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We have been putting sustainability at the forefront of our conversations this year, and recently developed our own Sustainability Policy, with thanks to our Sustainability Intern Anna Barrett from Durham University.

Anna has contributed a guest post to our Directors Blog, to illustrate what has been going on behind the (green) scenes!

Over the past five months whist completing an MSc at Durham University I have had the opportunity to become a sustainability intern at Changing Relations. I’ve loved this opportunity and found it a really rewarding experience.

As sustainability intern, my work centred around trying to better the sustainability of the organisation and ensure environmentally focused thinking became the norm in every aspect of Changing Relations’ work. In order to do this, I began carrying out research into sustainability in general, looking at large organisations that are leading the way in terms of sustainability, and then seeing how these steps translate into the work of smaller organisations that are more of a similar size to Changing Relations. I spent time with Artistic Director Polly, going through the sustainable steps she already takes, and we talked a lot about how to make sure that these became standard practice throughout the team rather than just steps that she does. This also involved assessing the work environment in the office, and reviewing the resources and materials regularly used to see whether we could swap out options for more sustainable alternatives.

It was also really important to Polly and Lisa that we made sure sustainability became a central value of the organisation rather than just something added on, so I spent time working on ways to embed sustainability throughout the whole organisation. This involved work such as drafting sections for artists contracts focusing on sustainability, and drafting text that could be included in art packs which discussed the sustainable nature of the products and encouraged the recipient to recycle, reuse and repurpose the contents where possible. By the end of my project, I had created a Sustainability Policy and other work to support this including a Sustainable Induction for new starters and current team members to demonstrate the importance of sustainability to the organisation. Through this work not only were my research skills considerably strengthened, but I also gained further appreciation for the importance of sustainable thinking and the steps that we can all take to do our part.

One of the personal objectives I hoped to accomplish whilst undertaking my internship was to improve my confidence in communication skills, particularly presenting. I was given the chance to present my work at a Board Meeting at the end of my internship and despite initial nerves I accepted the invitation and received positive feedback which definitely boosted my confidence.

Overall I just want to say thank you to the team at Changing Relations and to the Careers and Enterprise team at the University for setting up such a positive and valuable experience for me. To be able to develop my employability at such a thriving and socially aware organisation only bettered the experience, and I felt welcomed, supported and empowered by the team at Changing Relations.

Thank you, Anna! Your work was fantastic and we enjoyed having you as a part of our team.

If you're interested to know HOW sustainability has been weaved through our organisation, take a look at our highlights video.

Not afraid to take a stand

With thanks to Durham University’s fantastic Career Service, we had the absolute pleasure of hosting an incredibly self-motivated and hard-working 2nd year Social Sciences student as an intern conducting a rapid research project for us. Here, Alice Westall blogs about the work she did for us, and shares the resulting report, published on the University’s international research-sharing platform.

Over 5 weeks throughout March and April 2023, I had the opportunity to work as an independent researcher with the team at Changing Relations and Durham University to produce a report that detailed the essential and innovative nature of the Rabbits in Headlights project. This project aims to support non-specialist professionals to help the children and young people accessing their services to overcome the challenges arising from being exposed to domestic abuse.

The project will be based on Changing Relations’ illustrated book, Sometimes it Hurts, and a series of creative tools designed to explore the themes and situations presented within the stories.

I analysed the aims and approaches of existing intervention practices as well as highlighting what could be considered ‘good practice’ when working with young people.

Goals of the Research

The aim of the report was to determine the extent to which what Rabbits in Headlights aims to offer is innovative and necessary, and, through building an understanding of the current gaps in provision, to ensure the project’s development of materials is informed by what both children and young people and non-specialist professionals feel is needed to strengthen the response to those young people exposed to domestic violence.

Data revealed the aspects of existing service provision that children and young people found to be barriers to disclosing, inquiring about and receiving support for experiences of domestic abuse.

The research revealed:

  • Gaps in confidence among non-specialist professionals
  • Lack of representation of young voices
  • A homogenous, one-size-fits-all approach
  • A lack of focus on intersectionality.


The final report details the findings of a systematic, desk-based digital review of secondary literature that discusses the aims and approaches of existing intervention practices. The data was collected through critical searches of peer-reviewed and grey literature identified in academic sources, with the secondary data being comparatively analysed to identify patterns, gaps, and how current approaches to intervention work with children experiencing domestic abuse met or missed recommended ‘good practices’. Conclusions about the gaps drawn from this literature review were compared to the approach of the Rabbits in Headlights programme to identify and evidence how its unique, creative and collaborative approach offers necessary solutions to the gaps presented by the currently available intervention resources we appraised. An example would be to encourage more timely responses and more accessible support for children and young people through the empowerment of non-specialist support workers, who are often the first to receive disclosures of domestic abuse from children but struggle to respond.

Inspiring Professional Confidence

Non-specialist professionals such as teachers and social workers are in a pivotal role to identify and respond to children and young people’s disclosures of abuse due to their unique relationships of trust built through their time spent with young people. We know that these non-specialist professionals struggle to hold space for these disclosures and the research indicates that this may be due to a lack of confidence in managing these disclosures, as they are often unclear about their role in the child protection process and feel that they lack the training and resources necessary to offer effective support for children disclosing abuse.

This apprehension then leads to inaction, creating barriers to inquiry and disclosure with teachers’ uncertainty disempowering young people from sharing their experiences and therefore being in a position to go on and receive support.

Thus, the research indicates good practice must focus on providing more accessible resources and training materials in order to empower these non-specialist professionals with the knowledge and skills to bridge difficult conversations with children and young people. To overcome the fear and confusion that prevents non-specialist professionals from acting to aid children, understandable and accessible resources are necessary to empower non-specialist professionals to act as first responders to disclosures of abuse, ensuring the availability of quick and accessible support.

Rabbits in Headlights offers an essential and innovative solution to this lack of confidence and consequent inaction:

  • The use of creative illustrated stories provides an accessible and understandable tool for non-specialist professionals to utilise in bridging difficult conversations with children and young people about the abuse they have experienced.
  • These resources have the potential to empower non-specialists to feel more confident in opening much-needed conversations, which has the potential to reduce the delay and difficulty children and young people often face in accessing support, due to referral and waiting list processes for specialist services. Rabbits in Headlights serves to demystify the diverse experience of domestic abuse by allowing both non-specialists and children and young people to feel more confident in identifying, discussing and navigating the experiences and challenges of domestic abuse to support young people’s recovery.

Platforming Voice

The secondary analysis of existing intervention programmes served to identify good practice, with recurring findings that point to children and young people feeling isolated from, and unable to identify themselves, in the support programmes and resources provided to them, indicating that effective intervention programmes must recognise children as sentient social actors, with their voices and experiences being considered in decisions about resource creation and service delivery. This is vital to ensure young people are able to identify and understand their experiences, thus overcoming barriers to support rooted in feelings of confusion, isolation and guilt.

