Lighthouse Women’s Aid has been a beacon of hope for victims of domestic abuse for 40 years

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows in a meeting. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

There is a collage on the wall of messages from women who have been helped by Lighthouse Women’s Aid in Ipswich, formerly known as Ipswich Women’s Aid.

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows in a meeting. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

You matter to somebody, says one.My eyes are open, says another.I am not alone. Not my fault, say some more.

There is something very powerful about these simple statements.

Perhaps because underlying them can only be the most extraordinary pain.

“Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, whatever their background,” says Laura Squirrell, volunteer and community fundraising co-ordinator at Lighthouse. “That’s one of the things I have found most striking since I came to work here three years ago. That and the degree to which many women can suffer, often for years, before they feel able to come to us. The prevalence, the severity, the frequency...I worked in business before I came to work here three years ago so it has really opened my eyes.

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows in a meeting. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown


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“You can have a man who on the outside seems to be a pillar of the community but behind closed doors he is different entirely. And his wife or partner may have never told anyone before about what is going on at home, not even family members.

“Then something will happen and she will come here, and for many women, that can be life changing.”

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The Ipswich Women’s Refuge, as it was previously known, first opened in November 1976 with ten volunteers.

Orginally in Argyle Street, it provides safe accommodation, counselling and support for women experiencing domestic abuse in whatever form, whether sexual, physical, psychological or financial.

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows

The Lighthouse project in Ipswich is celebrating its 40th anniversary.Ali Jordan and Ursula Burrows in a meeting. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Most of those helped in Ipswich come from outside the area, for obvious reasons, but local women can and of course do use the service as a first port of call.

“We’re a one stop shop for everything,” Laura says.

A mixture of counselling, support groups, legal and financial support is available, along with courses such as the 12-week freedom programme, the evidence of which is on the wall in the collage, which brings women together to work on strategies to cope with those who perpetrate abusive behaviour and to foster independence and self esteem.

There are also programmes to help children.

Women's Refuge Ipswich
Evening Star 12th September 1990

Women's Refuge Ipswich Evening Star 12th September 1990

“They are the silent victims of domestic abuse,” Laura said. “We offer ‘theraplay’, working with children to overcome the things they have seen, giving them opportunities to meet children who have been through similar experiences and also helping them build relationships with their mothers on a new footing.

“Abusers quite often use children to control their partners, belittling the mum or threatening the children if she tries to leave. This is an area where we are also looking for new funding to support our work in that area.”

Lighthouse is next week beginning a year of fundraising and awareness to mark its 40th anniversary in November 2016.

Over the past 39 years, Lighthouse has housed over 4000 women and up to 5000 children. “A typical stay will last for six months,” says Laura. “Every year, on average, we provide refuge for 83 women and 118 children and we tailor our support to suit each woman we help.”

Women's Refuge Ipswich
Evening Star 31st Oct 1990

Women's Refuge Ipswich Evening Star 31st Oct 1990

“It’s important. I’m not sure people are aware of how often it happens - figures suggest that one in four women in their lifetime will be affected by domestic abuse and less than half of all incidents are reported to police so the true figures are much higher.

“Two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex partner. If anything puts the problem into perspective, that does.”

The 40th anniversary is an opportunity to promote the work Lighthouse does, as well as raise much needed funds and encourage more people to volunteer. With the 42 staff, there are currently around 30 volunteers. Laura says they are always looking for more, particularly those keen to help with fundraising.

“The 40th anniversary is a moment to look back on everything that has been achieved, but also to say that it is a shame that we still need to be here,” Laura said. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if the world had moved on and domestic abuse was no longer a problem? But sadly, it is still very prevalent and we are seeing increasing levels of domestic abuse in young people - one in five teenage girls has been assaulted by a boyfriend and technology has added a new element to abuse, whether through bullying and shaming on social media or constantly tracking women by phone. We had a young woman here recently who had turned her tracker off her phone so her partner didn’t know where she was. It just rang and rang constantly.”

Women's Refuge Ipswich
Evening Star circa 1979

Women's Refuge Ipswich Evening Star circa 1979

“Working here you see some truly horrific experiences, but it is also a real privilege to work with and support the women and see them rebuild their lives and move forward. The strength they show, in such awful circumstances, is truly humbling.”

A closer inspection of the ‘freedom wall’ reveals some more messages from some of the women who have been through these doors.

I deserve to be happy.

No more.

A painting that says: Don’t let anyone ever dull your sparkle.

And the one simple word that says it all about this place and what it has given to all those who have been here. The chance, to at last be ‘Free.’

• Have you been involved in the work of Lighthouse Women’s Aid or been helped by them over the years? We would love to hear from you. Email us with your stories

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