For the last year, I’ve been working with a fantastic new organisation, MY Great Escape. We support women who’ve survived abusive relationships to have adventures, with the aim of offering them a physical challenge and space in the outdoors to heal and build their confidence and self esteem.
I grew strong and I stopped being scared.Jo – Founder, Survivor
By learning how physically strong I could become and what I could achieve, I built a new life.
Jo came up with the idea for the project during her own great escape. After escaping an abusive relationship she went travelling and found out first-hand how healing the outdoors, and pushing beyond her comfort zone could be.
She wrote a really inspiring article about her experiences, and her plans to give other survivors the same opportunities. When I read it I could immediately see how climbing mountains and camping could benefit survivors, and volunteered to help. That was a year ago and things are going really well.
Domestic abuse can take a lot of forms, as well as physical abuse, it can be emotional, financial or sexual abuse. The common thread between these includes isolation, coercion and confidence sapping.
Essentially the abuse breaks down everything it means to be yourself, so that you rely on, and are more vulnerable to control by, the abuser.
Leaving becomes logistically difficult, more so if there are children involved. Survivors may not have a home in their name, often no money of their own, sometimes even no phone, because the abuser takes them away, and family and friends become pushed away by the abuser so that there is no support network.
Leaving is also the most dangerous time, when violence often steps up.
So by the time a woman has escaped a relationship like this, and begun to rebuild her life, she’s already shown a huge amount of strength, determination and fortitude. MY Great Escape simply takes that and channels it into something that is a tangible and recognisable achievement.
There’s plenty of evidence that the outdoors is hugely beneficial to survivors of all sorts of trauma, and people with mental health issues. Taking part in group challenges provides a community, a sense of achievement, a clear cut goal and end point, and an outcome that’s easy to explain to people.
For many, camping and hiking also means doing something completely new, of testing themselves and finding something that they can hold up as evidence of their abilities.
More importantly, this is something in which they’re not defined by what happened to them.
Our first adventure ran in June.
We had 3 survivors, 2 of whom knew each other beforehand, Jo and myself, and Laura, a badass mountain biking therapist who came to support the adventure.
We spent a very cloudy day climbing Snowdon, camped in a terrible midge infested field, ate rehydrated food (thanks to Expedition Foods who very kindly sponsored our trip!), laughed about weeing in the outdoors, and overcame fears of heights to complete some scrambles.
And it worked fantastically.
Most of our participants hadn’t camped before, and that was a steep learning curve for all of us. None of them had scrambled before, or even been up a mountain, so we were really breaking new ground, but we bonded into a team as the weekend went on and had a really great time.
I surprised myself and actually really enjoyed it and really want to do it again. I’m so scared of heights but to actually climb to the top was the best feeling ever.Lauren
I suffer terribly with anxiety! If I’m honest the whole trip was a worry to me – thanks to you all I actually had the best time. It was a great experience with the best companyMichelle
I admit I was nervous but also excited as even agreeing to this was a big deal.I survived camping and enjoyed it and have even done it again!
We had a good laugh, shed some tears, made new friends and more importantly for me I felt heard. When I spoke about my experiences of domestic abuse (which I felt comfortable enough to do) my experiences were understood without me having to justify how and why did I stay. And for that I am truly grateful.Sarah
From the success of our first trip, we have two adventures planned for next year, and a couple more exciting offers for survivors in the pipeline.
While Snowdon is beautiful, it was also very crowded, which takes away from both the “challenge” and the “back to nature” aspects of our trip. For that reason we will be heading to some quieter spots next time!
We’re also going to start collecting some statistics, so we can measure the short and long term effects of our adventures. This will be helpful if we want to look at expanding our work and applying for grants, but we’re also hoping the data will be useful for other organisations.
We’re also always looking for funding opportunities, and donations of kit, so please do let me know if there are any opportunities you know of that might help us!
Mountain leader in training, Skipper, sometimes Viking and total coffee addict. Runner, hiker, Girlguiding leader, animal lover. British/Irish, aspirant Norwegian.