A charity founder has discussed how her organisation plans to use a recent grant to help hard-to-reach BAME women affected by domestic violence.

Su Bhuhi MBE, of Ilford, founded Aanchal Women’s Aid in 1984 after a woman needed support to stop her children being taken to South Asia against her will.

Since then, Su and her team have helped more than 40,000 women escape dangerous and violent situations, which unfortunately have spiked during Covid-19.

In recognition of the charity’s ongoing work, it was recently awarded a grant by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) to launch a digital support programme which will support 80 hard-to-reach BAME women.

After the award was confirmed, Su spoke to the Recorder about plans for the programme – Chai Chat – as well as the charity’s long-running battle against domestic violence.

Describing Aanchal as “really embedded in the borough of Redbridge”, Su has long-since been working with different authorities to try to dismantle the structures which allow domestic abuse to occur.

Four years ago, Su went to Punjab, India with the Churchill Traveller Fellowship to learn more about the policing infrastructure in that region.

Part of that trip, she says, was to establish some “common ground” in terms of detectable warning signs.

In Su’s opinion, one of the best preventative measures is full disclosure. “A person should know before what they are getting themselves into. How can someone staying in their village in Punjab find out if their groom is genuine or not?”

Greater scrutiny at the outset is one aim; another is to arm women in domestically abusive situations with knowledge and power. This is where Chai Chat comes in.

Su explains that the programme has been an idea of Aanchal’s for some time, but only now has the charity been able to hire a therapist for the service (thanks to the WCMT grant).

The programme - through 90-minute online sessions - will offer these women therapeutic support, guidance, and connections to other specialist services.

Such provision has never been timelier. Su is all too aware of how Covid-19 has exacerbated an already-dire situation: “Perpetrators have used coronavirus to make life harder for the women at home.”

Reduced access to support outside the home is particularly bad for the women Su works with, many of whom are already isolated due to factors such as a language barrier and having No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

Last year, Aanchal worked with 162 women with NRPF. Being cut off from any public aid - whether welfare or legal - makes domestically abusive situations even more difficult to escape.

Su has noted that such cases have become more prominent since around 2007, with all 80 of the women being supported by Chai Chat in this position.

While “immensely grateful” to the WCMT for the award, Su remains concerned that the fight feels never-ending: “We have worked so hard, so how does domestic violence still exist, and why is it increasing?”

Describing it as a “mutation”, Su laments the loss of Community Development Funds - “they offered women real support”.

These funds were commonplace until around 2006, after which their loss saw on-street support services ebb away.

“The current infrastructure leaves gaps”, she says.

Much of Aanchal’s work is tailored toward plugging those gaps. With Su all too aware that Chai Chat can be reached by anyone, anywhere, the platform is scaling up to increase engagement.

The fight against domestic violence has evolved greatly since 1984; what began as a campaign to establish basic rights has become a battle against abuse in all its insidious forms.

As a part of this for many years, Su would be forgiven for feeling fatigued.

Though she acknowledges it can be tough, she stresses that it’s far from a solo effort: “I’m not doing this on my own; it’s all about having the collective who want to help.”

To support Aanchal’s work, visit https://aanchal.org.uk/.

Su's grant was one of 32 - totalling £302,000 - given to support innovative projects which will aid the UK’s long-term recovery from Covid-19. The average award was £9430. Further information can be found at wcmt.org.uk/.