To honour Black History Month, we’re celebrating the work of Black women across the UK – from politicians to those on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak.

We spoke to a domestic abuse outreach worker, Martha, who works at Watford Women’s Centre, a women’s support service in Hertfordshire.

Can you tell us a bit about your role?

I’m the domestic abuse BAME specialist at Watford Women’s Centre. I meet vulnerable women through outreach work in the community or I get referrals from community leaders, faith groups or other professionals. For a long time, domestic abuse has been seen as a closed door affair. Part of my job is to raise awareness and start conversations about domestic abuse. We want to give women the confidence to come forward, talk about it and be able to access support services.

What are you proud of achieving in your role?

Sometimes women have been isolated for so long that they haven’t been able to talk to someone who can give them the information that they need. I’ve been able to support women who initially did not see a way out of their situation - whether that has been helping them talk to police, or access safe accommodation, counselling services or legal aid. I feel a sense of achievement when a woman who has come into the centre feeling powerless, goes away with information and resources that make her feel empowered.

As I specialise in supporting women from minority ethnic backgrounds, I feel I’ve been able to reach an audience that did not know about the women’s centre and what it could offer them. There are barriers to women accessing these types of services – language is one of them. Helping women to overcome those barriers, have the confidence to talk to professionals and live independently has been a real achievement.

This has been a difficult year, what impact has the coronavirus outbreak had on your work and the women you support?

The past few months have been a nightmare, especially for those living under coercive control. Victims have been living in hell, while the abuser has been in heaven. Everything the abuser wants, including isolating the victim from friends and family, has been fulfilled during lockdown. Victims have found it more difficult to contact support services, and even when they have been able to reach out, the services themselves have been operating at a slower pace.

Safe accommodation has been another huge issue. Women with families have been particularly affected as some refuges will not accept school age children due to heightened risk of coronavirus infection. Women with no recourse to public funds have also found it incredibly difficult to secure safe accommodation. Local solicitors have been overwhelmed with domestic abuse cases and were unable to cope with the number of referrals from support services during lockdown. This caused a delay in injunction applications.

Watford Women’s Centre has resumed some of its services, but the counselling team is finding it difficult to operate as normal due to concerns about social distancing. Whilst some clients are happy to do remote counselling, for others it is not safe for them to do so. I dread to think of another lockdown and how that would affect vulnerable women.

What is giving you hope and keeping you going right now?

The thought of vulnerable women not having someone to talk to, terrifies me. Some days I want to shut down and change jobs, but then I think of the woman who has my phone number and is waiting for daylight to be able to talk things through. My clients, or perhaps I should say survivors, have kept me going. These are women with remarkable strength, who have been on a long journey and deserve to be listened to. The women’s centre might be the only place they feel safe and supported.

Is there a specific Black woman from history that inspires you?

There are so many! I really admire Maya Angelou. When I read her story I was inspired by her strength and resilience. Despite being abused as a young girl and going through difficult times, she still went on to achieve great things as a poet and civil rights activist.