A charity that provides support for women caught up in the criminal justice system says the creation of a safe space in Bristol is a vital step.
The service offered by SHE (Support Help Engagement), through The Nelson Trust, is the first of its kind in the city and works to break down some of the many barriers preventing women from accessing support and helps divert them away from prison.
A safe, women-only space in Old Market, providing one to one support, peer group sessions and workshops opened this summer.
Thanks to a collaboration with First, those using the service can now access free bus tickets as well because, for many, the cost of travel is a huge barrier to accessing services.
“It’s really important that we have this women-only safe space, particularly when we have women with multiple issues,” explains Niki Gould from The Nelson Trust.
“They may have drug or alcohol dependency, or be experiencing domestic abuse and they may have children so they will be accessing a lot of different services.
“We offer one to one support and the relationships we build with women are really important.
“We know that many women coming into the criminal justice system will have had trauma in their lives. We are working with women who are homeless, who have lost everything.
“In a women-only space there’s a lot of peer support that goes on as well. This is a diversion scheme, but also an opportunity to keep supporting women and offer them an alternative to criminality. A prison sentence can be so detrimental to women and their children.”
The women-only space is open one day a week and SHE delivers the rest of its services through outreach work.
Avon and Somerset Police was instrumental in setting up SHE in 2017 in a bid to establish a point of arrest diversion scheme for women, in partnership with other organisations.
The work is funded by the force, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office and NHS England.
“It’s about early intervention and diverting women away from the criminal justice system by providing the right support services,” says Rebecca Marshall, pathway and partnership coordinator for Avon and Somerset Police.
“We recognise that many have children, so going into the criminal justice system has a knock-on negative impact.
“It’s about diverting them on a different path at the point of arrest. For the majority women, they need support.
“There was nothing like this for women in the force area before, it’s still a relatively new concept.”
Speaking about the new partnership to offer free bus travel, James Freeman, managing director of First West of England, said: “As Bristol’s bus company, it’s really important to me that we support our local communities whenever we can, so when The Nelson Trust asked for our support to help their clients get to appointments, we were very happy to help.
“By removing the worry of how they will pay for travel, we can do our bit to help improve engagement with the SHE programme and provide the practical support they need.”
The Nelson Trust is seeking donations of toiletries and clothes, that can be passed on to women who need them. If anyone would like to make a donation, they can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Main photo: L-R James Freeman of First, Kirsty Harris and Kate Hebden of The Nelson Trust, Rebecca Marshall of Avon and Somerset Police and Niki Gould of The Nelson Trust.