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Home to Darlington Women’s Refuge Supporting Women and Children Fleeing Domestic Abuse Since 1976



About Us

Established in 1976, Family Help Darlington CIO (registered charity in England and Wales No. 1150798) offers specialist domestic abuse support for women and women with children fleeing domestic abuse. Family Help Darlington CIO is an independent charity, home to Darlington’s only women’s refuge – one of the longest-standing refuges in the UK. 

At Family Help we provide safe, temporary accommodation for those that need it in our purpose-built refuge.  Every year, we accommodate around 60 women and 100 children, providing them with a safe, welcoming home and a supportive team who encourage clients' progress towards positive and safe outcomes free from domestic abuse. 

We also operate a confidential helpline for any person affected by domestic abuse, either directly or indirectly. Tel: 01325 364486 – Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm.

woman placing a teddy on a bunk bed
Family help team with their award

What We Do

Ultimately, our work supports all those affected by domestic abuse, whether directly or indirectly.

Since 1976, thousands of women and children have accessed our refuge service, which has reincarnated several times to keep up with the ever-changing demands and expectations from society, whilst still remaining independent and true to our original cause.

Looking to the future, we are intent on expanding and developing our service to include new refuge accommodation and further specialist services.  We are determined to safeguard the long-term future for domestic abuse services in Darlington.

The fear of homelessness is a significant factor for a victim to remain in an abusive relationship. 

By offering survivors a safe and secure environment in which to begin their recovery, our team is on hand to support clients to obtain stable, secure, long-term accommodation.  From initial risk assessments to move-on safety plans, our support workers ensure that the needs of our clients and any children are always at front and centre. 

Support workers with over 20 years experience and local knowledge assist clients with property searches, housing applications, budgeting advice, grant applications for white goods and advice regarding safety in and out of the home.

Our knowledgeable support workers host regular one-to-one and group sessions centred around independent living skills, which are designed to empower clients to live with greater independence.  From home maintenance skills such as cooking and basic DIY to safety management such as home security and digital safety, the sessions are varied to suit the clients' needs.

Children are often the forgotten victims of domestic abuse and their experiences can have life-changing consequences. Residents with children have access to two children’s support workers who provide vital support to the families staying in refuge with activities/sessions designed to provide respite, relaxation and rehabilitation – ultimately, strengthening the family bond.

Our children’s workers organise activities and sessions for the families staying in refuge; allowing them the space and time to repair family bonds and recover from the trauma of having lived in an abusive household. Recognising the devastating impact of domestic abuse on children and young people that can last long into adulthood, these support workers are there primarily for them.  They provide children and young people with the reassurance that they are not to blame and offer regular age-appropriate sessions that take place in a safe space, in which children feel secure enough to share their experiences – giving the children a voice and ensuring that they are heard.

Family Help’s in-house therapist can provide clients with regular emotional support from the very first day and she will continue to provide emotional support as much as the client needs.  To be able to offer emotional support from the outset, with no waiting list and no limit to the number of counselling sessions available, our therapeutic service is unlike most others.

With over 30 years experience in the sector, our therapist delivers a domestic abuse programme developed in-house that has been designed to educate and empower clients to live a life free from abuse.   Over 90% of residents access this service, which allows them and their children to recover and repair in a safe environment; 100% of them said they have seen a positive improvement to their life as a result.

Through trauma-informed therapy, we provide much-needed emotional support and offer women and children the opportunity to develop:

  • trusting relationships with family
  • meaningful friendships
  • better long-term health outcomes both mentally and physically
  • the confidence to enable them to make informed life choices
  • the ability to risk assess and improve safety measures.

Funded for 5 years through the National Lottery Community Fund, our Community Engagement Worker and her team of volunteers can often be found out and about in the local community raising awareness and distributing informative material about domestic abuse and the support services available in our area. 

Our awareness-raising events are usually held in public areas such as parks, colleges, supermarkets, banks and GP surgeries so that we can reach a wide variety of people. Our informative awareness-raising presentations are popular with local community groups - these events provide people with the opportunity to access further information/support there and then, or later, when they feel ready.  If you would like to find out more about our awareness-raising events, please email

At Family Help, most of our business operations are undertaken in-house - from fielding enquiries and accepting donations to submitting grant applications and procuring much-needed goods and services, a lot goes on behind the scenes in order to keep the doors open and the lights on.

Much like the analogy of a swan swimming on a lake - above water, she moves resolutely and calmly, but underneath the water, her legs paddle fervently and continuously to keep up her momentum above – our business support workers help us to keep swimming.

The Board of Trustees has given the CEO lead responsibility for the charity. With almost 20 years of employment at Family Help (10 of which in a management role), our CEO has been integral in shaping the charity into what it is today.  Supported by our Service Manager since 2019, our management team strives to ensure our service evolves to meet the ever-changing needs of survivors. 

Family Help’s Board of Trustees has a wealth of knowledge and life experience to offer the service. Members have a range of backgrounds including ex-service users, solicitors, housing officers, commercial managers and children’s support workers.

The Board sets clear strategies and monitors the service’s effectiveness, through monthly meetings and management reports, regular service visits, client evaluations, exit interviews etc. Trustees also hold development meetings with residents twice a year, which is a great opportunity for clients to feedback any comments, concerns and/or suggestions regarding the service we provide.

