News

Being Beautiful and Strong

Women forced to relocate due to domestic violence take time to get to know the new area they have moved to.

To begin with, it is often the practical places, the urgent appointments – the housing office, the doctor’s surgery, the supermarket, the school….

And then they can begin to notice other places – parks, community spaces – and begin to recognise the street names, and decorations such as murals.

The participatory work in this project provided time and space for women to come together as groups in women’s refuges and a women’s centre and be creative. To take photographs and talk about the places they were visiting, the routes they were exploring.

Amy said she had walked past this mural many times before really noticing it. And then she began to spot the colourful creatures – the frogs, the owls – and then she noticed this hummingbird.

She loved the image and made a connection with a mobile she’d been given of a hummingbird – it’s a tiny bird – but beautiful and strong.

She shared her images with the group – and the group made a photo-mosaic image based on the hummingbird. Hundreds of images from all the women in the group were combined to make up the total picture.

It brings together all their images as a group – to make one image that celebrates them being “Beautiful and Strong”! The image was printed on canvas and put up in the women’s centre – to inspire them and all the women who would use the centre.

Opening the Door towards a new life

For women who have experienced domestic abuse, the front door is a powerful image of whether they feel safe or not. Living with an abusive partner, they feel unsafe to go into the place that they had called home. The danger is inside – not in the outside world – and home feels like a prison.

As Elizabeth said in this research, after she had left her violent husband:

“I’m in a different world – completely! I’m free. I feel like I’ve come out of prison in a sense; where I was completely dictated to – now I’m free! If I want to go down town – I go! If I want to stay out all day – I can. I’m not controlled – I’ve got the control; I’ve taken the control back!”

The front door became an image of independence – as Elizabeth said:

“I’ve got my own front door – so what if I can’t afford the curtains! [laughs]  I’m safe – you know – I’ve got my life back.”

Having left the violent relationship – a front door you feel safe to go through is a definition of a true home. As Julien Rosa said:

“You don’t need to be scared to go in – you just go in. You know, when I was back in [the relationship] I used to be scared to go in – I just stood there. So – that’s a big difference – to be happy, to be relaxed – it’s incredible.”       

The participatory creative work in this project provided time and space for women to communicate such experiences. Women in the groups drew ‘maps’ of their journeys, and took photographs to explore the twists and turns of their routes.

This short video shows some of their images and captions about opening the door towards a new life.  Their images show closed doors, gates, blocked views, difficult routes and strange angles that mirror the disorientation of abuse. But they also show a way forward and the hopefulness of a way through.

Women saw the support of others as part of opening the door towards a new life – and wanted to communicate that way forward to other women escaping abuse.

Journeyscape or Journeybreak?

Domestic violence isn’t in any way a game, but it is important to use all kinds of ways to prompt discussion and thinking about the issues – and a new card ‘game’ aims to do just that. “Serious games” use the interactions and norms of games – from playing cards or board games to online gaming – to engage and inform in ways that other methods cannot.

Journeyscape or Journeybreak? is a card game about women and children’s journeys to escape domestic abuse. The game draws on the British Academy-funded research project “Women on the Move: the Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence” using examples of the pressure points women experience and the help or hindrance from people, policies, services and luck.

Relocation is only one possible strategy for women but tens of thousands of women and children relocate in the UK due to domestic abuse, often in multi-stage journeys over time and distance, and accessing a range of services and support. The game presents a simplified journey of multiple stages and stopping points, with the players gathering the points they need for the next stage, whilst also experiencing the ‘chance’ elements that can allow them to leap forward or fall back on their journey.

The examples of ‘chance’ – positive and negative – are taken from women’s accounts shared during the research, and the cards showcase women’s images from participatory photography groupwork carried out with Solace Women’s Aid. The cards are therefore an expression of women’s creativity and insights, and the game aims to highlight how journeys away from violence can be either stalled and thwarted by ‘journeybreaks’ or ‘journeyscaped’ by law, policy, services and support.

Journeyscape or Journeybreak? will be launched at the Social Research Association conference on 15th June 2023 in London. It is part of the “Please Do Touch” gallery – emphasising the importance of in-person interaction with each other and with material objects: the value of actually being able to touch…

Journeyscape or Journeybreak? is a game for 2-4 players and could be used by groups of professionals involved in responding to domestic abuse, as well as individuals who want to understand more about women and children’s journeys.

