This November will be the 50th anniversary of Erin Pizzey’s opening of the world’s first refuge for battered women, in Chiswick in 1971.
A celebration dinner is to be held on Saturday 20th November in Twickenham, London. The event is open to all well-wishers who want to take this unique opportunity of meeting Erin and help celebrate her achievements by joining us at this dinner. Members of the public who wish to join us to mark this anniversary – and Erin’s work since – can do so by ticket entry.
Buy tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/erin-pizzey-chiswick-refuge-50-years-celebration-tickets-167420042855. When they’re gone, they’re gone (the venue is not huge).
A ticket gets you a 3-course sit-down dinner in elegant surroundings. I expect some people will say a few words – perhaps lots of words. Entry from 6pm, bar until late.
Readers of this blog will probably be aware that the refuge movement which Erin started has long since disowned her. You will not find her name on the web sites of Refuge or Women’s Aid, and they are unlikely to be celebrating this 50th anniversary – and certainly not as Erin’s achievement. (Women’s Aid Foundation was not created until 1974).
For people who are not acquainted with the history, here’s a very brief version…
At the start of the 70s Erin was a bored housewife looking for something more meaningful to do with her day than sit at home. After a brush with the early Marxist feminists, a meaningful occupation found her. For the next 11 years she ran the Chiswick refuges and started many others. She travelled to the USA, Canada, Australia – all over – and helped other countries start their own refuge movements.
It was not plain sailing. Erin was constantly in trouble with the law – mostly for overcrowding because she would never turn anyone away. There were no government grants for domestic violence matters in those days and Erin financed the refuges largely through donations from rich men. She also opened a refuge for men suffering domestic abuse, but no one would fund that and it soon closed down.
Erin had already good reason not to like the burgeoning feminist movement but soon there would be even more substantive reasons – and she would soon be in their sights for an early instance of assimilation and cancelling. Erin quickly realised that domestic abuse was not a problem for one sex only but that the majority of women in her refuge were just as violent as the men they were fleeing. She insisted on a therapeutic approach, recognising the origins of abusive behaviour in the abuser’s family background, regardless of sex. The feminists did not like that as their view was (and is) that domestic abuse is all about patriarchal power and control: men are the villains and women the victims.
Also, there was the cash that domestic abuse was beginning to attract.
Erin lost control of the narrative on domestic abuse when the Women’s Aid Federation was formed in 1974. Ever since then, Women’s Aid have shaped the public and political perception of domestic abuse. Ultimately, Erin was hounded out of her own refuge (circa 1982) and from that point was written-out of history.
Erin subsequently lived abroad, principally in the USA and Italy, until returning to the UK just over 20 years ago. She has received much recognition, but almost all from abroad – very little from within the UK.
Erin is now 82 and subsists on benefits. Despite requiring a wheelchair outside, she is still active in terms of giving advice to all who ask for it – of which there remain a great many. She regularly holds court in her tiny, one-room, top-floor flat in Twickenham, receiving visits from an assortment of people, including academics specialising in domestic abuse issues.
We are determined that the 50th anniversary of the start of Erin’s lifelong work should not go unrecognised, and this is why we are hosting this celebration dinner.
The near-coincidence of the date of 20th November 2021 with International Men’s Day may not be entirely coincidental, though it happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary.
You can obtain a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/erin-pizzey-chiswick-refuge-50-years-celebration-tickets-167420042855.
The organisers: Sally-Anne Burris, CEO Split The Difference; Anne O’Regan, Vice-Chair, Both Parents Matter Cymru; Jane Jackson, Founder, Bristol Grandparents Support Group; Deborah Powney, Domestic Abuse Researcher, University of Central Lancashire; Rick Bradford, author of The Empathy Gap.