Nimbys object to women’s refuge

Well, as it happens neighbours mainly. Mark Drinkwater recalls an encounter with Nimbyism and notes the usefulness of women’s refuges

It’s nearly 40 years since the UK’s first women’s refuge opened in London. While there has been an increase in public awareness about domestic violence since then, the need for refuges has not diminished.

The charity Women’s Aid claims that as many as one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Even more shocking is their estimate that at least two women a week die as a result.

You would think that with these kinds of startling statistics, refuges would be viewed as valuable community resources. But I remember, as a young teen, answering the door to a neighbour who had come round to marshal support to oppose a women’s refuge moving into a neighbouring street.

It was the first time I’d heard of such a resource. I’d been blessed with a cosy home life, so up until then it had never dawned on me about the need for such services or why they might be important.

This neighbour, considered by some as a stalwart of the community, tried to convince me of the awful things that would happen should the refuge get approved. She conjured up a vision of lawlessness and spoke about the existing refuge in the centre of town.

Grubby window

She described it down to the last grubby window and tatty curtain. She then proceeded to tell me where it was situated  – giving away its exact location – having little regard for the confidential nature of the service.

Hers was a campaign that had little appeal. Even at an impressionable age, I didn’t buy into her gloomy predictions. In fact, it seemed to make perfect sense to me to move the service from its dingy central location to a more tranquil part of town.

At one point, she did allude to the plight of survivors of domestic violence: “I know they’ve got to go somewhere.” But swiftly added: “I just don’t think they should be situated in a quiet place, like round here…”


It was my first encounter with what the late Conservative minister Nicholas Ridley would have called a Nimby: Not In My Back Yard. It’s a reference to someone who objects to services being situated in their neighbourhood but does not object to them being sited elsewhere.

In spite of her mean-spirited campaign, the refuge relocated to our neighbourhood. Since then, it must have helped hundreds of vulnerable families fleeing domestic violence. It’s even helped several friends’ family members.

So, it would seem that my busybody neighbour’s concerns were ill-founded. There was never any trouble from the refuge. Well, no more so than any other household in the area.

I came to appreciate the work of refuges a decade or so later when I found myself managing a project for homeless families in the Vale of Glamorgan. We worked mostly with single mothers, many of whom had fled domestic violence.

So I had contact with various local refuge services. I was greatly impressed; not only by their services, but also the advice they provided.

These days, accessing up-to-date information is much easier with the internet. Women’s Aid now provides their Survivor’s Handbook online. It’s an invaluable guide for both professionals and survivors. Their website also describes how to delete browsing history if service users are fearful and want to hide the sites they have visited.

Confidentiality is particularly important when it comes to refuges and survivors.

My Nimby neighbour ignored this when she divulged the locations of the existing and proposed refuges. Of course, this information needs to be secret: sometimes it really is a matter of life and death.

The Women’s Aid Survivor’s Handbook

Mark Drinkwater is Community Care‘s practice adviser

This article is published in the 6 August issue of Community Care magazine under the heading A valuable refuge for women – so who could possibly object?


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