As the Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive begins to tie up it’s first volunteer projects, our volunteers are reflecting on their time working on the collection. Alec Temple, Alice Tarplee and Néema Stephenson have been busy reviewing the VHS tape series, documenting key information and descriptions of tapes from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Below, Alice and Néema share their reflections of working on the project.

Some examples of VHS tapes from the Women’s Aid Archive, including their cinema campaign and a Leeds Animation Workshop film

The University of Leeds Special Collections is home to the Women’s Aid Federation of England (WAFE) Archive, part of which is a collection of 77 VHS tapes. The oldest of these tapes is from 1985, but the majority date from the late Nineties to mid Noughties. Our task as volunteers has been to review and catalogue each of them, creating a searchable database, and determining their research value and potential for digitisation. Aside from being the source of much nostalgia, these tapes provide a tangible sense of the work WAFE were doing in the context of the wider sociocultural landscape at that time. They allow access to television programmes, interviews, and dramas key to WAFE’s efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence, stress its place in public discussion, and promote the services they offer to victim-survivors. They show, in real time, the shift in attitudes which took place, altering domestic violence from a private matter to one which had a firm place in societal discourse.

Néema and Alice making notes on one of the Women’s Aid tapes

Many of the tapes contain news reports, features, and documentaries which cite new research and domestic violence campaigns. Their primary objective appears to be to educate audiences of the wider effects of domestic violence using new research and victim-survivor testimony. WAFE use these reports to promote their services alongside other women’s and children’s charities such as Refuge and NSPCC. Nicola Harwin (Women’s Aid Chief Executive) and Sandra Horley (Refuge Chief Executive) are regularly interviewed, sharing their expertise and concerns for the safety of women and children. Hilary Saunders’s (Women’s Aid Children’s Officer) report ‘Failure to Protect?: Domestic violence and the experiences of abused women and children in the family courts’ is directly cited, alongside other important research conducted by WAFE. News reports and morning television often headlined shock statistics, such as the fact that one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. This was particularly hard-hitting given the relative ignorance around this topic beforehand.

Some examples of content from the VHS tapes, including television interviews, news programmes and campaigns

WAFE’s major campaigns are showcased in the tapes: their cinema advert highlighting the invisibility of domestic violence and our social responsibility to not turn a blind eye; their collaboration with The Body Shop, raising money by recycling old mobile phones; and the launch of The Hideout, a website which provides information and support to children who are witness or subject to violence in the home. Less obvious efforts to break through taboos are present too. A significant portion of the archive is dedicated to the 2005 Coronation Street storyline, showing Shelley suffer at the hands of her abusive partner, Charlie.  Actor Bill Ward (Charlie) contacted Women’s Aid when researching his role and openly supported their work, promoting their services in interviews. The storyline is careful and conscientious in displaying the more inconspicuous acts of abuse – manipulation, criticism, gaslighting – that can go unrecognised.

This, and all the tapes, show the importance of what WAFE continues do to this day; raising awareness, showing victim-survivors that these types of abuse are common, unacceptable, and that help is out there.