BERKSHIRE Women’s Aid (BWA) supported 7,000 victims of domestic abuse last year, and its chief executive said the number is growing year on year. 

BWA works across Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell and West Berkshire. It has seven refuges providing spaces for up to 49 women and 69 children. 

While the charity works with men and women, the refuges are only for women and their children, and are place of immediate safety for women and their children.

Refuges are a place for victims of domestic abuse to recover, work out where to go next, and receive help with employment, education, and accessing benefits. 

Roughly three quarters of BWA’s funding comes from the four local councils in the area it covers, and the rest it receives from charitable trusts and foundations. 

However, Andrea West, chief executive of BWA, said: “Council funding is decreasing as priorities change. I can’t see any change in that; so I need to shift the balance of funding.”

Local councils used to provide most of the funding to women’s refuges before 2010, when public services began to have their budgets cut.

Ms West said: “The pressures are starting to really bite.” She described the network of different services that support domestic abuse victims as ‘all suffering from a loss of funding’.

As well as financial pressures, Brexit is affecting the work of BWA. The domestic abuse bill has been delayed due to the government suspending parliament. 

The bill would define for the first time what domestic abuse is on a legal level, according to Ms West. She said: “It’s about people being listened to; victims feel they aren’t being believed.”

“But now it’s going to take even longer. It’s already taken too long. It’s incredibly frustrating.” 

BWA also does outreach work, so women who don’t want to be in a refuge can stay in their own home. It also works in schools for children who are victims of domestic abuse and to educate young people on what a healthy relationship looks like. 

The charity runs a 24/7 helpline for anybody: victims of domestic abuse, or those concerned someone they know could be a victim. The phone number is 0118 950 4003. 

Ms West said: “Not everybody will want to use our service but I need to know that they know we exist. They need to know we are there.”