SAJE helps Fife women overcome domestic abuse

Helping women get back to themselves is the main aim of the Freedom Programme, run by SAJE founder Janet Henderson (pictured front and centre).
Helping women get back to themselves is the main aim of the Freedom Programme, run by SAJE founder Janet Henderson (pictured front and centre).

Support is on hand for women who have been mentally or physically abused in Fife.

For Sally and Janet Enterprises (SAJE) was founded in 2014 with a £500,000 Big Lottery grant, to help ensure local women were not isolated.

A second Big Lottery grant of £171,905 was awarded to the group in June to ensure its services could continue for a further two years.

Initially, the charity was run by Sally Sinclair and Janet Henderson, who had worked for Women’s Aid and saw a gap in the market to help women who had experienced domestic abuse.

Due to ill health, Sally had to take a back seat but Janet remained at the helm and has expanded on its services.

SAJE’s aim remains the same today as it was in 2014.

Janet (57) said: “We enable women to fully understand and acknowledge the range of abuse they have been, or are currently, living with.

“We help them understand the impact and devastation it has on all areas of their lives and, often, their children’s lives.

“We don’t overlap with Women’s Aid in terms of the services provided but we refer to them and they to us.

“Our aim is to take away the shame that many women feel – they wrongly feel they let it happen to them or that they were somehow weak.

“We put the blame where it belongs, on the perpetrator of the abuse.”

To achieve that, SAJE offers women a 12-week Freedom Programme, which begins at the start of every school term in towns across the Kingdom.

SAJE is one of the few charities to offer the programme in Scotland.

Janet said: “It was designed by Pat Craven, who worked with perpetrators of violence in prisons. She listened to men’s views on abuse to help design the programme.

“At the same time she was also the chairwoman of Liverpool Women’s Aid.

“Initially, she wrote a book, Living with the Dominator. The Freedom Programme is based on that.”

Sally and Janet travelled to England where they received training from Pat so that they could become licensed to deliver it.

They then set up an office at the Ore Valley Business Centre in Lochgelly to run the charity; that base remains SAJE’s HQ.

However, the Freedom programme is delivered in venues across Fife, as is a series of monthly, informal Freedom Hub Cafes.

In addition, Janet is also now running bespoke groups and programmes for women with disabilities and lesbian and bisexual women.

Janet said: “Due to the nature of what we do, we never disclose the locations for the programmes or cafes but women can contact us and we’ll be more than happy to give them the information.

“We run the programme in Leven, Kirkcaldy, Cupar, Dunfermline and Glenrothes.

“We’ve also visited Kelty and Anstruther – the more rural the area, the more difficult it is though because women are worried they are going to know each other.”

The 12-week Freedom Programme has been studied by hundreds of women locally since 2014, the youngest being 16 and the oldest in her 80s.

Janet said: “Some of them are still in relationships; others have been away for two months, two years or two decades. But they all have one thing in common – they have been abused at some point in their lives.

“Bit by bit, they lose their personality and identity and become a shadow of their former selves, often not even noticing it to begin with.

“For lots of women, there’s been no physical violence – it’s all been mental and psychological abuse.

“After attending the Freedom Programme for two hours every week for 12 weeks, they come away from the course knowing that it was not their fault and they did not ask for it.

“We run the programme three times a year, at the start of the school terms to make it as easy as possible for women to come along.

“We don’t advertise where the courses are held but women can call, email or apply online if they are interested in attending.”

Once women have been through the Freedom Programme, they have the option of attending a Toolkit for Life course – which helps them prepare for a new life, without abuse.

They can also pop into the monthly Freedom Hub Cafes to talk to other women who have already walked a mile in their shoes.

“We started the cafes a few years ago,” said Janet. “It’s an informal gathering of past participants and women thinking about joining.

“It provides information but is also a peer support group – a wee bit moral support when you need it.”

And it’s often that support that helps women sign up for the Freedom programme.

“A lot of people say they are going to attend but, on the day, it’s just too hard for them,” said Janet.

“It can be scary taking that first step and admitting that there is a problem.

“But women who finish the course find their way back to themselves and who they used to be. In a lot of cases, it’s a massive step on their journey of recovery.”

Around 250 women are supported by SAJE every year so there is clearly a need for its services locally.

Janet, who lives in Dunfermline and has two grown-up sons, leads a small team of staff and volunteers who also give talks at women’s groups and secondary schools.

There are four part-time members of staff and 20 volunteers who have all been through the programme.

She said: “They help to run the groups and cafes and with lots of other things too.

“I couldn’t do it without them – they are marvellous.”

SAJE is also indebted to its many funders.

“It’s run on a shoestring,” added Janet, “but we’ve just received additional lottery funding, as well as £15,000 from the Robertson Trust, £25,000 from the Bank of Scotland Foundation and £5000 from Santander.

“That will enable us to continue for two years.”

SAJE is also helping itself; it will soon release a new book, Her Story Rewritten.

It will contain 22 stories, poems and artworks by women who have walked through the doors. All proceeds will be ploughed back into the charity.

To find out more, call SAJE on 01592 786701, email info@sajescotland.org or visit the website at www.sajescotland.org.