If you would like a set of cards, please make a donation to Solace Women’s Aid, and then use the contact form of this website to send your postal address.

IDPs in the Global North: Women’s Journeys to Escape Domestic Violence

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement recognise that people forced to leave their homes become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

However, tens of thousands of women and children in the UK are displaced due to the human rights violation of violence against women, but they are not recognised or responded to as IDPs. Their individual and hidden journeys to escape violence cause support needs, and a loss of rights, but state and service responses are often inadequate.

What does that say about women’s citizenship in countries of the Global North?

And would using the lens of internal displacement focus minds and actions on more just, effective, and rights-based responses?

A blog post for Researching Internal Displacement discusses the issues and implications of under-recognising women’s displacement in countries of the Global North.

Steps to a new life

The journeys of women and children away from violence and abuse are both practical and emotional.

Journeys may include steps forward – and steps back… Times when you feel that you are really moving; and other times when everything feels stuck.

Like any journey, it can help to know that others have travelled that route before you – it can be reassuring to hear their words of encouragement: to draw on the strength of their experiences.

The participatory creative work in this project provided time and space for women to communicate their experiences of forced relocation and tentative resettlement. Women in the groups drew ‘maps’ of their journeys, and took photographs to explore the twists and turns of their routes.

This short video shows some of their images and captions about their steps to a new life. As women were still at risk from abusive partners, their photographs for public display could not be identifiable. So they looked down at their feet – their little steps forward – their careful steps: as Amy put it. They took photos of their children’s feet – thinking about their journeys together. Favour highlighted that she and her son had had to pack just two small knapsacks for their escape – leaving everything else behind.

But women also saw positives in their steps forward to safety and freedom. Sarah saw a better life ahead for her and her sons – full of love, wealth, and smiles all round – and saw in some cobbled paving the metaphor that there is a space for everyone in this world. Amy saw the traces she was leaving in her careful steps forward – like footprints in concrete – and that she had options and choices of where she and her son went. Kate looked up at the bright lights of Electric Avenue, and Daisy at the beautiful colours of a sunset over the sea.

They all saw steps forward to a new life – and wanted to communicate that to other women escaping abuse.

Images and captions by women on the move due to domestic abuse show their experiences and insights on ‘Steps to a new life’

Intersections of Art and Policy

Explore how art can influence perceptions of women’s experiences of home and displacement while championing policy change. Join us for a day of talks, poetry, workshops and an exhibition in collaboration with the Marylebone Project, Mental Fight Club and researcher Janet Bowstead.

Intersections of Art and Policy is a collaborative programme that highlights the wonderful and influential possibilities of art as a medium to discuss and challenge perceptions of women’s experiences of home and displacement, while offering ideas on functional policy measures.

Working in partnership with the Marylebone Project, Mental Fight Club and researcher Janet Bowstead, our programme aims to accentuate the outstanding work that these charities and other groups have been engaged in, providing shelter and skills that empower women facing homelessness while simultaneously championing policy change. 

Programme Synopsis – 23 March 2023, 10am to 4.30pm

Join us for a day of talks, poetry performance, exhibition displays and interactive workshops as we mark the close of our Behind the Door Campaign, which aimed to fundraise for women charities and raise awareness of women homelessness.   

At its core, Intersections of Art and Policy is a celebration of the exceptional women who produced the artworks and photography that will be displayed during the day, and acts as a recognition of their courage, resilience and boldness.  Our programme is only a platform to anchor their voices and allow them to be beacons of change and possibly pioneers of practical policies on women’s issues.    

Part I: Art as Agency  

Art as Agency aims to highlight the misconceptions surrounding women homelessness and breakdown stereotypes, exploring ideas of home and feelings of belonging using art as a premise that enables the possibility of changing people’s perceptions.  

10-11am: Breakfast & Viewing Exhibition Displays

Challenging Perceptions of Homelessness (A voice through the Lens): Artworks by the Marylebone Project in collaboration with the Mental Fight Club and Photographer Marysa Dowling.  

