A sign is pictured above the entrance to a branch of Boots pharmacy in the town centre of Darlington, northern England on September 6, 2018 Image copyright Getty Images

People living with domestic abuse will be able to access safe spaces at Boots pharmacies from Friday.

Those needing help can ask staff at the counter to use the consultation room, where they will be able to contact services for help and advice.

Charity Hestia said it launched the scheme in response to the “desperate situation” many people are facing in lockdown.

MPs said there had been a “surge” in violence since the lockdown began.

Calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline rose by 49% and killings doubled since restrictions on public life were introduced, a report by MPs found earlier this week.

Hestia has seen a similar pattern – with a 47% increase in victims reaching out via its domestic abuse app, Bright Sky.

Lyndsey Dearlove, from the charity, said: “We know there is an increased level of uncertainty for people looking to escape an abusive relationship. Self-isolation offers a new method of control over victims making it very difficult for them to seek support.

“Although we are in a period of lockdown and isolation, our message to victims is domestic abuse services are open and we can help you.”

An estimated 1.6 million women and 786,000 men experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Anna’s story: I left my abuser during lockdown

My partner had been abusive before the pandemic but it was when lockdown started and we were stuck in the house together that the abuse became so much worse.

On the day that lockdown was announced I remember I was eating a hot bowl of noodles and he just grabbed them and poured them over me, burning my skin.

Lockdown also meant I lost my job as I work in the airline industry; work was my life, it was my escape and all my close friends were my work colleagues.

While others were quite looking forward to having some time at home, I was dreading it. I knew it would mean that I would have no chance to escape the physical and emotional abuse.

I don’t have any close friends or family living nearby, so my work colleagues are my best friends. The thought of not seeing them, of not having anywhere to go was so scary.

As time went on during lockdown I became increasingly anxious. My partner would wait until I was asleep and then he would punch me and scratch me. In the morning he would deny he had done anything.

I used to be able to escape his violent moods by going to the gym and swimming but during lockdown that became impossible. My levels of anxiety were just getting worse and worse and I felt increasingly trapped.

I wanted to leave but I was really worried that there was nowhere to go. I started looking online when I could but I wasn’t sure who would be able to help me during lockdown.

Eventually, I told a friend what had been happening and she said: “Pack a bag and leave now, just get out”. I packed the only bag I could find and went and stayed in a hotel.

I stayed there for a few days but my money was running out. That’s when someone gave me the number for the National Domestic Abuse hotline.

I remember calling them and then going to sit in a park for about seven hours while they found me a place.

Arriving at the refuge I felt very safe. I still haven’t told my friends where I am. It’s not easy though during lockdown. I’m having to stay in one room and there’s not much space. Going out in the garden is a bit tricky because of the social distancing and the children need to be able to play.

There are some lovely people here though and it’s so nice to see the children. I’m finding not going out and doing my usual workout really tough. That was how I used to manage my anxiety. However, overall I feel a big sense of relief and I just hope things get better.

When I heard about the safe spaces scheme I thought it was brilliant and it would have really helped me.

In a way, the pandemic and lockdown helped me to decide to leave because I had to go, the abuse was so bad. I had to get help.

Anna’s name has been changed.

For information and support on domestic abuse, contact:

  • Police: 999 press 55 when prompted if you can’t speak
  • Refuge UK wide 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
  • Welsh Women’s Aid Live Fear Free 24-hour helpline: 0808 80 10 800
  • Scotland National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriages 24-hour helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse 24-hour helpline: 0808 802 1414

Online webchats and text services are also available.

Find more information on organisations that can help via the BBC Action Line.

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