MOST people will be looking forward to Christmas.
The festive season means celebration, spending time with loved ones, family and friends, eating and drinking, partying and being merry.
But for some women, it will mean increased fear, increased isolation, loneliness and danger.
Figures show domestic violence incidents double over the Christmas season.
Financial pressures, separated families and alcohol are contributory factors, according to the team from Fylde Coast Women’s Aid.
They offer emergency accommodation and help 365 days a year to women and children domestic abuse.
Getting the courage to pick up the phone and dial a single helpline number can change those women’s lives forever.
And abuse does not necessarily mean physical violence, workers from Fylde Coast Women’s Aid say, it can be in all forms – financial, sexual, psychological and emotional.
The service, which has offices based in Blackpool, runs three refuges across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre.
Julie Hughes, outreach worker from the organisation, said: “It can be much worse at this time of year.
“Because of alcohol, the stress – of finances, of family getting together – it can really be a build-up of everything around Christmas and domestic abuse can escalate.
“Domestic abuse is more common than people think. It is a fact one in four women in the UK experience this at some point in their lives.
“Two women in the UK die every week due to domestic violence and we see women of every age – from teenagers right through to women in their 70s.
“It can go on for a very long time, before women can build up the courage to get help or leave their partner or husband, it’s when the time is right for them.
“We help and support women whether they are still in the relationship or not.”
“Katie” – her real identity has to be concealed for her protection – who is 40 and from Blackpool, found herself picking up the phone two years ago after realising just what her partner was capable of.
She said: “I picked up the phone, rang the number and then put it down. I was so frightened. But then I rang again.
“And I can honestly say – without being dramatic – I would not be here today if it wasn’t for Fylde Coast Women’s Aid.
“It was during the Christmas season I rang, when everywhere else was shut, but they were there and they picked up the phone.”
She chokes back the tears as she says: “This year will be the first Christmas my little one and I will have on our own, without him and without the abuse, and we are really looking forward to it.”
She said: “The moment of realisation for me was when I was hoovering on Christmas Eve, at about 11am and he came in shouting I had woken him up by vacuuming ‘too loud’.
“He smashed me right in the face and I realised then he was capable of anything.”
And “Alice”, 38, said: “You get very isolated. It’s subtle, but he isolates you – away from your family and your friends.
“There’s a pattern which, when you talk to people in the groups you see, it’s formulaic.
“The words he used to say to me was respect and integrity.
“And it’s not all bad times – you do have some good times and they can be nice sometimes. It gives you that glimmer of hope.”
Julie says: “That’s partly why it’s far more complicated than when some people say ‘why don’t they just leave them?’
“There are also other considerations – like children, family, finances, losing the home, fear and lack of confidence and not knowing where to turn or that help is out there.”
Katie took part in a recovery programme run by Fylde Coast Women’s Aid, which is designed to help women understand and better deal with their abuse experiences.
They work on building self-esteem, which Julie says can be completely destroyed in an abusive relationship.
The group sessions look at the effect of the abuse on children and parenting skills, at the power of self-talk, at assertiveness, trust and coping with emotional pain.
The service offers drop-in sessions, as well as outreach and floating support.
It can provide advice on debt and budgeting, as women in an abusive relationship can be left with nothing, skills courses, family and parenting support, internet safety advice and one-to-one support.
Gail Lawler-Hosfield, from the service, said: “A big part is helping women to say no.
“And helping them to learn to smile, laugh and be happy again. That’s what makes our job worthwhile.
“It’s not an instant fix and everybody’s different. There is no time limit on how long we can help women for – as long as they need us.”
Fylde Coast Women’s Aid can be contacted on (01253) 596699.