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Supporting a Crisis within a Crisis —Helping the Most Vulnerable during COVID-19 through FH4Inclusion

August 11, 2020
By Laura Fields and Mariam Quadri

When the U.K. lockdown was announced, the FleishmanHillard team in London was passionate about proactively pursuing ways to help the most vulnerable in society.

For many of us, the idea that lockdown had much more serious consequences for some than others hit home.

With everyone being forced to stay indoors, the risk of domestic violence and of women returning to violent partners was increasing. We’d seen the horrifying reports of domestic killings on the rise during lockdown, with indicators that women were being killed at double the rate compared to 2019.

The U.K. Brand Marketing team had an existing relationship with Refuge, the U.K.’s largest domestic violence charity, since providing pro bono support for its Christmas 2019 campaign, where poems appeared in various locations and online as traditional stories of the festive season. However, when read from bottom to top, they unveiled true stories of domestic abuse.

Refuge provides specialist support to women, men and children escaping domestic violence and other forms of abuse. This work includes a national network of specialist services, including emergency refuge accommodation, community outreach, independent domestic violence advocacy, culturally-specific services and a team of child support workers. Refuge also runs the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline in partnership with Women’s Aid.

On any given day, Refuge’s services support 3,000 adults and children.

Yet amid the pandemic, their helpline was becoming more important than ever, especially with staff support members unable to be in the office and out in the community. Moreover, with funding from the U.K. government declining in recent years, resources were stretched.

As part of the FH4Inclusion global initiative, we were able to reach out to them to offer our expertise to increase their visibility and ensure the community was aware of their services, which was received with gratitude.

In just one 24-hour period, Refuge had received a 120% increase in calls to their helpline and were pulling together a campaign to raise funds to continue to staff and resource it.

The campaign ‘THIS ISN’T HER FIRST LOCKDOWN’ aimed to raise awareness that, whilst we are all in the same lockdown, the experience is terribly different for women and children who live like this, in real terror, daily.

We pushed out the message and assets to high-profile celebrities and influencers with a strategic and considered approach. The impact and response was huge – in a few days, we achieved 60 posts from more than 40 celebrities and influencers – with tweets, Instagram posts and stories using the #youarenotalone from U.K. personalities who were passionate about supporting Refuge. These included broadcasters Laura Whitmore, Clara Amfo, influencers such as Gemma Styles [yes Harry’s sister!], as well as actors like Lily James and Joanne Froggatt, and global musicians like Little Mix. Hundreds of people responded to posts and tweets with appreciation for bringing this issue to the forefront while pledging to donate.

In just a few days, social media posts increased awareness and donations for Refuge – enabling people to think about the ripple effects of COVID-19 and the importance of taking action against domestic abuse.

More than anything, we at FleishmanHillard Fishburn in London were happy that our expertise could be used in a way that was immediately impactful and helped the hidden victims of the pandemic.