Women’s Journeyscapes: Women and Children Relocating due to Domestic Abuse: Artworks by Women working with Janet Bowstead.  

11-11.30am: Beacons of Change: A Reflection on the Marylebone Project.   

11.30am-12pm: Womens’s Journeyscapes:  Janet Bowstead Interactive Talk in Conversation with Gaynor Tutani.  

12-1pm: Lunch

Part II: Towards Change  

Towards Change aims to explore the challenges related to women homelessness through art and creative workshops to encourage positive change and inspire policy.   

1-3pm: Parallel Workshops in Music and Art Making – Final works to be used in Producing a group Manifesto. (Spaces are limited. Booking required).  

3pm-3.30pm: Performance by Artists and Poets

3.35pm-4pm: Music and Art Making Workshop – Manifesto Presentation

4-4.30pm: Final Remarks and Close

Home is where…..?

Women on the move due to violence and abuse are home-less. They, and their children, are forced to leave the home they knew – and do not know when they will have a ‘home’ again.

‘Home’ can mean the four walls – somewhere to stay – but it can also mean much more: a sense of belonging, comfort, safety and happiness.

Sometimes, women on the move due to abuse will say that they can never imagine feeling truly at home again.

The participatory work in this project provided time and space for women to be creative – to communicate their experiences of forced relocation and tentative resettlement. Groups held in women’s refuges and a women’s centre were a temporary creative space – for women who would soon be on the move again.

This short video shows some of their images and captions about home: the temporary sense of ‘home’ in a women’s refuge, the mundane bits and bobs and rubbish of home, and moving into a new home. The images show home-making: beginning to lay out your things in a new place – like Qiana’s perfumes – and creating a space of wellbeing – whether by scented candles, a relaxing bath, traditional home-made food, or symbols of belief and religion. As Marita says – a home is somewhere where you can “Make some noise!”

Images and captions by women on the move due to domestic abuse show their experiences and insights on ‘home’

Women’s creativity on the move

When women and their children are forced to relocate due to domestic abuse their lives and energy are taken over by all the practicalities and emotions involved.

It’s hard to make space or time for anything else.

And yet, women on the move still have their hopes and dreams, their hard-won knowledge, and their ideas and insights. And they want – and deserve – to be heard.

The participatory work in this project provided time and space for women to be creative – to communicate their experiences of forced relocation and tentative resettlement. Groups held in women’s refuges and a women’s centre were a temporary creative space – for women who would soon be on the move again.

And yet they could explore their creativity – even as they remained on the move: not knowing when they would have to relocate again.

Images and captions from their creativity are featured in the report from this research, and also as an example in a new article[1] on creative practice and mobilities. The article includes recognition of sensory experiences, material objects, landscape and place, as well as the importance of co-production and participation and the role of creativity in making issues and ideas public.

Creative practice goes beyond text and words, and enables ongoing communication of mobile lives, even when the individuals themselves may have moved on.


[1] Kaya Barry, Jen Southern, Tess Baxter, Suzy Blondin, Clare Booker, Janet Bowstead, Carly Butler, Rod Dillon, Nick Ferguson, Gudrun Filipska, Michael Hieslmair, Lucy Hunt, Aleksandra Ianchenko, Pia Johnson, Jondi Keane, Martin K. Koszolko, Clare Qualmann, Charlie Rumsby, Catarina Sales Oliveira, Max Schleser, Stephanie Sodero, Aryana Soliz, Louise Ann Wilson, Heidi Wood & Michael Zinganel (2022): An agenda for creative practice in the new mobilities paradigm, Mobilities, DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2022.2136996

Journeyscapes – the scale of the need and the scale of the response

The concept of Journeyscapes in this research is that the response to domestic abuse needs should be at a functional scale and capacity – a practical and accessible infrastructure for women and children. That should be a fundamental responsibility of the state – of Government – in response to the human rights violation of violence against women.

Whilst Government persists in devolving responsibility to local authorities – not least in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 – women and children in their tens of thousands are crossing these local authority boundaries to seek help.  Yet again, the scale of the response does not match the scale of the need.

