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

Give the Joy Back

Women’s experiences and voices are vital in this research – their understandings and insights into their journeys. 

Women who took part in the participatory photography groupwork talked about how they noticed text and images as they travelled around their new area. They had all been forced to relocate due to domestic abuse, and were now in an area they didn’t know before. They had practical things to sort out, but were also starting to explore where they were.

Sometimes they spotted a place – a park, a shop – or an image – a poster, an artwork – that seemed to call out to them. Places or images that made them feel a little more welcome – a little more like they could begin to feel at home.

Week by week in the groupwork, women used their cameras as they made day-to-day journeys, or actually went out specially to look for images to share with the group.

As well as their individual images and captions about their experiences, women shared their insights and messages – including in posters from the groupwork.

Give the Joy Back
© Amy/Cordelia/Daisy/Marilyn/Solace Women’s Aid/Janet Bowstead

In this poster, women took a slogan from a poster as a message about how they were beginning to feel positive in themselves, but also that they could pass on their positivity to others. One of the ways of doing this was by making the posters that went on display in the women’s refuges and women’s centre – and are here on the project website. Women included images of light, of blue skies, of trees that refused to be hemmed in, and of the small steps they were taking forward in their and their children’s lives.

Love is the only language I speak fluently

Women’s experiences and voices are vital in this research – their understandings and insights into their journeys. 

As part of the project, participatory photography was carried out with groups of women in three areas of London: two groups in women’s refuges where women would soon be on the move again, and one at a women’s centre with women who were beginning to resettle. 

As well as individual projects, producing images and captions about their experiences, women shared their insights and messages.

Love is the only language I speak fluently
Love is the only language I speak fluently © Amy/Cordelia/Daisy/Marilyn/Qiana/Solace Women’s Aid/Janet Bowstead

In this poster, women took the slogan from graffiti on the London Southbank as a metaphor for their own beliefs about love, care and kindness – received and given. In making a poster, they wanted to pass on the love and positivity to women they imagined seeing the poster in the future. Blending together their individual images into a collage, they celebrated their shared experiences, and how being in a group reduced their isolation.

Women on the Move – report published

On Human Rights Day – 10th December 2021 – the report from this research was published.

Featuring more than 250 images by women who have been forced to relocate due to domestic violence, the book and maps provide an overview of the project, highlighting key research findings and new conceptualisations and knowledge from the research.

The publication presents the key messages – and points to further reading – on aspects of People, Places, Patterns and Processes of women and children on the move due to domestic violence and abuse.

To order a copy, please send postal address to info(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)womensjourneyscapes.net or send details via the contact form

Women on the Move – Vol. 1: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence (book). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-0-1

Women on the Move: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence. From Everywhere to Everywhere (map). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-1-8

Women on the Move: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence. One Year of Spatial Churn (map). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-2-5

See the flier for further information.

There is always a way ahead

Women who have relocated due to domestic abuse talk about their multi-faceted journeys: emotional, practical and geographical journeys.  Often, during the journeys, they do not know what the next stage will be – or what they need to prepare themselves and their children to face.

Women in the creative groupwork for this research produced images and captions for women they imagined making such journeys in the future – wanting to encourage women in their journeys from abuse to freedom.  The posters were then put on display in the women’s refuges and centre where the women met.

One of the participatory photography groups in London produced this poster of a path in a local park – leading to the blue sky and sunshine ahead.  The original image was then made into a mosaic of hundreds of their photographs: the idea of combining everyone’s contribution into one image, and one strong message:

There is always a way ahead

© Image by women who have relocated due to domestic abuse – from the research project “Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence”.  For further details see: https://www.womensjourneyscapes.net

Children on the move – what about their schooling?

After over a year of concern about the disruption to children’s schooling, it’s important to remember other issues that also affect children’s education – like their forced displacement due to domestic abuse[1].

If mothers can seek help and support without having to relocate – by staying put – then children may be able to stay at school, and stay in contact with friends, teachers and other support to help them deal with their experiences of abuse.  But this may not be possible.

Around half of the women accessing services due to domestic violence have children with them, and over two-thirds are forced to relocate to seek help.  Even if this is within the same local authority, children will often still have to change schools due to distance or safety concerns.


Though rates of help-seeking do vary somewhat during the year (see the graph below), with lower numbers in December, the patterns are very similar for women with and without children; and with school-age or pre-school children – as shown by the second graph below which shows the proportions through the year.

It’s clear that women often have very little choice about when and where they seek help – both because of the threat of the abuser, and the lack of service options.  This includes the fact that many mothers of school-age children cannot avoid relocating during term-time, and children often face a further wait to get into a new school – and still longer to settle and begin to catch up.

Tracy talks about how the disruption to schooling has affected her son:

It has all affected them so much; especially the older one – schoolwise.  And the way I was – he was really affected emotionally as well – seeing me crying and unhappy, and all these changes, and coming to a new place from the old place.

