'A devastating blow to women and girls' - campaigners fight to save 'last' specialist domestic violence service in South Yorkshire

A Women's Lives Matter campaigner at the protest
A Women's Lives Matter campaigner at the protest

Campaigners are fighting to save what they claim is the last specialist domestic violence service in South Yorkshire from closure.

South Yorkshire Women's Aid (SYWA), which helps victims escape abuse and rebuild their lives, says it has been 'inundated' with over 100 referrals since March this year.

Protesters have warned more women could die if the service closes

Protesters have warned more women could die if the service closes

But supporters have warned it could close after its existing grant runs out in December - potentially putting lives at risk - if new funding cannot be found.

Members of the lobby group Women's Lives Matter today gathered in Doncaster, where SYWA is based, to launch their campaign to save the service.

Amy Cousens, who volunteers for SYWA, said: "The work the small team there do is life-saving and live-changing. They provide supportive advice and therapeutic courses which give women back control and confidence in their lives.

"Without the support of specialist services like SYWA, women and girls will remain trapped in abuse, without any support to help them rebuild their lives. Without specialist violence against women's services, women die."

Women's Aid had been running in Doncaster for more than 40 years before closing temporarily in March last year.

Doncaster Council last April awarded SYWA £30,000 to resume the service and says that grant was extended to run till the end of this year after it took longer than expected to get back up and running.

The council claims it was made clear that was a one-off grant to help establish the service, which would then be expected to find other funding sources.

But Ms Cousens refutes this, claiming SYWA was led to believe it would be able to apply for more council funding.

The council said it had spent nearly £1.1 million last year on a 'comprehensive' range of services for domestic abuse victims.

Councillor Chris McGuinness, Doncaster Council's cabinet member for communities, the voluntary sector and environment, said: "We are continuing to work closely with SYWA to find other sources of grant funding and are helping them draw up a number of funding submissions to support their existence.

"We are also looking to see if there are alternative opportunities for premises in the town centre which are more affordable and suitable in the longer term."

Ms Cousens says SYWA only learned this month that no council funding would be available for the service next year.

She said a woman had taken her own life after losing contact with the service when it closed briefly last year, and she fears more lives could be lost if it is not saved this time.

"The closure of SYWA was last year and would again be a devastating blow to women and girls within the community," she said.

A crowdfunding appeal has been launched to raise £1,000 to help save SYWA. You can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/saveSYWA.