Professional and amateur artists are being asked to help the North Dorset Women’s Refuge by creating artwork and offering it to a charity auction. In September, Shaftesbury-area residents will have a chance to bid for these donated pieces.
Alfred found out more.
Fiona Oliver has been one of the Trustees of the Friends of North Dorset Women’s Refuge for a year and she understands how the charity makes a difference to the lives of women and families in desperate need. “There are circumstances where women and their children are immediately removed from a dangerous situation. They can arrive at the refuge with nothing at all. The aim of the Friends of North Dorset Women’s Refuge is to give them additional comfort and support at the time when they need it most,” said Fiona.
Sara Jacson, who chairs the Friends of North Dorset Women’s Refuge, says that a woman coming into the refuge will have endured on average 45 incidents of domestic abuse before asking for help. And some of the women and children travel long distances to reach safety in the Shaftesbury area. “Because of their situation, it may be safer for those women to be given a place of safety further away from where they live. Women can come from all over the UK,” said Fiona.
That means that the refuge residents can sometimes arrive in a place that is far from home and entirely unfamiliar to them. “That’s why it’s so important that they receive a warm welcome, and that they feel entirely safe. And I think the staff at the refuge do a brilliant job,” said Fiona, who explained that a mixture of full time and part-time workers are employed at the refuge.
When new residents arrive, some of them have been unable to carry more than a handful of possessions. Some of the women and children only have the clothes that they are wearing. “I don’t even want to think about how they must feel. I just think that the service that the refuge provides is so vital,” said Fiona.
There are ten self-contained flats within the refuge. Women and families who need this safe-haven are given a ‘welcome pack’ of essential items on arrival. It includes toiletries and they are also given provisions. “There will be essential stuff in the fridge – milk, bread, butter, eggs, bacon – those kinds of things that are a quick fix, for a comforting but easy-to-make a meal. They receive a voucher to enable them to go and get food,” said Fiona.
The refuge team also supports the women and their children by offering activities that they can enjoy together. “Those children have been traumatised by their circumstances. It’s important for them to have family time and to be able to take their mind off what they’ve seen or what they’ve experienced. We give the children and mothers swimming vouchers, so they have something else to turn their mind to at times of real sadness and desperation. I think it’s so important that they have that additional level of comfort,” said Fiona. The Friends also fund weekly fruit for all the children and they help support family day trips.
Additionally, the money raised by the Friends ensures that the flats feel homely. “We have a very close relationship with the staff. They say whether we need new curtains or new bedding. We are there as that additional layer of support.” After six months, when the women and children leave the refuge, they receive a grant to help them set up home again.
Fiona has been impressed by how much the volunteers who support the refuge achieve. “They are so passionate, and they are always busy, always thinking of ways in which they can help. They show what small acts of kindness can really do,” she said.
The group has devised an artistic fundraiser to help the refuge continue to offer vital assistance. “We came up with the concept of ‘The Art of Kindness’,” said Fiona. She had seen a similar artistic event arranged by Gillingham-based charity Msaada, which helps communities in Rwanda. “It’s a brilliant charity. They ran an art exhibition several years ago, which invited artists to put in a canvas, that was then auctioned to raise funds. I thought this is such a great idea by Billy and Sally. We decided to take this and adapt it,” said Fiona.
Amateur and professional artists will be asked to purchase a 14-inch square canvas supplied by the Friends for £15. The money will go towards the refuge. “What we like people to do is to decorate that canvas or paint it in any way that they like and to bring it back to us on the 14th September. The exhibition is taking place on the 21st September. Castle Hill House has offered to host it for us. There will be an auction with Richard Bromell of Charter House Auctioneers in Sherborne. A panel of three art professionals will select the ten best paintings and they will go forward to the auction with Richard and all other pieces of art will be available for sealed bid,” said Fiona.
She says that artists can paint or draw whatever they want on the canvasses. “There is no theme at all. We want people to bid on those pieces of art, so we’d love things that people are going to want to hang on their wall.”
Fiona says she has a ‘slightly scary’ fundraising target. “I said, ‘let’s think big’, and then Chairman Sara Jacson said, ‘let’s think bigger’. Sara has absolutely got it right. We’d love to raise £5,000.”
Fiona is confident that the group will reach its goal for the good cause. “There are some known artists, but those names will be released closer to the time. We don’t want to intimidate anybody, we just want everybody to get involved to enjoy it. We’ve also got some very keen amateurs, but generally our goal is to get 100 canvases together for the exhibition.”
Artists can get in touch with Fiona on 07766 223498. “We will make arrangements for you to receive your canvas as soon as possible. The canvas just needs to be back at Castle Hill House by Saturday, 14th September,” she said.
The public exhibition will be at Castle Hill House on Saturday 21st, from 11am to 4pm and visitors will be invited to take part in a silent auction to bid for the painting of their choice. “We’re really hoping that lots of people will turn up to come and bid and come and look at the arts,” said Fiona. Sara added, “By taking part in this competition, you will be helping us to help women escaping the most hateful crime, hidden behind closed doors.”