Catherine Cartwright

Story Number:Story-002
Themes: Art Action, Refuge, VAWG

In 2013, 2014 I was an artist in residence at, um, Exeter’s Women’s Refuge over five months. I wasn’t really (clears throat) sure what I was doing but what I wanted – my aim was to find out more about what was happening in my community. Um, towards the end of my five months there, um, the charity safe that ran the refuge received the information that they weren’t successful in a funding tender and after, I think, 38 years the refuge had to close. And it – it closed pretty quickly, it closed within about six weeks.

I felt it was my role to ask, to kind of –  well, as an artist it’s your role to ask questions but also I thought very hard about what my responsibility was at this point. And it seemed to me (clears throat) after a (swallows) a press conference that had been set up with the women resident at the refuge where no – not a single member of the press turned up to hear their stories, um, it felt to me that (clears throat) the story was really being swept under the carpet. Um, and so I asked a friend, a film maker Josh Gaunt if he wanted to make a short film about it. And, um, because of the kind of – the chaos, really of the time, that enabled our access in a funny sort of way because all the kind of – when everything’s up in the air all of a sudden everything goes out the window.

So we – we went in on the last few days and made a short, um, film which was, um, a testimonial by one lady who was still living there. She was the final resident due and we called the film ‘The Last Resident.’

What I found when that short film went out and about was, um, that a lot of charities and refuges over the – throughout the country were finding themselves in a similar situation. Their services under threat. And that this film provided a way for them to, um (clears throat), articulate what was happening in their areas so it wasn’t, uh, right or how it should be that I was interviewed because that’s not my experience but I could be there as an observer. But it was right that then, say, BBC Breakfast or there was an online Guardian article can then go directly to the charity safe and then ask them about what was happening. Um, so that – that was a surprise to me, um, but it was a kind of fortuitous and luck and timing that it was an [incomp] an effective tool at that time.