The Esther Project - the initiative that helps vulnerable women in Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth

Ahead of 'No More' week (March 7 to March 13), which to raises awareness of domestic abuse and sexual violence and International Women's Day (March 8) we are looking at the work of the Esther Project run by Helping Hands in Leamington

For victims of domestic violence, one of the most frightening elements can be a perception that there is nowhere to turn for help and support.

For women in Leamington Warwick and Kenilworth, that perception need not exist.

The Esther Project, part of the Helpings Hands charity, based at Althorpe Street in Leamington, is there for them, as much as ever through the complexities and pressures of lockdown.

Esther Project support worker Sue Verne wearing one of the WOW t-shirts. Photo supplied

Domestic abuse is an ongoing issue in the UK but the last year has brought a sharp rise in cases, fuelled by the pandemic and lockdowns.

Like all charities, Helping Hands has had to adapt to the restrictions, but the Esther Project's work has continued.

The Esther Project was formed in 2011 by Lianne Kirkman, now chief executive of Helping Hands, to help women who were struggling with issues such as homelessness, domestic abuse, mental health, addiction and poverty.

Two years later, it joined with Helping Hands to offer further support to women the charity met through its House to Home Project and soup kitchen.

One of the WOW boxes. Photo supplied

It has supported hundreds of women in many ways, from providing practical help and advice to alleviating isolation and loneliness by opening up and building friendships.

Esther Project support worker Susan Verne said: "We are here for any woman, whatever their problems. Our Tuesday meetings (12.30-2.30pm) are open to anyone that wants to come along.

"There is no pressure, just turn up and have a chat and we'll see how we can help.

"Our meetings have evolved a long way. They started as arts and crafts and we still do that but also now loads of other things - yoga birthday parties, day trips, walks, mentoring, courses.

Carly who works with the Esther Project in her WOW t-shirt. Photo supplied

"We also see whether ladies need food or clothes or baby things. I go to court with some or take them to the doctors is necessary.

"It's all about well-being - every element of a woman's well-being."

The Esther Project welcomes any woman who drops in, but also receives referrals from the NHS and Probation Service.

For Sue, who first became involved with Helping Hands as a soup kitchen volunteer, it is uplifting to see the impact on the women.

The Esther Project held a (socially-distanced) birthday party for one of its members this week. Photo supplied

"It is lovely to see the ladies building friendships and growing in confidence and the progress they make week by week," she said.

"We have a WhatsApp group and it's a lovely way for the women to chat and encourage each other and be there for each other.

"We recently did a Fashion Show which was planned to be huge because so many beautiful clothes were donated to us but had to hold online because of lockdown.

"It was still a brilliant event and the ladies did it all themselves and raised £1,500.

"We will do that again and the money will go towards giving the ladies a really special day, maybe a day at the seaside - an experience they have never had.

"Any lady is very welcome to come along on any Tuesday or, if preferred, email me first at [email protected]"

New programme launched

A brand W.O.W (Women of Worth) programme has been launched this week as another strand of the Esther Project's support for women struggling with life-controlling issues.

With cases of domestic violence having risen significantly over the last 12 months, and 'No More' week coming next week, now is the perfect time to launch W.O.W, said Sue.

"At Helping Hands we have a vision to make sure every woman who we meet through our soup kitchen, the House2Home project, or The Esther Group, knows just how valued they are...and that they are Women of so much Worth.

"We work with ladies who often have low confidence and low self-esteem, due to various life experiences and trauma.

"Our aim is to help each of these fabulous ladies to see and believe in their own worth and help them to upskill and reach their true potential."

As is the case with every aspect of Helping Hands' work, the W.O.W project has already benefited from support from the community.

Sue said: "We want to give every woman we meet through one of our projects a welcome gift of a t-shirt and Tote bag, as well as one of our women's well-being packs.

"We shared this idea with the fabulous team at Make Good Grow and they helped to bring the concept to life.

"Our thanks go to Josh Pinfold who connected us with creative director Jack Fitzgerald who gifted his time and skills to design these lovely bags and t-shirts to give away to each of our ladies.

"We will also be selling these in local shops/cafes, so anyone can buy a bag or a t-shirt to pass on to a woman in their life who needs to know their worth!

"All money raised from the bags and t- shirts will be used to further develop our women's work."

The WOW well-being packs were funded by a Heart of England Community Foundation ‘Doing things differently’ grant and also Pentlands Accountants, who donated their Christmas party

money.