Starting life in 2015 and originating as an Arts Council funded play, ‘Make Do and Mend’ uses a verbatim style to share the real stories of three County Durham women who have suffered and survived the trauma of domestic abuse.
Run by local arts and training company, Changing Relations, the live production was taken on the road in 2016 to tour a variety of North East venues.
The play, which incorporated a script using interviews with the three women, was also taken to the headquarters of housing provider, Gentoo, in a bid to help staff across the company recognise, understand and respond to domestic abuse amongst their tenants.
The production received strong response, including that from DAHA co-founder, Kelly Henderson, and inspired Changing Relations to seek funding to produce a filmed version that would make it easier to take the impact they were able to achieve to a wider pool of communities and professionals.
Following the response, Changing Relations, have since designed and developed professional training that supports participants taking the aesthetic experience of watching their film to the analytic level, using dynamic interactive methods that encourage ‘human reflection’ and lay the foundation for their learning to be applied.
Lisa Davis, Founder and Managing Director of Changing Relations, said: “We find that by using art, in this case film, we can make a very difficult and emotive subject more accessible.
“Using art to influence relationships and behaviours is incredibly powerful, especially when you want to encourage a more empathetic response to someone experiencing difficulty.”
According to the group, impact statements from recent training participants highlight how the content is useful both for those who had never previously ‘stopped to consider’ domestic abuse and those who had never identified or admitted that their own experience could be described as such.
One housing HR participant said: “I’ve never come across a Domestic Violence situation in my work or personal life. It’s not widely discussed.
“I was taken aback to find the extent to which the Safer Neighbourhoods Team gets reports. I felt angry that people can do this to someone else.
“It hit home that this is happening, and we need to do everything we can to stop it. If we can intervene, the earlier the better.”
A community development worker who also took part in the group training added: “It affected me profoundly due to experiences in my lifetime. I feel stronger for it.
“I didn’t realise it at the time. Nobody’s ever asked me. They look at me and think my life’s perfect.
“We’re very good at hiding things. We put up and shut up. It becomes your norm. When it’s happening to you in isolation, you feel powerless. You try and tell people but nobody’s listening.”
At the end of summer in 2018, Changing Relations delivered their training to staff at County Durham Housing Group with an initial focus to be on skilling up staff members to be able to respond to domestic abuse among clients.
However, shortly after the training delivery, a member of staff came forward to hand in her notice, making a disclosure of domestic abuse as she did so.
The housing group reported that having done so much work to develop their understanding of domestic abuse, they were ‘resolutely determined’ to do everything they could to support the staff member, helping their employee to find a home and the support she needed to remain with them at the company.
Changing Relations uses this case study to highlight the ‘vital importance’ of the ‘Make A Stand’ pledge, introduced during Alison Inman’s Year as the President of the Chartered Institute of Housing, calling on housing providers to put in place an HR policy, or amend an existing policy, to support members of staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse.
The company also highlight the case for studies like the one at County Durham as an indicator that organisations may be experiencing a ‘circular problem’, whereby employers are reading the lack of disclosures made by their employees as an indication that domestic abuse doesn’t happen here.
They add that the creation of a more open, supportive company culture, where domestic abuse is discussed, a policy is in place, staff know who are the people best able to help a colleague in need, it starts to become evident that there is no ‘them and us in terms of domestic abuse affecting clients out there but not the staff in here’.
County Durham Housing Group Safer Neighbourhoods Manager, Karen Gardner, said: “The way Changing Relations carried out the training is nothing like other domestic abuse training opportunities we’ve tried before.
“Because real domestic abuse victims shared their experiences in their own voices, it gives a real understanding and connection. I don’t think that would have been possible with other methods.
“When we set out on this training, we knew it could improve the support we can offer to our tenants.
“Our staff are visiting homes all the time and that means they’re often able to spot potential problems that other agencies couldn’t. But we hadn’t necessarily expected the training to have such a profound effect for one of our own employees.
She added that: “We’ve got to recognise that most domestic abuse victims wouldn’t automatically think ‘I’ll talk to my landlord about it’, or even their employer.
“But if we can be aware of how to spot problems, and ready with the right advice when they do occur, we can make a huge difference.”
Changing Relations are based in the North East, but housing providers across the UK can access the training they have developed. For more information, follow the link to their website: changingrelations.co.uk