The research findings indicate that existing resources focus too heavily on increasing awareness among parents, professionals and specialists in isolation from the children and young people they are attempting to support. This creates barriers to disclosure whereby young people’s lack of understanding of, and inability to identify experiences of abuse, prevents them from disclosing their experiences and reaching out for help.

“It’s funny how you never know what’s going on inside a person’s head” [Alfie’s Story]


The homogenous approach of existing intervention programmes cannot recognise the diversity of experiences of, and responses to, abuse amongst children and young people. This fails to empower children and young people as agents in their own healing. This, in turn, enhances feelings of isolation that prevent the disclosure of abuse and consequently, render children invisible to support services. Therefore, intervention programmes and supportive resources which take a more participatory approach, one which promotes the platforming of young survivors’ voices in research and practice will ensure resources meet their unique and individual needs.

Rabbits in Headlight’s participatory ethical approach provides an innovative solution to the homogenous approach of existing practice:

  • Its child-centred approach ensures that content and tools created for children and young people are directly informed by those with lived experience, therefore, producing resources that are engaging and accessible.
  • These shared stories provide a source of identification and understanding for other young people and will help them to better communicate and understand their own experiences and challenges.
  • The illustrated stories communicate a shared experience of tackling barriers to disclosure rooted in shame and guilt by helping children and young people to feel they are not the only ones experiencing these challenges.
  • By sharing and validating young people’s experiences of abuse, the stories provide a stimulus that acts as a buffer for young people to open up conversations about their abuse and better articulate their feelings, thus empowering young people to access support.

Creative, Collaborative Approach

As mentioned, this review indicates that existing intervention practices take a pre-packaged homogeneous approach, whereby the diverse experiences of young survivors are silenced by the specialist discourse that dominates resource creation.

Consequently, there is a lack of resources that empower young people to identify their experiences and understand their emotions in such a way as to be able to seek support, whereas a more creative, collaborative approach with creative therapies, such as bibliotherapy, storytelling and the use of art can act as a buffer to enhance communication and break down barriers to disclosure by facilitating the navigation of the sensitive topic of abuse between young people and non-specialist professionals.

  • Creative approaches serve to combat feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem by providing a gentle way for children and young people to identify and describe their experiences and emotions by enhancing communication around sensitive topics and preventing re-traumatization.

Rabbit in Headlights offers a solution to the homogenous nature of existing buy-in, specialist-based intervention programmes to produce more accessible resources that break down barriers to disclosure and support:

Research indicates that intervention programmes are more effective when promoted through collaborative practices with trusted adults, such as teachers. The collaborative nature of Rabbits in Headlights is likely to promote a more open discussion of children and young people’s experiences of abuse by providing children and non-specialists with illustrated stories that gently introduce sensitive topics. This will mean that young people’s challenges can be discussed and worked through in a safe and non-traumatizing way. The use of creative, illustrated stories enables children and young people to identify their shared experiences and emotions, encouraging them to share more freely and feel less isolated in their experience, therefore, encouraging fuller disclosure and understanding and making them more visible to non-specialists who can offer first response support.


Intersectionality refers to the way multiple and converging systems of oppression and social identities compound to produce unique life experiences. The research revealed a common gap in the homogeneous, one-size-fits-all approach of existing intervention resources which focus on demographic variables (such as gender, class and ethnicity) in isolation instead of considering the intersectional relations that produce inequalities in experiences of abuse and access to support. The lack of diverse representation of different children’s experiences of, and responses to, abuse in existing resources, encourages feelings of isolation and confusion that create barriers to disclosure and access to support for different groups as children struggle to identify their experiences and seek aid for their challenges.

The homogenous approach of existing intervention programmes and resources fails to account for the qualitative gap in the ability of certain social groups to access support and the diverse experiences of abuse for different groups of children.

For example, ethnic minority children are most likely to be victimised by domestic abuse but are least likely to disclose and receive support as many existing, specialist-based support programmes require children to be identified as victims and referred for support.

The focus on diversity and representation in the creation of Rabbits in Headlights resources overcomes the gaps in service provision caused by this one-size-fits-all approach. As the illustrated stories are informed by the direct experiences of a diverse group of children, it ensures the resources recognise the diverse needs and experiences of children exposed to domestic violence, thus strengthening prevention and intervention response strategies.

  • To ensure resources for children and young people are informed by them, the Sometimes it Hurts illustrated stories are informed by a range of experiences of diverse groups of children from different cultural, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, ensuring different groups of children are able to identify and connect with the resources.
  • By ensuring that the resources are informed by the diverse experiences of a range of young people, Rabbits in Headlights promotes greater inclusivity for victims who are disadvantaged by intersectional inequalities that produce outcomes such as a higher likelihood of mental health difficulties and the increased risk of repeat victimisation in adulthood.


My comparative analysis of the aims and approaches of existing intervention programmes served to highlight how Rabbits in Headlight’s innovative, creative and participatory approach provides solutions to gaps identified in existing practice. By providing non-specialist professionals with accessible resources (in the form of illustrated stories), the Rabbits in Headlights tools can be used to bridge difficult conversations with children and young people about their experiences of abuse, thus widening the pool of those ready to reach out and offer supportive conversations while young people await specialist referral.  Furthermore, the creative, participatory approach, through the production of illustrated stories detailing other children’s diverse experiences of abuse, offers innovative and necessary solutions to the gaps in existing practice identified in the research with a focus on inspiring professional confidence, platforming young voices, taking a creative, collaborative approach to resource production and drawing out intersectional experiences and challenges.

The report, therefore, concluded that the accessible illustrated stories included within Sometimes it Hurts, together with the plans to develop a set of creative resources to help young people navigate these stories of abuse as part of the Rabbits in Headlights project, could serve to close gaps in existing practice.

The full report is available here: Not afraid, to take a stand: Project report from a desk-based review of programmes designed to improve responses to young people’s experiences of abuse – Durham Research Online

We’re really grateful to Alice for this fantastic work, to Dr Nikki Rutter and Dr Ladan Cockshut for their invaluable support during Alice’s rapid research project and to Durham University’s Careers Service for creating this internship opportunity for Alice and ourselves.
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Developing Changing Relations’ Approach To Disability Inclusion

We were lucky enough, once again, to be granted a fabulous Durham University intern via the Careers’ Service Social Enterprise Live Programme. Here, Millie Stott blogs about her experience of developing a new disability inclusion policy for Changing Relations.

