The Big Lottery Fund has announced that it will be investing £48.5m in both existing and new voluntary sector initiatives to help women and girls at risk of sexual or domestic abuse.

BIG’s Women and Girls Initiative is offering funding grants of anywhere between £150,000 and £750,000 over five years to charities “whose primary purpose is to deliver services for women and girls” on specific issues such as “domestic and sexual violence or mental health”.

According to a statement on BIG’s website, the fund will also consider making “two or three large scale investments” over the £750,000 grant cap. BIG expects to fund 65 programmes with this initiative.

BIG have said that it has had “feedback from the sector” which suggests that voluntary organisations which focus on women has been “suffering from reduced investment in recent years due to austerity cuts”.

Nat Sloane, chair of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “Whilst it has been positive to see that increased awareness is helping to break down taboos and enabling women to seek assistance, we know that voluntary organisations are in need of much greater financial support to sustain their work and be able to respond to increased demand.

Clare Jones, leader of The Women Centred Working initiative, said: “We welcome this fund, which will be a lifeline for so many women’s projects across the country that are currently struggling to survive.

“Those of us in the sector recognise its value in enabling women and girls in our communities to break free from situations that have led to experiences of isolation, shame and fear. It will help them build safer and happier lives with the confidence that comes from working together for a positive future.”

Relevant organisations can submit expressions of interest to between now and 30 June. According to a spokesman for BIG, grants are expected to be awarded in February 2016.

Find out more about the Women and Girls Initiative here