NORTH Down and Ards Women’s Aid has pledged to continue providing a ‘vital’ service that helps ‘save the lives’ of vulnerable women living with domestic violence despite a £15,000 funding cut.

The head of the local charity has said she was ‘disappointed’ to learn the funding for the ‘One Stop Shop’ service had been axed by the local Policing and Community Safety Partnership.

The PCSP had funded the charity for the past seven years allowing it to provide a multi-agency drop-in service that offers free and confidential access to legal advice, benefits, housing advice and Women’s Aid Services.

The service provides a lifeline for women experiencing a range of abuse from a current or former partner including financial, sexual, emotional, physical and coercive control.

Emalyn Turkington, the charity’s chief executive officer, sought to reassure women affected by domestic abuse that they could continue to avail of this service after funding was secured from a charity based in England, albeit to a reduced amount of £5,000.

Highlighting the critical role of the One Stop Shop, Ms Turkington spoke about two women who turned up at the One Stop Shop in September needing emergency accommodation. One of the women had to have emergency accommodation on the other side of the country.

“We were able to get her on the train, pick her children up from school, pay for clothes for the children after they left with nothing,” she said. “It is a vital service and it is saving lives.”

Women’s Aid is the lead voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland tackling domestic abuse by responding to the needs of women and children in both refuge and community settings, not only through crisis intervention but through preventative support and education.

The need for crisis intervention for women and children experiencing domestic abuse was identified at a public meeting back in 1982 and for the past four decades Women’s Aid has faced a growing demand for services.

The charity is currently operating ‘at capacity’ and received over 500 referrals for women last year.

“We don’t have enough money or staff but you don’t stop services because of that,” said Ms Turkington.

“We are at capacity and we rely on funding like this to help us. We will continue to support women through the women we have working for us who are very passionate about their jobs and we are thankful for that. We do this job because we want to help people in need.”

She explained the charity had successfully applied for the PCSP funding for nearly a decade. “For the past seven years we have been funded by the PCSP for the One Stop shop and every year we have to apply for that.

“Women’s Aid secured the funding as we are the lead agency in the borough that works with domestic abuse. Unfortunately this year we did not get it.”

She also criticised the ‘very poor’ way the funding application process was handled by the PCSP, saying that after she contacted the Partnership she received a brief email stating their application had been unsuccessful.”

She said the charity had decided not to pursue the appeals process but would apply for the PCSP funding again in March 2024.

She said they had secured £5,000 funding that would ‘cover the basics’ and allow the service to continue.

“The One Stop Shop is for women affected by domestic abuse where they can get free confidential information all in the one room. It is held in a building that is confidential and anonymous.”

Despite having PCSP funding axed the chief executive pledged that the ‘vital’ service would continue. “We are not going to stop this service because we don’t have the funding. It is a vital service.”