I am in my final year of my BA English Literature degree at Durham University, and this summer participated in an internship with Changing Relations, researching stories of disability inclusion. The Changing Relations steering group had identified the need for a disability inclusion policy, which I have worked on developing and presenting in a creative way. The internship has helped me to develop my skills of interviewing, creatively presenting data and managing my time effectively, which I hope to take into a career in the charity sector after I graduate.

Living as a chronically ill young person, it can be easy to feel isolated, detached from those around you who seem to be living their lives free of the difficulties of fatigue and everyday pain. Even though I have lived with pain every day since my late teens, I still struggled to identify myself as disabled, not knowing if this applied to me or my experiences. For this reason, when I was hired as a summer intern with Changing Relations to collect stories of disability and present these in a creative way, I decided to focus my project on narratives of invisible disability, collecting stories from people whose conditions, like mine, could not be seen from the outside, but were still valid and had an impact on everyday life for a multitude of reasons.

Throughout the project, I interviewed nine people from very different careers and backgrounds, students, poets, artists, business owners and academics. One of my personal goals from the project was to work on my interviewing skills, something I did not previously have much experience with. As a student, having the opportunity to interact with professionals, and build my confidence in having discussions in a workplace context, was invaluable. I developed these skills whilst talking to some incredibly interesting people and hearing their stories about their experiences in the workplace and engaging with cultural activities, learning about the multifaceted experience of disability along the way. It was particularly enlightening to explore gender differences in relation to situations of medical gaslighting, being treated fairly in the workplace, and the connection between physical appearance and invisible disability.

At the beginning of the project, myself and Lisa decided it would be helpful to hear the perspectives of professionals working in cultural organisations to learn about what had worked for their company in regards to disability projects and inclusivity. I spoke to professionals from Stockton Arc, Daisy Chain and the North East Inclusive Dance Network. It was interesting to hear their views on specific policies and ideas which would help to even out inequalities in the workplace and in creative fields.

From all of the interviews I conducted over the summer, I began to compile recurring themes and ideas which stood out as important; issues of stereotyping, the language of disability, the recruitment process and the need for online spaces were particularly prevalent in most of the interviews. Hope Simpson, a member of the Changing Relations steering group, was involved in my recruitment, and early conversations with her sparked the idea of accompanying the stories I collect with her visuals. As an artist and photographer, Hope began to analyse these themes visually, creating illustrations and photographs which represented the words of individual interviewees. Her work, drawing from her own experiences of invisible disabilities and the motifs of the interviews, brings out some of the differing aspects and challenges of those we interviewed.

Using Hope’s artwork and the themes I compiled, I came up with a document intended for workplaces and cultural organisations to use in order to better their understanding of invisible disability. Each heading features two quotes pulled from the interviews, allowing different viewpoints and voices to come through. The importance of adaptation and opening up about health and disability is highlighted throughout. The narratives also emphasise that everyone identifies with their label of disability very differently, and none of these ways is wrong.

Hearing and exploring this throughout the project, I have reflected on my own identity and become more comfortable talking about disability theory outside of my individual experiences. This has been invaluable to my English Literature dissertation, which analyses the importance of women’s illness narratives in contemporary society.  Going forward with the project, we are hoping to explore the possibility of an event or workshop to share Hope’s artwork and our findings, and hopefully help to further share the diversity of the disabled experience in 2023. We are considering the idea of creative workshops around the content of the stories and artwork collected, and this will be a chance for me to work alongside more experienced facilitators and build my confidence in this area.

We are absolutely delighted with the beautiful art Hope has produced to bring Millie’s important policy document to life. Thank you so much for all of your hard work Millie. We look forward to working with you as we explore ways we can share the perspectives on disability inclusion you have brought to bear through your thoughtful interviews and insightful analysis.

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Rabbits in Headlights

We have another new project announcement to share! This will be a further development of our book, Sometimes it Hurts, but focused this time on developing a bank of creative tools around the stories to give professionals who work with children and young people a “way in” to a potentially tricky conversation.


In piloting our book in July 2021, young people told us they enjoyed the content and felt that it “100% should be delivered to schools and to training teachers.”

This little clip from the animated version of Sometimes it Hurts perfectly articulates the motivation behind this project and the reason we’ve called this new development, Rabbits in Headlights:

Where does this insight come from?

Our writer, Bridget Hamilton worked together with children and young people from Creative Youth Opportunities who shared a range of experiences, from neglect and poverty to conflictual parental divorce and domestic abuse. The young people shared ways in which different adults responded to them, and, whilst some are responding with empathy and engagement, creating space to hold the difficulty of some young people’s home lives, unfortunately this was not the experience of all of our young people.

And the image of Alfie really stuck with us: a young lad holding a set of challenging experiences, realising that the adult he was faced with at school could see a hint of that challenge, but was not able to hold a space to bring it into the open. What message would Alfie take from this encounter? That his circumstances were too much for a grown up to handle? How would this make him feel?

We know from our work with tricky themes over the last 10 years that a feeling of shame emerges when young people sense that their experience can’t be discussed. But this isn’t Alfie’s shame. And what we’d love is for him to know it’s not his fault, it’s not just him, and he doesn’t have to bear the weight of his experiences alone.

Those whose experiences shaped the stories of our book told us: “It makes you feel like you’re not the only one when you go through it.” and “It could make people understand and be more kind.”

We know – and are grateful – that specialist services exist to support children and young people. We’re also very conscious that these services are only for young people referred into them. There can be a waiting list and educational professionals may face young people presenting with difficulty in the here and now, before the young people they are supporting are able to access specialist support. We also know that without domestic abuse necessarily being talked about openly, young people might not immediately identify themselves as experiencing this, or in need of support. For example, in writing the foreword to our book, award-winning campaigners Luke and Ryan Hart, who themselves experienced domestic abuse as children, shared that:

“We believed our emotional pain meant we were weak kids, rather than that something was wrong in our home…we felt we should have been able to cope…that it wasn’t dramatic enough to bother others with. We needed to hear others’ stories of domestic abuse before we could begin to make sense of our own. This awareness will spark conversations that help young people connect the dots…and get the help they need. We’re always asked when’s the right time to talk to children about domestic abuse and the answer is as soon as possible.”

In a review of our book, Lancet Child and Adolescent Health cites that “In the UK, 1 in 7 young people have been affected by domestic abuse at some point during their childhood, but they rarely have opportunities to discuss their experiences.”

This is where our new project development comes in. We’re absolutely delighted to have developed a partnership with Durham University social work lecturer, Dr Nikki Rutter, to support us in shaping tools, training and resources to empower teachers to open much-needed conversations with children & young people. We’re also hugely grateful to have received funding to support this work from:


What will our project involve?

