Solace Women’s Aid
Celebrity supporter, singer Andrea Corr told the Irish Post: “Bernie’s compassion and commitment have helped many women from the Irish Travelling community flee domestic violence with their children and resettle in a safe and healthy environment. She tirelessly works to bring hope and refuge to these women who might otherwise be forgotten on the outskirts of society and she is an absolute inspiration to me.”
Bernie O’Roarke has worked for Solace Women’s Aid since 2005. The Co. Westmeath woman originally started as a refuge worker, before taking on the outreach service six months later. She told us why the project is as vital as ever.
Tell us about the charity and your role:
“We offer aid and refuge to the women and children victims of domestic and sexual abuse across London. We also provide a full range of support services including legal, advocacy and counselling and therapy. We have numerous refuges across London and have 183 women in them at any given time on any given day. Many will be there with their children.
“My role first and foremost is to ensure there are refuge spaces for Irish women and Irish Traveller women and that there is someone there to work with them as they escape that violence. I will also visit the women at the refuges and on traveller sites. Elsewhere in my role I provide training to the police, social services and NHS about working with the women and I spend time speaking at conferences across the country. Basically every single day I am working to heighten awareness of domestic violence in our Irish communities.”
What services does the charity provide for Irish children?
“Solace Women’s Aid worked with 4,766 service users across London last year. Nine per cent of these were Irish and Irish Traveller women, which is a disproportionately high number. Most of these women will have their children with them — and an average traveller woman has four kids — so we have a number of services on offer for the children too.We provide therapy and counselling for those traumatised by the abuse they have witnessed at home, or take them on day trips or spend time looking after them so their mothers get some respite and a chance to make use of our services. “
How does IYF funding support your work?
“The IYF money we receive goes specifically into funding our Solas Anois children’s worker. We see so many Irish children here and this role allows us to offer specific services for them, from taking them on trips over the summer to show them a little bit of life outside the trauma of the abuse they have witnessed at home, to offering therapy and counselling to address their trauma. It further supports the work we are doing with their mothers as it allows them the time to attend our workshops and sessions and get educated to get out of their situation. We help them learn that they have a right to live free from violence, as do their children. So it’s vital that we provide all these services for both the children and the women we see.”
How important is the work you do for the children you serve?
“If this service did not exist these children would be stuck at home watching this consistent violence, which is just so damaging to them as well as their mothers. I find it so hard to grasp, even after all these years, that these children are aware and in the house when this violence is going on. We then find out in years to come what effect this has on them and there is no doubt in my mind that some of the young boys will grow up to emulate their father’s behaviour. They learn that women will put up with violence and expect that in later life. What we provide here works towards changing that. Of course change only comes from within the culture, but we can help these women stand up and refuse to accept this violence for themselves and their children.”
What does it mean to your organisation to be nominated for the IYF Hibernian Hero Award?
“When I heard we were nominated I did a little jig, it’s fantastic. I’m thrilled to think that domestic violence, which is not a sexy subject, is being tackled and highlighted in this way though the nomination. It’s absolutely brilliant that the IYF and The Irish Post have not shied away from this and I hope this gets this message out further — as it’s still taboo — and helps to give these women a voice.”