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Meet the charity founder who turned her own domestic violence ordeal into a positive, devoting herself to helping others

Last chance to nominate your unsung hero for a Spirit of NI award

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DREAM JOB: Donna-Marie says she found her calling with her charity

DREAM JOB: Donna-Marie says she found her calling with her charity

DREAM JOB: Donna-Marie says she found her calling with her charity

Reaching and rescuing victims of domestic violence has been Donna-Marie Logue’s focus now for the past five years — but even she wasn’t prepared for the spiralling level of need in the past 12 months.

Covid-19 saw domestic violence rates soar to record levels in Northern Ireland and Donna’s organisation was among the many working round the clock to help men, women and children trapped during lockdown.

The 44-year-old, who is a victim of domestic violence herself, devotes her life to helping others through her own charity, La Dolce Vita Project set up in her home city of Londonderry in 2016.

Her tireless work sees her drive all over Ireland to rescue victims of domestic abuse and it was many of these people she has helped who nominated her for a Spirit of Northern Ireland Award.

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Donna-Maria Logue

Donna-Maria Logue

Donna-Maria Logue

A stunned but delighted Donna picked up our Charity Champion gong in 2019, presented to her by Derry Girls stars Bronagh Waugh and Kathy Kiera Clarke.

As we invite nominations for this year’s Charity Champion, Donna outlines how her work has impacted on people living with violent and abusive partners.

She has achieved a lot since she started her charity initially through an appeal on Facebook in her bedroom six years ago.

It snowballed very quickly, with Donna going on to secure premises and train 44 volunteers and offering counselling to hundreds of victims.

When the health crisis hit last March, she and her team had to rethink their way of working when faced with the unusual situation of lockdown, knowing victims of abuse were trapped at home 24/7 with violent partners.

They more than rose to the challenge, finding new ways to reach and help victims in a multi-agency approach which saw hundreds rescued and supported.

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Donna-Marie in her office

Donna-Marie in her office

Donna-Marie in her office

She reveals: “Initially during the first lockdown there was this eerie silence as people couldn’t use the phone or text to reach out.

“We had to be imaginative about how we got help to people and we came up with various ways to reach those in need.

“We got helpline numbers to people through food parcels we placed in their local shops for them to collect. They were able to take the number out of the bag and save it under someone’s name on their phone before they went back home.

“We did this as a social media campaign in towns across Derry and Antrim.

“There were serious implications for children too who were staying in these homes and not getting out to school and we had to think of ways to try and support these children too.

“Lockdown proved a fantastic learning tool for us as a charity and it completely changed how we do things.

“It was challenging for us. We had to try to find ways to fund raise to keep our services going and we also had to get Covid-ready with screens and sanitiser and other precautions in place for when we did come out of lockdown.”

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Donna-Maria Logue with colleague Cindy McCafferty

Donna-Maria Logue with colleague Cindy McCafferty

Donna-Maria Logue with colleague Cindy McCafferty

Getting help to victims was crucial and for those who needed rescuing, Donna and her team worked closely with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to arrange emergency accommodation.

Of the many people she personally moved from an abusive home, she recalls one she says she will never forget.

She explains: “This lady made the decision to get out herself to a place of safety and was going to a family member and we were also working with her to try and secure a non-molestation order.

“We made sure her phone was topped up so that she would have it as a lifeline to access help and she was so proud that she had made the decision and took action herself. I will never forget her little boy who just seemed so happy to be leaving and he said to me, ‘Are you going to help us to get a happy house?’ I will never forget his wee face or those words.”

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DESERVING: Donna-Marie Logue onstage during our awards ceremony in 2019, with Derry Girls stars Bronagh Waugh and Kathy Kiera Clarke, and Brenda Morgan MBE on presentation duties

DESERVING: Donna-Marie Logue onstage during our awards ceremony in 2019, with Derry Girls stars Bronagh Waugh and Kathy Kiera Clarke, and Brenda Morgan MBE on presentation duties

DESERVING: Donna-Marie Logue onstage during our awards ceremony in 2019, with Derry Girls stars Bronagh Waugh and Kathy Kiera Clarke, and Brenda Morgan MBE on presentation duties

While need has been great in the past year Donna believes the full impact of lockdown on domestic abuse victims is yet to be felt.

She is preparing for a tidal wave of cases and is also devoted to helping people to recover from the trauma through counselling provided by her charity.

It is a trauma she knows first hand which is why she is so passionate about helping other victims.

She is also proof to those she helps that you can recover and go on and find happiness as she is now in a long-term relationship.

She recalls: “I was in an abusive relationship for 10 years in my 20s and I would say that I am still dealing with the trauma but I’ve become good at knowing when I need help.

“It is a lifelong journey and I’m accepting that. It is not something you can brush under the carpet. I think the longer you are in the relationship the more trauma you have to deal with and the most amazing thing to me is that I have this partner who completely understands it and supports me.

“I never believed I would have someone who would love all parts of me as I always saw myself as broken. Now I realise I am not broken. I’m hurt and I’ve pain but I’m dealing with it.

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Donna-Maria Logue

Donna-Maria Logue

Donna-Maria Logue

“I never thought my life could be this way, it’s unreal. Every day I wake up I’m thankful to walk through the doors of Dolce Vita and say this is a safe place for everyone.”

Donna is also a powerful voice for the rights of victims, lobbying Stormont for new legislation.

She has created a number of workshops to educate the public on issues surrounding domestic abuse and she also gives talks in schools.

She paid tribute to the public for their help over the past year and adds: “Taking a positive from it all we are just glad that we are here and all the other services are here to help people.

“The public was unbelievable in how they stepped up to help. People came together and showed such compassion and kindness.

“People throughout the community helped us to let victims know they were not alone and they had a way out and deserved to be happy.”

La Dolce Vita Project can be contacted on 02871 377272.

÷ Nominations for this year’s Sunday Life Spirit of NI Awards with Ulster Bank close on Monday, June 21. Send in your nominations now for your unsung heroes to spiritofniawards@sundaylife.co.uk.


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