It’s hugely important that we continue the principle of foregrounding children and young people’s voices in shaping resources aimed at supporting them. We’ll be working with schools and community partners across Bishop Auckland, Newton Aycliffe and Shildon to recruit a group of young people to be our YOUTH CREATIVE ACTION GROUP to support the new phase of development. They would create the brief for our illustrator Tamsin Rees and plan the creative activities they think would help their peers navigate the stories.

We will:

  • Develop a bank of creative resources & support processes around the 6 stories in our book to give young people chance to engage in the story as a step to bridging conversation with the supporting adult who identified them as needing help.
  • House these resources in an interactive website where teachers & youth workers could download the relevant resource & story to use with the given young person.
  • Create audio book versions of the stories, where if, for access reasons, the young person preferred to be read to, they could select this option.
  • Create a series of 6, more illustrated, picture book versions of the 6 chapters within the book to ensure the content is accessible to primary aged children.
  • Test and refine the content with schools and youth groups in Bishop Auckland, Newton Aycliffe and Shildon, supported by a Durham University Research Assistant.
  • Hold a conference to share the outcomes of the test phase.
  • Provide whole staff CPD to schools and groups in Bishop Auckland, Newton Aycliffe and Shildon to give their staff confidence to use the resources developed.

This is a really timely project as the domestic abuse bill that passed through parliament during the pandemic made children and young people “victims of domestic abuse within their own right.” Now is the time to acknowledge this; to overcome our discomfort in bringing this difficult topic into the open; and to widen the pool of those ready to reach out, signpost young people to specialist support and offer supportive conversations whilst they await referrals for that support.

If you’re interested in what we aim to achieve with this project, we’d love you to let us know. Drop our Managing Director a message ([email protected]) and stay tuned for further updates.

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An insight into the work of a Changing Relations creative practitioner

As part of our “Don’t Look Away” project, we will be recruiting a range of artists and creative facilitators to support us in using the arts & creative methods to raise awareness in Blackhall and Bishop Auckland around domestic abuse. We had a conversation with one of our longstanding Associate Artists, Jayne Johnson, to give new creative practitioners an insight into what it’s like to work for us…

Starting from January 16, 2023, Jayne began a one-week art residency at Blackhall Community Centre to engage local residents in “Don’t Look Away.” On the last day of the residency, we had a chat about this project and the range of work she does as a Changing Relations associate.

Here is what Jayne had to say!


What is your understanding of Changing Relations?

My understanding of Changing Relations is, creating and using high quality creative artwork and resources to ignite positive change as best I can.

What is your main responsibility for Changing Relations?

Since 2019, I have worked with Changing Relations in the capacity of Freelance Facilitator to deliver domestic abuse awareness training in organisations and communities using ‘Make Do and Mend’ and ‘Us Too’. The key here is help create communities and businesses that have zero tolerance of domestic abuse, to know how to respond to it, how to notice the signs and make us all a bit more responsible for each other. Reporting if we have our concerns and knowing how to do that.

It is a privilege to deliver this training. The quality of the resources available are outstanding, they reach participants on an emotional level. The training uses high quality artistic content that comes straight from survivors and is woven together in emotive ways that really creates a lasting impression on the participant. I have delivered to businesses and the community nationally and it makes me proud when I see changes happening because of the workshops.

You have been involved in different projects such as this residency and workshops at the university. Could you share more details about these?

Recently I have undertaken a weeklong residency at Blackhall Community Centre. The project is “Don’t Look Away” and the aim is to engage and work with the community to raise awareness and support people affected by domestic abuse but doing it in very much the creative way of supporting the communities to come together.

Each project at Changing Relations brings its own challenges, and I alter my approach depending on the need. We are currently working on a project with Durham University, which is developing through consultation with students. The students are creating their own engaging workshops exploring healthy relationships, consent and equality and diversity in leadership. This project is very different to the residency, and I have learned a lot about evaluation, consultation and project delivery that will support my professional growth as an artist and creative facilitator.

If other artists ask you about Changing Relations, how would you encourage them to get involved with us in the next stage? Could you sum up the range of themes, and ways of working as a creative artist, you have been able to engage in?

At Changing Relations, I have had opportunities to meet and work with other artists and shape project delivery using high quality creative resources. As an artist working with this organisation, it has helped me discover new ways of applying my specialist creative knowledge. It challenges my own thinking, as well as the thinking of others, to create positive changes around gender equality, gender norms and healthy relationships. I can use my own specialist skills and apply them to the projects and outcomes we aim to achieve, in a way that allows for me to develop as a creative practitioner.

Changing Relations has given me the opportunity to apply myself in different ways. It can vary and I love the challenge of thinking about how best to approach the next project!

Sometimes I will use my experience as a facilitator and artist to create smaller engaging creative activities for workshops that can stimulate discussion and conversation, creating a safe space to explore difficult emotive issues. I run creative workshops to support community engagement, bringing people together to build stronger more inclusive communities. I can also create my own artwork in response to the themes we are exploring.

The projects we work on push me to think outside the box, in ways I haven’t anticipated. The work is always rewarding and inspires me to think, how can I do more? Which is the motivation to on keep going.

Thanks so much, Jayne, for taking the time to talk to us.

Jayne is a Professional Visual Artist who has developed her practice since leaving University in 2006. With over 10 years’ experience teaching many artforms in school education and the adult community sector, Jayne is now a Director of a Community Arts Organisation specialising in traditional textile skills. Crafts are a wonderful way to help support wellbeing, raise confidence, and re-engage people into their community.

To learn more about Jayne’s own creative work, take a look at her website.

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‘Sometimes It Hurts’ Theatre Development

2023 has begun with an exciting new phase of co-creation for Changing Relations. Our Associate Artists have begun working with our youth group partners, Creative Youth Opportunities and Auckland Youth and Community Centre, to create a brand new play centred around toxic teen relationships and how we can support young people who find themselves in these relationships.

If you’ve been following our work for a while, you’ll know we already have a domestic abuse-themed play in our portfolio. So why create a new one? The answer lies in the worrying statistics we encountered in the Safelives report, Safe Young Lives: Young People and Domestic Abuse:

  • Young people experience the highest rate of domestic abuse of any age group
  • Young women aged 16-19 experience this at twice the rate of young men
  • A quarter (25%) of girls – and 18% of boys – aged 13-17 have experienced some form of physical violence from an intimate partner
  • The rate of referrals into support services is lower than the percentage they make up of the population

What do we take from this?

It is only fairly recently (2013) that the governmental definition of domestic abuse has been extended to encompass those under the age of 18. And perhaps this is part of the problem behind the low referral rate for young people experiencing intimate partner violence. If we’re not expecting young people to be affected by domestic abuse, we may be a little blind to its incidence amongst this age group.

