-week, level one boxing award recently gained, Laura added: “They worked hard and felt a real sense of satisfaction.”
HARV manager Debbie Fawcett said: “These women may be surivors of domestic violence, but the sports provision allows women to be individuals taking part with a group of women — just getting on.”
With many of the women on low incomes, or in debt, they often do not have the basic sports kit needed for the activities.
Anyone who can donate new or good condition second hand items, including light waterproofs, trainers and small rucksacks among other items, can drop them off at Scaitcliffe House, Accrington, by September 28.
Details about HARV are online at www.harvoutreach.org.uk
‘After a boxing session we can walk tall’
FEEDING a family of five on £25 a week, protecting her eldest daughter from the sexual advances of her partner and being beaten while heavily pregnant are just some of the battles women at HARV have faced.
Among those to benefit from HARV’s sports scheme and many other services – including group and one-to-one counselling – are Donna and Amelia (names changed to protect their identities).
Widow Donna was a mum of three when she met her abuser. She then spent almost 15 years with him and had a further two children, who are now in their teens.
The ‘mental, physical, emotional, financial and sexual’ abuse began a couple of years into the relationship: “His hands were like shovels and if you got a slap off him you would meet your head a week later,” she recalled.
“Coming to HARV, they used to give me a blanket and a hug and it was somewhere you could say what you wanted to say, after years of walking on eggshells.”
Her children have been left with the scars of the abuse but also appreciate how far life has come. “We enjoy life now, We have fun together and they are well impressed with my boxing — my medal and certificate are up,” she said.
“The women encourage each other and let fly on the punchbags, getting our self-worth and confidence back. Like any exercise, it gets addictive and gives you a positive attitude.
“You walk tall after a session, like you have achieved something. After being told you’re worthless and a useless mother, you have to do something for you — and that’s where the sport comes in.”
Amelia experienced violence and sexual abuse at her ex’s hands during three pregnancies — and gave birth prematurely after being punched in the stomach. With three children aged under three, she took him to court after her daughter from a previous relationship told her he was sexually abusing her.
Years down the line, Amelia came to HARV for support and advice when her teenage daughter decided she wanted contact with her father — Amelia’s abuser.
“I came here for advice to see if I could stop it,” she said. “You think once the abuser is gone that is it — but no, especially when you have children.
The three children have met their father and Amelia maintains her concerns. But joining the sports sessions at HARV have ‘been a lifesaver’ for her: “I have got time for myself, formed friendships and have fun. It has been a godsend,” she said.
“The people Laura employs to teach us are fantastic and understanding, and it’s all in an environment where you feel safe. That’s important.
“I am entitled to my anger but more often than not now I feel OK about myself. I see the 20-odd year-olds here and hope I show them there is support. There is life after abuse.”
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