Big Interview - Feb 08 Inspire - Kathy Coe

How one woman’s experience of domestic violence led to The Pathway Project, Staffordshire’s largest provider of services to women who have been abused by their partners

Back in the 1980s when Kathy Coe was a victim of domestic violence, there was little help available and she didn’t know where to turn. A new Christian, she found support from her church family, but as she admits, “few of them understood the hell I was living in”.

Eventually, with the help of her minister, a Church Army couple and her “wonderful” housegroup, she found the courage to leave her second husband of seven years.

“My minister was a lifeline. He and his wife were always available to talk. They arranged counselling for me when I wasn’t coping with life and also helped me in many practical ways.

“They were there when my husband told me that he was dying of cancer and the stress of the divorce was making him worse. This turned out to be totally untrue.” 

The abuse, she says, took away her confidence, self-esteem and her belief in herself. “Counselling helped me to see myself through God’s eyes – not my husband’s. I recaptured my old spirit and so much more. Now I believe I’m a better person because of the experience.”

As Kathy began to get her life together, she felt that God was calling her to do something for other women who were victims of domestic abuse. She started out with a small committee who shared her vision, and in 1993, they launched a 24-hour helpline. A year later they opened their first refuge.

“In the beginning I was the only paid member of staff and we had about 10 volunteers,” says Kathy. “We now have 27 staff and about 20 volunteers. We began with one telephone line in my bedroom and haven’t stopped growing since. Isn’t God amazing?”

As Project Director, Kathy now oversees three refuges – in Burntwood, Tamworth and Lichfield – which provide a safe environment for women until they can be rehoused, and key workers who give practical and emotional support to the women and their children.

“We also work with women in the community – some may have left their partners and others will still be living with them.  We can offer the same support via a key worker and children’s workers.”

A staggering one in four women suffers domestic abuse at some point in their lives, a figure which Kathy and her team are helping to reduce. But facing up to the fact that you are being abused and need help is far easier said than done.

“You spend a lot of time, trying to cover up the fact – but it’s not your fault,” says Kathy. “Don’t try to hide behind the excuses he makes,” she advises, “talk to someone you trust, then ring a helpline and talk to someone who can offer support and advice and has knowledge of local services. You can do this anonymously.

“Never try to cover up what is happening. You need help and support and it is out there. You are far too valuable to risk your life, your family or your sanity.”
 
The Pathway Project is funded by Supporting People who pay for support staff, and also by Housing Benefit payments for the accommodation costs.  The project also applies for funding from charitable trusts such as Comic Relief and BBC Children in Need.

“We also get support from local churches, women’s groups and lots of people in our local communities. At the moment we are not looking to expand to other refuges, although never say never. We need more office space, and we are looking at developing our children’s services by registering with Ofsted, and our counselling service also.

“We are looking into the feasibility of opening a charity shop where the women using our services can train in retail work, to NVQ level, gaining a valuable qualification, confidence and self-esteem.

“We always want to do more, to reach women and children in need of help.”

  • Kathy Coe was nominated by Kathleen Bradbury from Burntwood, Staffs. For more information about the Pathway Project visit www.pathway-project.co.uk or call 01543 686300. Helpline: 01543 676800

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