This is the starting point for our new project. We want to empower young people to become the first line of defence for each other:

  • To be ready to notice the red flags of unhealthy relationships
  • To be aware of the support that is available
  • To be empowered to signpost one another to that support in constructive ways

How will we do this?

We will use one of the stories from our book, Sometimes it Hurts – Amy’s story – as the starting point for our new project. Amy’s story highlights the risk of already vulnerable young people being targeted by charming but controlling individuals, and finding themselves in toxic relationships of their own.

This is particularly pertinent after the pandemic, in which it was widely reported that the intensity of lockdown exacerbated the incidence of domestic abuse. The NSPCC reports that the pandemic contributed towards a decline in wellbeing for many children and young people. A further Safelives insight report indicates that mental health difficulties are a common consequence of experiencing domestic abuse, for children as well as adults.

This makes it all the more important that we empower our young people to navigate what is healthy and what is toxic, to ensure their vulnerability does not lead them into a cycle of repeat victimisation, a cycle which absolutely does not have to be inevitable.

Sometimes it Hurts was originally produced through working together with young people. And it’s absolutely vital that young people continue to be involved in shaping this next stage of development.


Because we want the resulting play to resonate for the young people who experience it, to feel real in its representation of their age group. And so our fabulous writer, Bridget Hamilton, is working with young people from Bensham and Bishop Auckland, to build Amy’s story, imagining friends who might notice the impact her controlling relationship is having, and the trajectory that is possible for her if they signpost her to specialist support.

In a matter of weeks, Bridget will hand over the baton of creative development to script writer and director, Zoe Murtagh, who will support our young people to imagine how the characters and stories they have been developing around Amy could be dramatised on stage. In the summer term, artists Bridie Jackson and Michelle Harland will co-produce the soundscape and set to accompany the performance. We can’t wait to see what they come up with!

With thanks

None of this would be possible without the support of the funders who saw the value in what we hope to achieve with this project:

Thank you!

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Don’t Look Away (Domestic Abuse Champions Project)

Screenshot 2022-12-06 at 20.26.52

We are running two Saturdays of creative engagement, together with The Auckland Project, to enable residents in the Gaunless Gateway areas of Cockton Hill, Henknowle, Woodhouse Close/Tindale Crescent, St Helens Auckland and West Auckland to get involved in planning our domestic abuse community champions project: Don't Look Away.

This Gaunless Gateway-supported partnership is led by Changing Relations, and we are keen for residents to have a say in the types of creative engagement, choice of artists and choice of creative facilitators that we plan for this project.

The two planned days of creative engagement will give participants a flavour of the way different artforms can be used to explore tricky themes we often shy away from.

These creative workshops include:

  • textiles
  • graffiti
  • painting
  • creative writing

Some of these will take inspiration from our artistic content that collates a range of survivor stories of domestic abuse. You can preview these on our YouTube channel:

As well as two days of art-making, provided by Auckland Project creative facilitators, participants will be invited to share their views on the artforms they think should be included in the Don't Look Away project and what they would be looking for in the artists and creative facilitators who would be commissioned.

Following this, Changing Relations would put a call out to artists to submit applications to be part of the project creative team. The resident-led project steering group would then have the chance to participate in the selection process; looking at the styles and artforms of the artists who apply, considering what each of them propose to do on the project and selecting which proposals are most appealing to the group.

If you would like to get involved, the dates to pop in your diary are:

  • Saturday 14th January 2023 in Mrs M’s, Bishop Auckland Market Place (creative writing and textiles)
  • Saturday 21st January 2023 in No. 42, Bishop Auckland Market Place (graffiti and painting) 

Lunch and hot drinks will be provided by the Auckland Project and the timing of the day will be:

  • 10.30-12 for the first creative session
  • 12-1 for lunch 
  • 1-2.30 for the second creative session
  • 2.30-3.30 for a final discussion

If you plan to attend either or both of these sessions, please email [email protected] and provide your name and contact details.

We look forward to meeting you.

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Durham Johnston School help to build the confidence of their teenage girls with a creative series around ‘body positivity’

by Artistic Director, Pollyanna Turner
Recently we delivered a series of three creative workshops with a group of year 10 girls from Durham Johnston School; exploring body positivity with the aim of increasing confidence and empowering young people to offer support to others.
Workshop 1: Switching The Narrative
In our first session we considered the messages girls and young women receive from other people that can cause harm or feelings of not being worthy or good enough.
"It can feel like people see girls as an object to be consumed" said one pupil.
Discussions were had around what needs to be done to make change and how these changes might positively impact on their feelings towards themselves and others.
Workshop 2: You Are More Than Enough
Research shows the use of filters is leading to 'Snapchat dysmorphia' - a term coined by plastic surgeon Tijion Esho, M.D., in 2018, which refers to one's toxic obsession with how their body and face look using filters. This is a form of body dysmorphic disorder - an obsession with perceived flaws in one's appearance - according to a study published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.
In week 2 we reflected on our previous session and gave thanks to each other for sharing some difficult and personal experiences.
Discussions were encouraged around how to build up our inner voice and feel confident and grateful for what we have, and the idea that we are capable of limiting how much we listen to the judgement of other influences that tell us we aren't good enough.
We looked at an inspiring collection of children's books that illustrated and celebrated the differences in all people.
Education and social media need to better represent 'real bodies'; providing a true reflection of real bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities.
Thank you to Lou Brown AKA Goodstrangevibes for sharing a free downloadable colouring book full of drawings and positive affirmations.
Lou dedicates their illustrations to increasing body positivity, and better representation, to support mental health - check out their work at www.goodstrangevibes.com

We would love to help you with the topics you feel would benefit your school and students. We use and build on our current artistic content to provide bespoke workshops. Contact [email protected] to find out more about our educational offers and how we can help you. More information on our artistic content and our themes is available in the Our Work section of our website.

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Mental Health Week, Loneliness and Domestic Abuse

9th to 15th May 2022 was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and the theme was loneliness. If you have been championing this within your workplace, have you also considered domestic abuse in the conversation?

In this blog, how mental health, loneliness and domestic abuse intersect is going to lead us to consider what we can do to make things better for those who we might encounter in the workplace who are affected.

Let’s start by considering how the experience of domestic abuse could be a trigger for mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety.

I’d like to share a couple of clips with you that were gathered from domestic abuse survivors who shared testimony of their experiences with us for the making of our soundscape Us Too, which is one of the artworks we use in our workplace training. Us Too is a piece of music interwoven with real survivor testimony designed to show the breadth and diversity of people affected by domestic abuse.