If you think you have skills, knowledge and/or experience that would be useful to our Board, please register your interest by emailing

Currently, support is delivered in various ways:

At Family Help, we aim to keep women and children free from domestic abuse by providing safe, confidential accommodation where residents are treated with a non-judgemental, caring and compassionate attitude.

Our purpose-built refuge comprises 8 units with en-suite facilities, communal lounge, kitchen/diner, garden, playground and playroom for the children. The current refuge needs to double in size to cope with demand for the service.  Annually, we accommodate approximately 60 women and 100 children; each year, on average, the same number of clients are turned away due to lack of space.

Most women leave at a time of crisis and arrive with very little; we ensure a smooth transition into refuge by providing furnished units with home comforts such as freshly-made beds, towels, toiletries, clothes, toys for the children and treats for the women.

Residents benefit from support staff that assist with housing, legal issues, education and benefits.  An in-house counsellor provides emotional support at a point of crisis as well as a domestic abuse programme designed to educate and empower.  Residents with children have access to two children’s workers who provide much-needed respite for families. During her stay, a client is encouraged and empowered to take back control of her life, to consider what she needs for herself and any child(ren) who are with her.

Refuges are safe places that allow survivors to access both professional support and peer support by sharing their experiences with staff and other service-users to understand what they have been through.  Realising for the first time that they are not alone and not to blame for the abuse can be a powerfully positive experience for many who stay in our refuge. 

We offer survivors the space, time and resources to make informed life choices and our central purpose is to enable survivors to change their own lives and move towards more positive and safer outcomes.  The refuge is a place where women and their children can be free from violence and domestic abuse.  Our person-centred approach is shaped by the service-user, which promotes social inclusion and allows them to build upon their strengths and find their own solutions.  The skills that service-users gain help them to remove themselves from unhealthy relationships and grow in awareness, equipping them to improve not just their own life but the lives of those around them.

Our support staff deliver move-on support for up to six weeks for any refuge client settling in the Darlington area. 

This support helps a client/family with the transition from refuge and can include help with setting up utilities, securing grants for carpets/white goods, organising target hardening for the home and referring the client and any children into other support agencies… our helpful support workers have even been known to put up a curtain pole or two! 

Family Help’s confidential telephone helpline is available to any person affected by domestic abuse or concerned about another regardless of gender, race, age or culture. 

Calling the helpline allows any person, no matter their background, to seek help from a knowledgeable, experienced support worker who is able to understand their concerns and provide relevant guidance/signposting.

The helpline is available Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm by calling 01325 364486.  To contact us outside of these hours, please email and we can arrange for a support worker to call you back.

Family Help’s staff and volunteers regularly go out into the community to raise awareness and distribute informative material about domestic abuse and the support services available.

Our awareness-raising stalls are usually held in public areas such as supermarkets, banks and GP surgeries; this allows us to raise awareness of domestic abuse issues to a wide range of people. Our informative and interactive awareness-raising presentations are popular with local community groups as they provide groups of people the opportunity to access further information/support there and then, or later, when they feel ready.  If you would like to know more about our awareness-raising stalls and presentations, please contact our Community Engagement Worker by emailing

bed and bedside table in bedroom

Our History

1976 was the year that Concorde took its first commercial flight, the film ‘Rocky’ was released and ABBA dominated the music charts.  It was also the year that Family Help was established by a small group of dedicated Darlington people. 

Just five years after the first UK domestic abuse refuge opened in London and having recognised a need for refuge accommodation in Darlington, the group launched a pilot project in a condemned two-bedroomed, terraced house in the town centre.  With very little funding, the project relied on donations of furniture and supplies from the local community.  Despite humble beginnings, the project quickly outgrew the terraced house and moved into old hospital rooms on the grounds of an abandoned workhouse, providing shared accommodation for those in need.

Back then, Family Help had a reputation as a refuge for ‘battered wives’ rather than a safe haven for survivors of domestic abuse.  As the years passed, the charity’s mission became better understood and support from the local community continued to grow.

Fast forward to the present day, Family Help now occupies a purpose-built refuge providing 8 units with en-suite facilities, communal lounge, kitchen/diner, garden, playground and playroom for the children. The refuge was opened officially by Cherie Blair in 2003; at the time it was state of the art but today it is no longer fit for purpose - the refuge needs to double in size to cope with demand for the service.  Each year, the same number of clients that are accommodated at the refuge are turned away due to lack of space.

It is through the passionate and long-term commitment of all those involved with Family Help that the charity has survived difficult times, including lack of funding, not having suitable premises, tendering for the right to continue its service and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

Family Help was one of the first refuges in the UK to be fully-operational after the first lockdown in 2020.  Not only did the service survive the pandemic but it thrived!  With the creation of new office spaces within the refuge and the development of a self-contained unit for new clients to self-isolate before integrating with the rest of the household, slowly but surely the refuge reached full capacity whilst managing to keep COVID-19 at bay. 

playground ship
child doing finger painting at table

During this challenging time, the charity focused on securing much-needed funding and appointing staff to further enhance its service offering.  With designated support staff, in-house counsellor and domestic abuse programme facilitator, children and young people’s support workers and move-on support for its clients, Family Help’s experienced and knowledgeable team aims to provide the very best service to domestic abuse survivors.

Over the years, thousands of women and children accessed Family Help’s service and the charity has reincarnated several times to keep up with the ever-changing demands and expectations from society whilst still remaining independent and true to its original cause.

Family Help continues to stand as a guardian and a beacon for a better future for all those affected by domestic abuse.