BLOG: Saving and changing lives – and being able to prove it

Refuge chief executive Sandra Horley CBE explains how impact measurement is crucial to the charity's success

Refuge is a national charity which campaigns to end domestic violence. We opened the world’s first refuge 45 years ago in Chiswick, London. Four decades on, our work is more vital than ever – domestic violence still claims the lives of two women every week in England and Wales alone. That is why we were pleased to be named ‘Charity of the Year’ by this very publication this year, with the judges citing Refuge’s "dedicated focus on beneficiaries despite a very difficult funding environment".

Although Refuge has worked hard to push domestic violence up the social and political agenda, it is, first and foremost, a specialist service provider – and now the largest in the country. On any given day, Refuge’s range of specialist services support over 4,600 clients escaping domestic violence and other forms of gender violence.

I am incredibly proud of this fact, yet it has been an immense challenge in these austere times to protect our services and the contracts we run. At the beginning of the year Refuge was faced with 70% of its services being recommissioned.  We thought we would see our services and the numbers of people we support shrink.  However, we expect to end the year with a 20% increase in the numbers of clients we are supporting.    

Refuge’s services save lives and they transform lives. We know this; the women who use them know this; but most important we can evidence these claims. 
Around eight years ago Refuge began developing IMPACT – a case management system with a built-in outcomes framework. IMPACT ensures that each client receives the same level of high quality support, and the best possible pathway to a safer and better life. At the touch of a button, IMPACT can show our funders exactly what outcomes clients have achieved with our support. For example, that 96 per cent of clients feel safer at the point of leaving our services, or that 95 per cent of women in our refuges were supported to achieve their desired health outcomes last year. In a climate of competitive tendering, IMPACT data has been crucial to Refuge’s survival and success.

Showcasing our interventions and outcomes is one thing, but as commissioner’s budgets are squeezed continually, Refuge needs to show that its services do not just save lives, they also add social value, whilst saving the State money.  We commissioned NEF Consulting to conduct an independent ‘Social Return on Investment’ (SROI) evaluation of Refuge’s services. We were delighted when NEF Consulting found that for every £1 invested in Refuge’s services, women, their families and society as a whole reap a reward equivalent to £4.94. Through extensive analysis of our data – 5,000 anonymised case files, to be precise – they were also able to calculate that Refuge saves the State £5.9m per year across the health and criminal justice systems. All of this was made possible by IMPACT.

Of course, the battle isn’t over. Despite the fact that there is so much human and analytical evidence to make the case for specialist services, they remain under threat of closure – particularly women’s refuges and specialist domestic violence services.  But now Refuge has a new tool in its armoury. We have always prided ourselves on providing high-quality, tailored support to every woman and child who comes to us – now, with an impressive SROI score, Refuge is more prepared than ever to make the case for its life-saving services.

The team at Refuge would be very happy to talk through IMPACT and its data findings. To find out more, contact or visit 

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