As you listen, think about how domestic abuse might be a causal factor for mental health difficulties:


In hearing these stories from Victoria and Alma, of constant put downs chipping away at a person’s self-confidence or the helpless feeling of there being no way out, we can see that this statistic from the mental health foundation indicates a strong causal relationship between domestic abuse and mental health difficulty:

30-60% of women with a mental health problem have experienced domestic violence

I’m going to turn for a moment to a report produced by the Vodafone Foundation in 2017 that focused on domestic abuse in relation to the workplace and, we can see that whilst a fantastic:

  • 86% of HR leads agree employers have a duty of care to support employees with regards to domestic abuse
  • ONLY 5% of employers had a specific policy in place to cover domestic abuse among their workforce
  • COMPARED TO 68% with a specific wellbeing policy
  • OR 41% with a mental health policy

To me, these figures suggest that employers tend to think that if they’re addressing mental health and / or wellbeing, they’ve implicitly ticked off domestic abuse as well. But is this right?

Now as we know the theme for mental health awareness week this year was loneliness and I’m really interested in the graphic (left) used as part of the MHAW campaign, which very much suggests that mental health is something to do with the individual and something they themselves have to deal with. Now clearly our personal wellbeing is an individual matter, but where we’re talking about domestic abuse, this isn’t just something we’re going through as an individual – there’s another party involved.

I’ve got a couple more examples from Us Too for you to have a listen to: two more from Victoria, describing events that happened before the point at which she described herself as suicidal in the clip you have already heard and then we additionally have a clip from L.

(For reference, whilst the voices you are hearing are real survivors sharing their stories, all of the names are pseudonyms to protect the anonymity of those who bravely shared their stories with us)

As you listen to these clips, consider how you think each of their partner’s behaviour contributed to each of these individuals’ experiencing loneliness, which could in turn have contributed to mental health difficulties.



“He would accuse me of having relationships at work or flirting with the boss, none of which was the case. It was the lever he used to say, “Well, if you were that bothered about my feelings, you would just leave.” And he made it so difficult. He would turn up at work & meet me from work & take me to work & turn up at lunchtime; made it so difficult to actually hold down a job that the easiest thing became to just give it up.”


Hopefully you picked up on the way in which the survivors we spoke to were being isolated from friends, family, work colleagues and social events through the behaviour of their partners. And given these behaviours, it’s worth noting some statistics, again taken from the Vodafone report:

  • 16% of the companies had shared that domestic abuse had led to employees leaving their roles
  • 25% said harassment occurred within the workplace
  • 17% said it had caused security issues for other employees
  • Whilst a phenomenal 75% of employed partner violence victims are affected by interference tactics that can be used to exert control over the victim’s employment or job opportunities

So we can see that whilst there’s a powerful connection between domestic abuse, loneliness and mental health, the dynamics of domestic abuse add in an extra complexity and specificity that we need to take into account if we’re going to create a workplace supportive of domestic abuse survivors, as well as those experiencing mental health challenges where domestic abuse has not been a causal factor.

And we’re going to extend our thinking about this for a moment…

When we think about the loneliness and isolation that Victoria and L experienced as a result of their partners’ behaviour, we need to ask ourselves why the perpetrators in question would be doing that? What were they hoping to achieve?

Fundamentally, domestic abuse is about power and control, and the abuse a victim experiences can take a range of different forms depending on the chosen tactics an abuser thinks will help them get control. We don’t tend to use the term domestic violence within our work for this reason – whilst many still think of domestic abuse as including physical violence, it may not, in reality, feature, if the controlling partner doesn’t “need” to use this to get their way.

We have already seen a few of the ways in which control may be used to isolate a partner in the examples we’ve heard. But let’s have a look at a clip from our film Make Do and Mend – what additional controlling tactics you can see being used here that contribute to Dorothy’s isolation?



I’m sure you will have picked up on the way in which financial abuse contributed to Dorothy’s experience of isolation, but the aspect of geographical location is really pertinent as well, as there was an important report published by the National Rural Crime Network in 2019. Here’s a little extract from a BBC news article that covered the report:

“Rural victims were half as likely to report their abuse to others, and experienced abuse for 25% longer… rural isolation is often used as a weapon by abusers… Physical isolation is arguably the best weapon an abuser has and has a profound impact on making the victim feel quite literally captive… abusers move victims to rural settings to further isolate them or systematically use isolation to their advantage if they already live in an isolated place. This not only helped abusers control their victims while in the relationship, but made it harder for victims to escape that abuse.”

So we can see that in a range of different ways it is absolutely not an accident that a domestic abuse victim would experience loneliness and isolation. And we need to bring this awareness to the way we might reach out to a colleague who’s struggling.

What we also then need to consider is how our responses as bystanders intersect with what victims are experiencing, including how this might add to their loneliness and isolation. We’ve got another quotation from Victoria, as well as clips from Ester and Elizabeth to help us explore this.

What it is about the bystander responses in each case that might contribute towards the loneliness experienced by each of the victims?




“My Mum was like, “But he’s so lovely and he’s so good looking and he clearly idolises you, you know, what’s your problem?””


The implication is that many of us in our unthinking responses might unwittingly be making a domestic abuse victim’s experience of loneliness worse through ignoring, denying, or disbelieving their experience – effectively giving the message that we don’t want to hear it which is going to feel like we’re telling the person they need to go off and suffer it alone.

And this brings us to start thinking about what it is that we can do in our workplace context.

Going back to the Vodafone report, we can see that, of the 200+ companies surveyed, there was an average of 0.5 disclosures of abuse made in each organisation in the preceding 12 months. 0.5! That’s less than a whole person.

From the examples we’ve heard so far, what do you think could be the reasons that so few people come forward to say what is going on?

Listen back to the clip we shared of L, above. What does L’s description suggest about the fundamental experience of domestic abuse that might affect our willingness to come forward?

For me, what we can see from this example is that hiding what is going on is part of the victim’s experience of coercive control. They have been intimidated into doing what their controlling partner says and are conscious that their partner would not want them to share their internal relationship dynamics. There may be fear at play of what they would do if they found out they’d shared anything.




What was really nice amidst the sadness of many of the stories gathered in the making of Us Too was when we heard the aspect of Victoria’s story depicted here in this illustration (left).

After the experience above, where we saw Victoria having been harassed into leaving her job, she was isolated in her flat, with no financial capability to escape. Her neighbours had heard sounds that made them concerned and notified the landlord, who decided to take action to support her into a separate, safe flat without a deposit. She didn’t come forward. But nonetheless someone noticed and took action.

Let’s turn to consider an example from Kit about why it was hard for them to come forward but also what might be the key to enabling our colleagues to feel it would be ok to disclose what was going on?


For me, this points to a circular problem for companies and we have some interesting examples to back this up. In 2021, we collaborated with Durham University academic, Dr Stephen Burrell, on a survey exploring gender equality in the north-east business sector, following the first year of the pandemic, during which multiple reports indicated the incidence of domestic abuse had been exacerbated.

