NDADA’s CEO Sue Wallis describes what Christmas is like for the women and children who have fled their homes and are spending the festive season at the Devon refuge

How do the children adapt to Christmas in a new setting?

For the children in refuge this can be an exciting time. However, they sometimes worry: “If we’re in a secret place, how will Father Christmas find me?” and sadder still, “He missed me last year”. Our dedicated children’s worker is always happy to deliver messages to Father Christmas and it’s well known that she’s member of his Elf Team.

Do you exchange gifts?

December is always a frenetically busy month for the staff – making sure all the children get presents relevant to their age and interests, and that mums are not left out. We put a lot of thought into it all. Of course, we’re helped out hugely by the many local groups and individuals who keep us in their thoughts throughout the year.

Do you have a traditional Christmas lunch together?

Not all the women in refuge are great cooks or even enjoy cooking, but we have always been lucky enough to have at least two or three who get great enjoyment from it. If we can provide the ingredients, they come up with magnificent feasts that all the residents can enjoy together in their dining room (which has been decorated by the children).

How do you accommodate residents’ different ways of celebrating?

Christmas, whether you regard it as a religious holiday or just an opportunity for a coming together of families to enjoy food and good times is, in many ways, not so different in our refuge. Over the years we have learned how to celebrate other festivals like Diwali (the risk assessments for the use of candles were a work of art!). We try to make everyone feel at home so it goes without saying we always do our best to accommodate everyone’s needs. The lovely thing about that is the opportunity for us, of all faiths and none, to gather for a celebration of life and to learn about each other. Of course the one thing that unites the families in refuge is the fact that they are escaping domestic abuse: it’s a leveller.

Christmas must be a difficult time to escape to the refuge.

Sometimes, it’s a race against time to get a family into safety just before Christmas. For these families, the adjustment into refuge can be overwhelming.

How does the team balance looking after those in the refuge with being there for their own family?

Staff cover over Christmas is shared as fairly as possible. Obviously our team members have their own families and children for whom Christmas is a special time but we are always grateful for the way members of the team share their time over this crucial period. Their passion for the work shines through, especially at this time of the year.

This year, we urgently need your help to ensure we can take care of women and children who are in desperate need of refuge over the Christmas period. Domestic abuse referrals have risen since the start of the pandemic so our services are under increased pressure – but we must make sure we are still able to give refuge to those who need it. Please support us by visiting our JustGiving page today to choose a gift package.