For my son – changing schools – you know, it confuses children from one place to another.  It’s like – he’s changed three times.

Tracy & son (age 12), daughter (age 3)

Mothers have to seek help when and where they can – so it’s clear that it is vital to support children to resettle.  They may be literally safe – especially if they go elsewhere – but needing support to get their lives back on track.  This will include both the practicalities of getting back into school, but also the wider support to undo the harm of a disrupted education.

[1] This is based on a presentation at the forthcoming RGS-IBG Annual Conference: https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/

Older women escaping abuse – similarities and differences

Each woman’s journey to escape domestic abuse is unique, and only some include formal services in their help-seeking.  The key focus for any responses should be to respect women’s rights and needs – and listen to their experiences.

But it can be useful to generalise – to some extent – to recognise shared experiences and similarities and differences.  Especially if it is clear that particular groups of women are less likely to use particular types of services – or less likely to seek formal help (or more likely to be turned away if they do).

Older women can often seem to be missing from the experiences of service providers.  Older women do access services – the oldest in the data used in this research was 102.  But older women do seek formal service help in lower numbers.

They also are more likely to have additional needs and barriers:

  • More likely to have physical health problems
  • More likely to have mental health problems
  • More likely to be disabled

And some of these issues may be due to experiencing years of abuse.

There is more detail in a briefing paper from this research.

Some older women will have been experiencing abuse for a very long time before seeking help – like Elizabeth in this research, who planned to leave when her son was independent – and she did when her son left home for university:

“I just thought – I can’t take it any longer.  You know – I’ve stood it for twenty-three years for my son.”

Many older women will not have legally-dependent children, but that is not to say that their children’s needs and concerns don’t continue to affect them, and give ongoing opportunities for the abuser to continue to control the situation.  As Elizabeth said:

“I couldn’t go to my son’s graduation – which upset me in a way; but then, that was my choice, because I didn’t want to see him [husband].  I couldn’t bear to see him.  I’ve seen some of the pictures – that are on the internet – of my husband; and I just had to turn away when I saw him, because it sends the shivers up my spine.”

Though older women may relocate to a refuge, like Elizabeth did; they are significantly more likely to stay put when they seek help, and less likely to go to a different local authority.  But when they do go elsewhere, there is no significant difference from younger women in the average distance travelled.

Older women should not be assumed to be more dependent and needy – in fact, they are more likely to self-refer to services than younger women.   But they are also more likely to have longer engagement with services – being significantly more likely to stay in a service for 9 months or more.  There are only a few services which specifically respond to the needs of older women – like The Silver Project – and there is a toolkit to help professionals improve their responses so older women have a real chance of freedom.

Elizabeth said:

“I knew I was making the right move.  I was worried about my son obviously; and I was worried about the future.  But I thought – it can’t be as bad as what I’m leaving” “ I feel so much better in myself now – than I have done in years; it’s been a great weight off my shoulders.”

Transport yourself to a better place

Women’s experiences and voices are vital in this research – their understandings and insights into their journeys. 

As part of the project, participatory photography was carried out with groups of women in three areas of London: two groups in women’s refuges where women would soon be on the move again, and one at a women’s centre with women who were beginning to resettle. 

Over weekly sessions, participants used their photography and captions to communicate their experiences, producing images, maps and collages for themselves, for the group, for display in women’s services, and for wider presentation through the research.

Transport yourself to a better place © Amy/Cordelia/Daisy/Marilyn/Solace Women’s Aid/Janet Bowstead

In this poster, women took the slogan from a London bus as a metaphor for their own journeys from abuse to freedom.  As a mixture of London-born women, and women who had come to London, they took many photographs of their journeys around London on public and private transport, documenting their growing confidence and familiarity with different routes. 

Within the groups they also shared knowledge of places and journeys – taking photographs and developing maps of useful locations and services for other women they imagined coming after them.  Whilst recognising what they had lost, women also focused on what they could take with them, and on sharing messages of strength and hope to reach other women they imagined making similar forced journeys.  Captions to the photographs included “There is always a ‘Way Out’!” and emphasising in the image of traffic lights that “all the lights are green!”  Through the groupwork, women explored their experiences of displacement and resettlement, and brought their individual images together into collages to show their collaboration.

More images from the groups are in a recently published book chapter – the book will be launched at a free online event on Wednesday 23rd June 2021 at 4pm (BST)[1]

Some of the posters were also part of an online exhibition at the Im/mobile Lives in Turbulent Times conference:


[1] http://itd.territorial-identity.ro/evenimente/

Night or Day I can go where I want

Women who have relocated due to domestic abuse talk about escaping from the abuser’s control and being able to make their own choices and decisions – in major issues, and in the day-to-day.

One of the participatory photography groups in London produced this poster collage of their local walks.

© Image by women who have relocated due to domestic abuse – from the research project “Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence”. For further details see: www.womensjourneyscapes.net