Duchess of Cornwall

Camilla praises station manager’s idea to help abuse survivors

Duchess of Cornwall

The Duchess of Cornwall has praised former station manager Darren O’Brien for his “brilliant initiative” helping people escape abusive relationships by rail.

Camilla said “we need more Darrens” when the pair met at London’s Victoria station to highlight his Rail to Refuge scheme.

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The free rail travel scheme has been extended for the foreseeable future after reports showed that abuse had worsened during COVID-19 restrictions.

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Duchess of Cornwall

During a day of royal engagements she also visited the headquarters of Kamsons Pharmacy in Uckfield, East Sussex, after travelling by train – thought to be the first rail journey a senior member of the monarchy has made this year.

The duchess hailed Britain’s pharmacists as unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic as she toured the building.

When Camilla met Mr O’Brien, a retail systems and contract manager with train operator Southeastern, she told him: “This is a brilliant initiative and you should feel very proud of yourself.

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“It’s amazing during this lockdown how many wonderful ideas have been thought up… we need more Darrens!”

Rail to Refuge was launched during the first lockdown and has been extended for the foreseeable future after reports showed that abuse had worsened during coronavirus restrictions.

It is a joint initiative between rail companies and Women’s Aid, with train operators in the mainland UK covering the costs of those travelling to refuge accommodation.

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During the past year almost 1,350 people – including 362 children over five – have received free tickets, equivalent to four abuse survivors travelling to safety each day on average.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of people who used Rail to Refuge said they would not have travelled if the journey had not been free.

The duchess, who has long campaigned against domestic abuse, recorded a video message in support of the project after it was announced last week it would be extended.

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Mr O’Brien came up with the idea of free travel for survivors after watching the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Safe at Last, about Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid.

He said after the visit: “When I first came up with the idea, I had no idea how many people it would support, but I was motivated by the possibility that it could be life changing, even if just to one person.

“I’m incredibly proud to have played a part, and hopeful that today’s activity will help to raise even more awareness of the scheme so that it continues to help others.”

Survivors of domestic abuse who would like to access the scheme, or need other support, can get in touch with Women’s Aid through its Live Chat service, open Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10am–12pm.

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Sam Hewitt

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