20/12/2007

NI Homes Get 'Panic Rooms'

Jodie Foster's eponymous Panic Room film is set to become a reality for families in Northern Ireland.

Those at risk of domestic violence could soon have panic rooms installed in their homes.

These facilities, designed to keep a violent partner out long enough for the police to arrive – are a reinforced safe room – such as seen in the film starring Jodie Foster, when her and her child hid from a burglar in their home.

One has already been fitted in a Housing Executive home in Antrim to protect a mother and her children and is a means for women fleeing a violent partner to be able to stay in their homes instead of having to seek refuge.

It is the result of a joint initiative by a number of agencies including the Housing Executive and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Patsy Smyth of the Housing Executive said the rooms provided a place of sanctuary.

"Depending on the victims needs, we would include locks, security doors, film on the windows, grills, high sensing cameras - anything that they need which would make them feel safe in their own home.

"In the past, the victim has had to leave their home and we have to find them temporary accommodation and it means uprooting the children, finding new schools; a whole new way of life.

"This now gives the tenant a choice - to remain in their homes, to remain in their own community, in their environment."

It costs in the region of £1,500 to kit out such a room but that compares to the £6,500 it costs to move a mother and her child into temporary accommodation for one year.

The pilot scheme in the Antrim/Ballymena area will run until next July.

However, it is hoped to offer the tailor-made panic rooms to all Housing Executive tenants in Northern Ireland, and subsequently extend the scheme to the private sector.

Similar schemes already operate in parts of England. They also include fireproof letterboxes, strengthened doors and second phone lines.

(BMcC)




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