When Jane was thrown out of her family home by an abusive partner, she did not know what to do.
The police sided with her partner and Jane — not her real name — faced separation from her son and daughter for the first time in their young lives.
“I literally had nowhere to go and it was a lady at the police station who put me in touch with Karen (Safe As Houses program co-ordinator Karen Bamforth),” Jane told The Weekend West.
“She came around and pretty much organised my life.
“I was down. I was as down as I could get.
“I had no idea what to do — no clothes, no food, no money, no nothing.”
One year on Jane is back in her home with her children, minus her former partner, and runs her own business.
“I didn’t know these services were available,” she said. “I thought I was pretty much on my own.
“I saw the light at the end of the tunnel through these ladies. They’re a godsend.”
Mary — also not her real name — has a similar story. When she and her two teenage sons faced eviction, she was depressed and suicidal.
Safe As Houses helped Mary escape an environment of drugs and alcohol and she is now set up with her children in a new home and contemplating the prospect of a future working with disabled people.
“No one else would go out of their way to help me,” she said. “I rang a lot of places but they couldn’t help me.”
Without help she is blunt about the future she may have faced.
“I’d probably be in a mental ward,” Mary said.
For Ms Bamforth, Jane and Mary’s cases are two of more than 100 that have crossed her desk in the little over a year the program has been running.
There are days when the phone does not stop ringing.
Her job involves liaising with support services for clients, collecting donations and dealing with emergencies, such as a client who has unexpectedly heard from an abusive former partner who was thought to be in jail.
Sometimes the women just need someone to talk to.
“I’ve been surprised by people who said they didn’t know they were in a domestic violence situation or they say ‘it’s not that bad’ and you have to say ‘he nearly killed you’,” Ms Bamforth said.
Working alongside her is lawyer Naomi Wakelin, who provides legal help for clients.
She said most other legal-aid services dealt only with one type of law, such as tenancy or criminal.
“The difference with this service is that we can deal with all of the legal issues for the client,” Ms Wakelin said.
“Clients just open their mouths and out come all their problems, and if you’re dealing with a tenancy lawyer they don’t want to hear about the DCP (Department for Child Protection) issues or criminal matters. We can deal with all of that.
“It’s really nice to see that sometimes the people just get some of their strength back again.”