Being on lockdown has presented unique challenges for every family, but the pandemic has turned already unsafe situations even worse for those experiencing domestic abuse. The Duchess of Cornwall headed to Victoria Station on Tuesday to learn more about a programme called Rail to Refuge that gives abuse survivors a chance to escape to a safe place.
Camilla met with Darren O’Brien, a South Eastern station manager, who got the idea for the Rail to Refuge scheme after watching a documentary called Safe at Last about Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid. He was inspired to create a programme giving free train tickets to those trying to flee an abusive home.
“It’s amazing during this lockdown how many wonderful ideas have been thought up … we need more Darrens!” the Duchess of Cornwall said at today’s event.
The Rail to Refuge scheme, which is carried out by Women’s Aid and the Rail Delivery Group, was taken up by all train operators in Great Britain in April 2020, initially for the length of the first lockdown due to COVID-19. It was recently extended to the end of March 2021 but now is set to continue for the foreseeable future.
“Lockdown has been hard for everyone,” the Duchess of Cornwall said in a video message on the Women’s Aid Instagram account. “But for the survivors of domestic abuse it has been life-threatening. I’m delighted to hear that Britain’s train companies are extending the Rail to Refuge scheme for longer to provide free travel to a safe refuge for those fleeing domestic abuse.”
“It was a real honour to meet with Her Royal Highness today, and to discuss the importance and significance of the Rail to Refuge scheme,” O’Brien said. “When I first came up with the idea, I had no idea how many people it would support, but I was motivated by the possibility that it could be life changing, even if just to one person. I’m incredibly proud to have played a part, and hopeful that today’s activity will help to raise even more awareness of the scheme so that it continues to help others.”
Since last spring, more than 1,300 men, women, and children have been given free train tickets to travel to refuge accommodation, including 362 children. This has meant the Rail to Refuge scheme helped, on average, about four survivors a day. Since many people who must flee an abusive situation don’t have access to cash, free travel can literally be the difference between life and death.
The Duchess of Cornwall also met Charlotte Kneer, a domestic abuse survivor and now CEO of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, where Safe at Last was filmed; Farah Nazeer, chief executive with Women’s Aid; and Seb Gordon, Director of External Communications at the Rail Delivery Group.
Women’s Aid has a live chat service for those needing to access the Rail to Refuge scheme at chat.womensaid.org.uk. The chat is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to noon.
The Duchess of Cornwall has long been a supporter of charities championing abuse survivors, and has spoken out about the challenges the pandemic has brought to those in abusive situations.
Writing in the Guardian last year, she said, “After six months of lockdown, it is clear that Covid-19 is not the only pernicious disease that has been attacking our society. While many aspects of our lives are now slowly returning to some kind of normality, we must also remember there are those for whom the lockdown of fear and abuse remains. It is therefore vital that we continue to do everything we can to help them in whatever way possible for as long as is necessary.”