20 January 2023

Safe and Sound Dorset, a charity founded in 2017 that supports women who are isolated or at risk in Bournemouth and Boscombe, has been named as the Homelessness Partnership BCP’s inaugural ‘Hero of the Month’.

The charity’s vision is to build a strong, creative community of women who support each other, develop confidence to overcome social exclusion and create a more resilient community. With six part-time staff, 25 volunteers and five trustees, Safe and Sound Dorset helps up to 275 vulnerable women per year, with around 150 people regularly using its services.

Between 60 to 70 per cent of women who are helped by the charity are engaged by its street outreach operations, with 30% referred via word of mouth from other service users or partners.

Safe and Sound Dorset works around the clock to help women who are ‘isolated or at risk’ but what are the causes? The charity’s Volunteer Co-Ordinator, Kriss Cocomazzi, says: “Isolation and risk often results from domestic violence or abuse, or trauma – physical, emotional or sexual. Substance dependency is another reason.

“What makes us unique is that we offer safe places – we don’t advertise locations – where women can experience a respite from their life and address challenges such as mental health issues or relationship breakdown. Our ethos is ‘come as you are – there’s no judgement’. We’re a group of women empowering each other, taking time to relax, speak to people with similar experiences, gain support and carry out activities such as arts and crafts.”

The charity supports women to access stable accommodation while its evening street outreach service reaches those who are most at risk. It offers advice and help on matters as diverse as housing, education and employment, with one-to-one mentoring and specialist assistance addressing key issues such as applying for Universal Credit online.

Support is provided to access personal appointments including doctors, hospital, housing, prison, rehabilitation, recovery and the courts.

The charity’s motto – ‘building confidence through creativity and community’ – is at the heart of its Creative Lifestyle Sessions, which run four times a week. Craft, DIY, art, health and wellbeing activities encourage participants to let their creative juices flow while providing access to hot showers and washing machines.

Safe and Sound Dorset secured two grants from the Homelessness Partnership’s Change for Good initiative in 2022. The first, worth £1,000, funded redecoration of facilities for women who had moved into new accommodation after receiving support from the charity, while a £500 grant enabled a specialist orthopaedic bed to be bought for a lady with disabilities.

All’s well at The Well!
From the outset, Safe and Sound Dorset has been fully funded via a mixture of income streams including local authority, government, Lottery and private donors but growing demand for its services inspired a new initiative to generate sustainable revenue.

In spring 2022, the charity cut the ribbon at The Well, its new coffee lounge in Boscombe’s Royal Arcade, a Grade II-listed venue dating back to 1892 that’s famed for its grand architecture.

“We chose the location because that’s where our service users are,” explains Kriss. “It’s important to be visible in the community. From a symbolic perspective, the Royal Arcade is a good example of a historic building that’s seen an awful lot in its time.

“It has its cracks but it’s a beautiful place. We’ve brought life and regeneration to a venue that’s a little bit forgotten. The atmosphere is electric and the café is ideal for beating isolation through friendship, gathering and support. One year on, our customers say they love it!”

The Well now employs seven part-time staff, four volunteers and three young work experience candidates from the South West Regional Assessment Centre (SWRAC) – all developing workplace skills, gaining qualifications and building confidence.

The venue draws clientele with a range of drinks, snacks and cakes that are guaranteed to whet your appetite and it’s fast becoming a valuable community hub and sanctuary.

A mental health group uses its facilities, while Safe and Sound Dorset is looking at working with a group for Ukrainian women who can visit. Downstairs facilities can host group meetings and, with the cost-of-living crisis biting, it has become a warm space for visitors.

Kriss adds: “It’s a lot of work but we believe it’s sustainable. I am confident that, if funding continues, we’ll be able to drive the business forward.” Visit www.thewellcoffeelounge.org to find out more.

Could you support Jemma’s Fund?
Anyone struggling will know that spending time with animals and nature can have a positive effect on physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Jemma Katherine Smart, who passed away in 2021, had completed a Restart programme with The Horse Course, run by a partner agency, and enjoyed horse therapy and nature days, which helped to boost her confidence and develop a sense of self-purpose.

A fund set up in Jemma’s memory is now helping Safe and Sound Dorset to develop its animal therapy and countryside walks projects. Kriss says: “Jemma was one of the first to complete the course and she was the ultimate pupil. Her family witnessed positive change. Now, Jemma’s Fund will enable us to offer a horse course to women every summer.”

Nature and equine therapy benefits people of all ages, especially those with memory-related illnesses. Hugging a pony or walking with a horse can trigger a memory, promote an emotional connection or foster a smile, all of which can be the motivation needed to keep going and encourage positive change.

Visit www.safeandsounddorset.org/jemmas-fund.

Rising to cost-of-living challenges
Safe and Sound Dorset knows its activities bring tangible benefits to service users; however, the cost-of-living crisis is placing extra pressure on the charity. It is expecting to help a minimum of 50 additional women this year.

Kriss adds: “There’s a lot of women relying on us and we have a responsibility to maintain core services. Services will experience extra demand and we’ll do everything from offering electric blankets to halogen heaters, slow cookers and training about money management and ways to keep warm cost-effectively, while looking after wellbeing.”

The internet plays a key role in the charity’s mission to spread the word about the importance of wellbeing. Its Dorset Women’s Wellbeing Group on Facebook offers a ‘safe and inclusive therapeutic space’ for women to learn tools and techniques that enhance their wellbeing while sharing their experiences. Similar services are offered via Zoom, too.

Kriss sums-up: “Addressing digital poverty is a big part of our plans this year. Lack of web access and ability to use the internet affects everything in an age where services are increasingly online. That’s why it’s so important for us to offer computer access to women, along with training that helps them to stay safe online.”

Find out more about Safe and Sound Dorset by visiting www.safeandsounddorset.org. To support the charity’s Aviva crowd-funder to offer vulnerable woman a ‘warm room’, community support and help combatting food and fuel poverty, click here: https://tinyurl.com/3m9hrusk