A new open-access article[1] from this research shows that the regional scale in England is much more self-contained than local authorities in terms of accessing services; but this is not currently a scale of service commissioning. The example of the region of Yorkshire and The Humber shows women relocating to access a service due to domestic abuse; and many relocating again when they leave the service: either to another local authority in the region, or to elsewhere in England.

Domestic violence help-seeking journeys from local authorities in Yorkshire and The Humber

The churn of all these journeys is striking.

But, looking at the flows at the regional scale, rather than the local authority scale within a region, shows a different pattern. Though there are clearly domestic violence journeys leaving each region, the majority stay within the same region.

Domestic violence help-seeking journeys to and from English regions

The journeys may be forced by the threat of the abuser – or by the policies and (non) availability of services at the point of seeking help. Some journeys would not be necessary if the support was better, and if perpetrators were held responsible for their abuse. But the reality is that these journeys are made.

If Government wanted to meet the needs of these journeys, then it would ensure that there were no additional barriers put in place across local authority boundaries: that the state wasn’t making anything worse. A rights-based, needs-led service provision would plan at the national scale for sufficient and sustainable service capacity, without any access restrictions in terms of past, present, or future location.

A human rights argument would be for all options to be possible without any additional harm or losses being caused by the state in terms of policies, laws, and services.

As Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the UK, the state should have duties to minimise individuals’ losses, and support their rights and resettlement. Women and children should be enabled to journey as far as they need, and stay as near as they can, with the role of the state authorities being to journeyscape (by law, policy, and provision) an otherwise potentially hostile terrain.

[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2022. “Journeyscapes: The Regional Scale of Women’s Domestic Violence Journeys.” People, Place and Policy. doi:10.3351/ppp.2022.8332428488.

Location – Location – Location

It matters where domestic abuse services are – of course it does.

The location of domestic abuse services – whether women’s refuges or non-accommodation services – affects whether and how women can access the services and receive the support they need and deserve.

Whilst non-accommodation support can include workers travelling to where women and children are – sometimes called “floating support” with the idea that it floats to where it is needed, rather than expecting individuals to travel to the support – accommodation is in a specific location.

So, where should such services be?

As part of developing an ETHICAL response to service provision for domestic violence against women, Location is a key element to consider (alongside Eligibility, Type, Holistic, Independence, Capacity, and Accessibility). The location of services must enable both staying put and journeys – including return journeys where appropriate. Location is about women’s fundamental eligibility as a survivor of abuse – violence against women as a human rights violation – to go and be wherever is best.

Technical Paper on a formula for the Location of services in England

A technical paper on developing a formula for the Location of domestic abuse services in England has just been published and is available here. It should be read alongside the technical paper on Type and Capacity of domestic abuse services.

The main conclusion is that there should be sufficient accommodation and non-accommodation provision across the country in all types of places, and with no location exclusion criteria or rationing. Despite this formula being based on increasingly historical data of expressed demand, provision of accommodation bedspaces as recorded by Women’s Aid Routes to Support[1] is still below the required minimum level indicated by this formula (and by the Council of Europe recommendation[2]). Overall, the actual count of 4,332 family bedspaces in England in 2022 is below both the minimum from this formula (5,369) and the minimum recommended by the Council of Europe (5,656). And the shortage is more acute in some regions compared to others.

The graph shows that only the West Midlands region currently has higher provision than the minimum of the formula from this research, and that whilst provision in London meets the population-based Council of Europe recommendation, it does not meet the higher minimum calculated by this research by taking into account the distinctiveness of London in terms of length of stay in services.

The initial stage for a policy towards an ETHICAL service provision would be to fund the different types of service up to the minimum capacity. Thinking and planning regionally would be more functional than the current narrow focus on local authorities. After identifying the shortfall per region, actual provision should be in all types of places (all types of local authorities) – but strictly hosted by them and not in any way limited to women and children from that local authority. Planning and funding must be at the scale of women and children’s domestic violence help-seeking and journeys: scale meaning both providing sufficient capacity and provision at the appropriate geographical scale.


[1] Women’s Aid. 2022. Domestic Abuse Provision: Routes to Support. Bristol: Women’s Aid Federation of England. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-abuse-provision-data-routes-to-support/.

[2] Council of Europe. 2011. Explanatory Report to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/1680a48903.