We found that:

  • 45% of respondents were unsure whether their business does a good job of addressing domestic abuse

whilst a further

  • 19% disagreed or strongly disagreed that their business was doing a good job of addressing domestic abuse

Our participants told us

“I’ve seen a lot of work being done on wellbeing but no mention of domestic abuse.”

“My organisation have not done anything to address the possibility a member of staff could be suffering domestic abuse…the opportunity of support has not been shared for a impacted member of staff to have the opportunity to reach out.”

“It’s never been mentioned in any company awareness campaign.”

“Domestic abuse has never been discussed, mentioned, nor is it in a policy now or during the pandemic.”

“I’m not sure any of the team would know what to look out for and what to do if they suspected it.”

These comments hint at the circular problem – if a company doesn’t receive disclosures, perhaps in part due to the dynamics of abuse described by L, they assume there is no problem. But the positive examples we received in our report in contrast really reinforce what Kit shared with us…

“Our work environment is open enough that people can discuss personal things and we have 2 mental health trained staff as well so staff feel they would not be judged.”

“We have a member of staff who was in an abusive relationship. We were able to support them and ultimately helped them to move on. This demonstrates to all staff members that our organisation is supportive in deeds not just words. Stress levels and stress management techniques are thought about and part of the routine here. It makes for a more productive workforce.”

…emphasising that if we don’t make it ok to raise domestic abuse within our company culture, those whose confidence has been diminished by an abusive partner are unlikely to feel comfortable to come forward and make a disclosure. Whereas if we create an open and supportive company culture, we might find someone builds the confidence to come forward.

We have seen this happen with one of our training clients. Shortly after we had delivered our training at Believe Housing, one of their staff members came forward to disclose that she was experiencing domestic abuse and it had pushed her to the point of not being able to cope any more. She was ready to hand in her notice. But our client was so committed to their duty of care, and aware that if she left her role, her options to leave her partner would be greatly reduced as she would lose her financial independence, so they looked at a range of ways they could support this staff member. She remained in post and later told them,

“I can’t tell you the difference you have made to my life.”

They created the conditions for her to speak out and this enabled them to help her.

So we can see that we have the potential to ensure someone who is experiencing domestic abuse does not have the loneliness of that experience compounded by an organisational culture that avoids the topic, doesn’t make a space for them to feel safe and confident enough bring it forward, and doesn’t receive the disclosure with disbelief. Rather the loneliness can be relieved.

I love this quotation from an audience member who saw Make Do and Mend when it was originally staged as a play in Northeast theatres.

“I’m not crazy. I’m not alone and there is a future”

It really shows the impact we can achieve by making it okay to bring domestic abuse into the open as a topic.

But there’s one more angle I would like for us to consider with regards to workplace disclosures. Have a read and a listen to this additional example of Elizabeth’s story from our Us Too soundscape, and consider what you think this has to do with the rate of workplace disclosures.


“There’s an assumption when you talk about coercive control, you can always see that people are thinking, “That would never happen to me; I would be cleverer than that.” So there’s an assumption that, if you are a victim, “You must be very naïve or you must be not very bright.” So if you look at some educated women in quite powerful middle class jobs, accountants, doctors, women who are seen as intelligent, that’s another reason why people would think they can’t possibly be a victim of coercive control, because they think they would be too clever to let that happen to them. And there’s not an understanding of really how subversive that is and cleverly manipulative that is.”


Going back to the Vodafone report, HR Leads estimated fairly accurately the proportions of those in the general public affected by domestic abuse, saying…

  • 26% of women
  • 15% of men were likely to be affected

But only estimated that

  • 4% of their own workforce were affected.

We could see this as a hangover of class-based prejudice about domestic abuse as a working class issue, the NIMBYism of, “it couldn’t possibly be happening to people like us” – whether by this we mean professional, well-educated, or middle class.

If we recall the clip we heard from Kit earlier through this lens of diversity and representation, and bear in mind that Kit is a non binary person in a lesbian relationship, what else does this indicate about what we need to share in the open inclusive workplace culture we want to create?


The key message here is that we need to challenge the idea that domestic abuse only happens to certain people and only at the hands of certain people.

Let’s summarise then, from the examples we have explored, from the survivors featuring in our soundscape, to our survey respondents and our client’s employee, what else we can do in our workplace setting to support those affected and perhaps alleviate some of the loneliness they may be experiencing:

  1. Make space to listen to survivors
  2. Create a culture where it is ok to talk about domestic abuse
  3. Don’t assume that not disclosing means everything is fine – ask if you aren’t sure someone is ok
  4. Pay attention to subtle factors like whether someone has stopped engaging in workplace social activities

What’s more, we need to share the kinds of specialist support that are available to all the different kinds of people experiencing different kinds of abuse. This spread comes from the personal learning journal that accompanies the e-learning version of our training:


The Vodafone report we have referenced within this blog cites the key barriers that stand in the way of companies taking concerted action on domestic abuse as part of their commitment to the mental health of their employees:

  • Low awareness of the issue
  • Lack of training
  • Lack of policy
  • Unwillingness of staff to discuss the issues
  • Lack of skills to help someone affected
  • Lack of clarity about the external support available

You’ve already increased your awareness of this issue and the external support available by reading this blog.

In terms of training and skills, this is something we can support you with via our training, the e-learning variant of our training if it is easier to roll this knowledge with large numbers of your staff digitally, or via the train-the-trainer variant we can deliver to companies who already have some knowledgeable staff members who would like the opportunity to use our creative tools to share more widely with colleagues using our live training model.

If you would be interested to learn more, have a look at our website, or get in touch to find out about how we could help you in your organisation.

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Breaking the bias this International Women’s Day

Switching the Stereotype Main Image (Twitter)

Switching the Stereotypes Part 1: In the first of two Director’s Blogs for International Women’s Day 2022, our Managing Director Lisa Charlotte Davis considers parenting and organisational culture. How does your workplace compare?

This International Women's Day invited us to focus on the theme of breaking the bias. This led us to dig back through some interesting research findings which we gathered during the pandemic, together with Dr Stephen Burrell and presented in our Gender Equality in the North East Workplace report.

Of the 72 professionals who participated, 84% felt that their workplace culture encourages gender equality & inclusion. That sounds incredibly positive.

But there are some statistics on specific issues under the umbrella of gender equality that prompt us to ask if everything really is as positive as that headline figure suggests.


Let's start with a piece of artwork from our Who Wears the Trousers zine & animation. When you see this image and you think about the pandemic, and in particular lockdown, what comes into your mind?

How did home-schooling work out for people?

It was pretty exhausting right?

But was it equally exhausting for men and women?

Our report revealed that 57% of respondents felt women were affected worse by the pandemic compared to 3% who thought men were affected worse.

