As you walk into this secret safe house you do not know what to expect. The hallway is lit up brightly and there are paintings on the cream walls.
The aroma of food and fresh laundry is what hits you as you continue. And then of course the playful chatter of children and women as they go about their chores. It looks pretty normal.
But I am in a Hestia refuge building and many of the women I see have suffered in some way. Hestia is a service for women and children suffering domestic abuse that supports them to rebuild their lives.
In Kingston it has three refuges.
Lyndsey Dearlove, service manager, said: “This has to be a home and not a house. People need to feel relaxed here.
“I have seen women who have been in abusive relationships for 50 or 60 years before they ask for help.
"We have seen women come in with all sorts of injuries from cracked lips to gynaecological injuries through forced intercourse.
“But the best thing is seeing how these women change from their darkest point and become independent and empowered.
"Some women are so excited when they get to do their own shopping.
"I once took a woman from a South Asian background to central London and she said ‘I did not know this world existed’.”
On average one in four women suffer some form of abuse in their lifetimes.
Women stay in the refuge, often with their children, on average between six and nine months as they are given help finding accommodation and further support through Hestia’s floating service.
The Kingston refuge for women from South Asian backgrounds is one of only three in London.
Here women are made to feel more comfortable by recognising their different cultural needs.
Mrs Dearlove explained: “For example in one refuge, a service user might like to drink a glass of wine but in the South Asian one we would not have that there as there may be somebody from a Muslim background.”
She also explained that many of the users come from outside the borough to keep them far from their perpetrators although many of these use manipulative ways to gain information.
Mrs Dearlove said: “Children are often used. A man might ask – what does your school uniform look like?
"What does your journey home look like? What parks do you pass? The safety of our users is so important."
Kingston’s branch of Hestia helped 42 women through refuge accommodation and 39 women through its floating service between April 2011 to March 2012.
So far this year it has already helped 76 women.
Fundraising officer Emily Gillatt said: “When people arrive a lot of them don’t even have a toothbrush – that is something that costs money.
"Through Love Kingston we hope to get more funds to help support them better.”
A Hestia service user who asked not to be named spoke to the Surrey Comet about the abuse she suffered in her marriage for six years.
It only was at the beginning of last year that she finally walked out on her husband in the middle of the night with her seven-year-old son.
She said: “The lightbulb moment was when my son said ‘Don’t worry mummy, I will look after you.’ He was only three. I didn’t want my son living with that burden and fear.
“I was not physically abused, but I lost my self-esteem. I was on the floor. He told me I was fat, ugly, not attractive anymore and no one would want me. He would get angry and throw things around. I felt threatened. I was living in fear.
“If I stayed in that relationship I could have been a
battered woman. I have experienced physical abuse but emotional abuse stays with you a lot longer.”
The former teacher spoke about how her husband isolated her from her friends and family and controlled the amount of money she had.
She met her husband, also a professional, through work in the city and described him as a “charming man” at first.
The 38-year-old, who has suffered from post-traumatic stress, said: “Abuse is not restricted to any kind of woman, any class or ethnic background – it can happen to anyone.”
She is now in a happy and supportive relationship and her son visits his father.
She is also a volunteer for Hestia’s butterfly project, which is a mentoring programme for women suffering abuse.
The ways Hestia can help
Hestia’s services are for women and children in immediate danger of:
Psychological and emotional abuse
Forced marriage and honour based violence
Female genital mutilation
l Hestia helps with:
Applying for benefits
Help with immigration issues
Support during legal
Help finding independent
Support to find new employment or training
l Your money can help:
£5 will buy toys and learning materials for children living in Hestia refuges.
£10 will provide a pack of toiletries and food for a person coming to the emergency refuges.
£25 would help service users to volunteer with Hestia today and help them to improve their skills and independence.
£50 will buy equipment such as pots and pans and bedding for a person finally moving into a home of their own after suffering abuse
£100 could help a service user train at a local college to improve their prospects
If you love Kingston you can give at love-kingston.org.uk.