Do you need to ASK for Angela?

Domestic abuse is a common problem in the UK. It is estimated that 7.1% of women and 4.4% of men have been victims of domestic abuse at some point within the last year. In Stockport alone, we know that there have been 8629 recorded offences of Domestic Abuse and 588 recorded or attempted rape offences over the last 6 years to Greater Manchester Police.

At Citizens Advice Stockport, we provide free, independent and impartial advice and information to people across the borough of Stockport. We are in a position where our aim is to empower clients to take control of their issues — by equipping them with their rights and options and helping them to find a way forward. We do this in a number of locations, with five day a week cover at Fred Perry House.

With this in mind, we have decided to pilot a new initiative in the advice field. It’s called ASK for Angela, something you may have heard of before in a number of pubs and bars across the Country. It is a discreet phrase that was developed in Lincolnshire, for people in a vulnerable position, mainly on dates, to be able to leave the situation with no fuss — with bar staff able to escort them to a taxi or take them to a back exit.

We’re putting a spin on it. We know that one size does not fit all. Our advice and information services are a really important resource for people in need. But our queue is quite often a barrier. It’s a barrier before a client has even stepped foot in to our office. The pressure of a queue of people watching them, the feeling of having to justify to people (including our wonderful reception volunteers) of why they are accessing a service, will they be believed, are the team capable of helping them?

Our project will work to tackle this. Clients experiencing issues around domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, forced marriage, honour-based violence, trafficking, FGM, and stalking and harassment will be able to simply ASK for Angela at reception.

They will then be taken to a dedicated, discreet room with no desk, computer or files — just two comfortable chairs and a coffee table. A hot or cold drink, and a trained ASK Adviser who will help them make sense of it all. To unpick the situation, identify the clients worries, fears and ambitions. Together — they will create an action plan, it will be up to our clients to decide to act upon this, but we will ensure they are supported to reach that goal.

Our dedicated ASK team will be building and working to maintain those important links with external partners, to ensure the most seamless and appropriate support is available for those in need.

We are creating a discreet, safe and supportive point of access service. Clients will be able to spend some time building that relationship and trust with our ASK advisers, and liaise with more specialist organisations moving forward.

Anyone who asks for Angela will be taken to a safe, discreet space and given the support they need.

To be effective, we need to instil confidence and build trust. We are not here to judge, and our ASK Advisers will not pressure or show concern that a client is not taking the action that an adviser may personally feel is best.

This service will be available to anyone experiencing abuse including both women and men, and work will be done to promote accessibility to the LGBT community. Our very clear posters will be placed right across Stockport as we begin to roll-out the pilot project in late July.

For now, we believe a six month pilot is most appropriate. This gives us time to make the project work, shaping it on a regular basis — with review meetings of the whole project team. Our aim is to create the most effective and meaningful interaction that we possibly can — to meet the needs of our clients.

Citizens Advice nationally are doing lots of impressive work on this issue, encouraging all local Citizens Advice to adopt a routine enquiry programme, where our advisers will proactively ask clients, when they attend our drop-in, if they are experiencing any form of gender violence or abuse. This will then lead in to triggering a process of support. Our team will be adopting this at the same time as our ASK for Angela roll-out, with one avenue directly asking clients, and one avenue reaching out to clients specifically.

One of the reasons that prompted us into developing this initiative is that occasionally a client will visit us and remark that they have a very short time frame to be able to raise these issues, as they have to explain and justify their whereabouts. By operating from a main Council building, with lots of other services on offer, our activities will simply go on in the background, with lots of reasons why a client may be in this building.

We will be launching this project on Wednesday 25th July, we have a small team of passionate and supportive volunteers and staff, ready to make this work. I believe that this is just the beginning of a journey we are taking to review how we can more specifically tailor our advice and information services to hard-to-reach groups, where our work can make a significant difference.