Zooming out to a nationwide study conducted by the University of Sussex:

  • 67% of women with work commitments described themselves as the default parent during lockdown
  • 70% reported being completely / mostly responsible for home schooling



Let’s have a look at some of the comments our survey respondents actually made.

The first very much chimes with that opening statistic that suggests there isn’t really a gender equality issue for us to get vexed about!

“I have had both men and women struggling to come into work when their children have been sent home due to a Covid bubble. I see no difference that it affected women or men differently.”

But the majority of comments on this theme chime with the statistics about women having been disproportionately affected.

“Mothers with kids have been absent from team meetings much more than those without – or even dads.”

“I don’t know of any men that did home-schooling. It was left to the female to juggle both.”

“Unfortunately, women are still expected to take on the lion’s share of the caring burden.”

“Women seemed to be the lead on all childcare & homeschooling therefore their work was impacted more due to these added responsibilities & pressures.”

How does this add up?

Going back to that initial 84% of people telling us their workplace encourages gender equality, this calls us to ask how this belief marries with 57% of the same group of people telling us women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Is it because we’re seeing parenting as a private family issues and not the business of the workplace? 

It may be fair to say that the pandemic was very much an extreme, extraordinary period of time, but it could also be useful for us to see it as a magnifying glass to draw attention to some of the tendencies anyway around us within our culture.

This comment from Alison Lacey in the University of Sussex’s research team makes it sound as if the increased juggle for women is a private family decision:

“Because men tend to earn more, their jobs have more often taken priority with women more likely to be left providing the childcare.”

But is that right?

If we look at some of the additional figures from our report:

  • 35% felt women’s productivity was worse affected by the pandemic (vis-à-vis 5% for men)
  • 28% felt women’s career progression was worse affected (vis-à-vis 0% for men)

…they suggest there is a double bind for women in the workplace – how can they earn more if their productivity and progression is more affected?

What if it were bigger than a private family decision?


This is artwork that came from 2 sequential projects – Men’s Voices and Stepping Out of the Box, involving professional artists, groups of men and groups of boys & girls in County Durham Secondary schools.

What do they make you think of in terms of the situation for women and how this actually could be a workplace issue rather than a purely private family matter to be resolved at home?

For me, this artwork takes me back to the concept of gender roles:

Who do we expect to be doing the caring?

Who do we see as nurturers?

How is this reflected in our organisational culture, in the policies but also in the banter and the underlying expectations of men and women?

Let's have a look at a few more contributions here that point to the way in which we might need to interrogate our organisational cultures to see if there any lingering old-fashioned societal gender norms still being reinforced, perhaps without us realising!

In 2018-19, 17% of people said they disapproved of mothers with children under 3 working full-time, while 4% expressed this view when asked about fathers.

British Social Attitudes report, National Centre for Social Research

“There is an underlying assumption care is women’s work even when they are the primary earner. To tackle that we need to examine what happens when children are born.”

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, the Women’s Budget Group

“Fathers are vital to progressing gender equality for mothers.”

Ann Francke, Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute

“Women are given much more leeway when it comes to phoning in sick or needing time off – men are expected to get on with it and come in.”

Survey participant, our Gender equality in the NE workplace report

It’s wonderful if lots of our North East businesses are being proactive about gender equality in the workplace… but this final comment from our survey is interesting in that it points to behaviours within workplaces that employers might think are making the workplace more inclusive for women, but which may be backfiring if they are not part of a bigger, concerted effort to challenge some of the gendered expectations within our culture. Expectations that will also be playing out in the workplace unless we pay attention and ensure otherwise.

If we are expecting women to take greater childcare responsibility, is this unwittingly accompanied by a "Man Up!" style assumption that the male members of the workforce are workaholics for whom it would be odd to take a day off for one's own health - or perhaps that of a child?

Calling for culture change

The tricky thing about cultural norms is that they often lie just beneath the surface. They can be subtle and seem so normal we might not notice that they are even making a difference to our behvaiour.

Culture change isn’t easy! But if we can start to notice the messages we are creating, what we are implicitly encouraging or reinforcing, what it might be possible for us to challenge….maybe the pandemic can be a prompt for us to seize the moment and break down some of our biases!

In arguing for female inclusion in the government's pandemic recovery slogan Build Back Better, MP Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, argues that:

“It is not good enough to look at policies in the round when we know women need even more help to just get back to where they were.”

Let's make sure that workplace practice around gender equality and inclusion takes into account the gender norms lingering within our culture. There is more we need to celebrate and challenge if we are  to break the biases surrounding women and caring responsibilities.

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Writer Bridget Hamilton discusses her work on book Sometimes It Hurts

‘We wanted the stories to feel authentic to the people who were taking part’ 


Writer Bridget Hamilton discusses what it was like to work on Changing Relations’ Sometimes It Hurts book project, which has given voices to children who have been affected by issues such as domestic violence and neglect via powerful story telling.

‘Sometimes It Hurts features six stories which were written with the help of a group of young writers, some of whom had experienced domestic abuse. We wanted the stories to feel authentic to the people who were taking part in the project rather than an adult working for them. We held writing workshops with the group in Bensham and they brought words or poems about different aspects of unhealthy relationships, from violence to coercive control. From there, we started to get an inkling of the characters we would create for our book and that was very much shaped by the young people. Changing Relations had done some verbatim work before using testimonies but the nice thing about this project was that by creating fictional characters, they weren’t always expressing their own lives and you could ask questions such as what would this character do now? What happens if they behave like this?  

Once I’d written the stories, we shared them with another group in Horden so we could get some really good constructive feedback, such as how realistic they thought the characters’ experiences were and the sorts of language used. We started to take the book into schools and Bishop Auckland College where we piloted the kind of workshops and activities people wanted from the book. It was a great opportunity for them to give feedback to us and also start to have those conversations about healthy relationships. We would say, does the content go far enough? Is this stuff you already know? They had some really strong emotional responses and became quite political about what’s been done to tackle issues such as domestic violence. We worked hard to make sure that the process was always informed by young people, so we never second guessed them, we always asked and listened. Even people who found the content quite difficult because they had experienced it still reiterated how important it was. You could tell they were going to go off and have conversations with themselves and with their tutors. 

One of my goals with Sometimes It Hurts was to always bring some literature in with me because I never knew how much they were getting the opportunity to read or be read to and that was lovely. The experience had some nice learning moments as a writer too in co-producing this work. It was really rewarding. All of my work with young people is rewarding. To be able to give these young people a book and say ‘you’ve directly influenced this’, and you show how important their opinions and suggestions were, is really nice. Everyone loves getting a book or a piece of art – it’s something concrete they can take away with them, a lasting legacy, which is lovely. 

As told to Lindsay Parker

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