Gentoo Staff raise the curtain on Domestic Abuse

Staff at a North East housing association heard first-hand accounts of domestic abuse in the latest stage of their training to help combat the issue.

Sunderland-based Gentoo, which employs more than 1200 staff and works with 70,000 social housing customers across the region, trains its front-line staff and workplace champions to identify signs of domestic abuse among its customers and employees.

Front-line staff and domestic abuse workplace champions attended a play which was produced by the Women’s Voices Project, run by North East social enterprise Changing Relations.

The play, entitled ‘Make Do And Mend’, featured the stories of three County Durham women who shared their experiences of emotional, financial, sexual, physical and psychological abuse and was followed by a drama-based workshop at Gentoo’s Head Office at Doxford Park, Sunderland.

Staff were able to experience first-hand the real life stories of women who had suffered and survived the trauma of domestic abuse. Through role play and improvisation, Gentoo staff explored a number of issues, including recognising the breadth of domestic abuse in-line with the 2015 law on Coercive Control; and the impact of emotional and psychological abuse of a partner through threats and restrictions, as well as physical violence.

The workshop taught Gentoo staff to recognise the signs of physical, emotional, financial, verbal and sexual domestic violence, along with the impact it has on victims and the many and complex reasons victims find it so hard to leave an abusive relationship. They also looked at ways in which art and craft-based therapy groups can support victims’ recovery processes and the more – and less – helpful ways of responding to someone you suspect to be a victim.

As part of its ongoing commitment to tackling domestic abuse within the community, Gentoo offers a range of support measures and belongs to the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse (DVSA) Workplace Champions Network.

Michelle Meldrum, Executive Director (Operations) Gentoo, said: “This was a new and innovative way to help our staff understand all kinds of domestic abuse, specifically emotional and psychological abuse.

“It was visual and engaging and the feedback from staff was really positive. By using real life stories, staff found the play powerful and found they learnt a lot from the session.

“Protecting victims and their families is a priority for us – this training will help our front-line staff and domestic violence champions to further support victims of domestic abuse in the workplace and in our communities.”

Staff commented on how thought provoking the play was and how it helped them to understand in more detail the emotional effects of domestic abuse.

Polly Turner, Operational Director of Changing Relations, said: “Using the play as a creative training tool for Gentoo has helped us to strategically benefit a wider pool of potential victims of abuse by encouraging better, and crucially earlier intervention from those working on the front-line.

“We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to our play from Gentoo staff and general public audiences alike and are currently seeking Big Lottery funding to ensure our play and workshop reach a wider audience. Watch this space!”

The Women’s Voices Project was set up in 2014 to give a voice to local women and challenge the prevalence of violence perpetrated against them. For more information, visit

Changing Relations is a social enterprise that devises innovative projects that challenge thinking around gender equality and healthy relationships. For more information, visit