Mhairi began her career in the Civil Service before joining Greater Easterhouse Women’s Aid in 1996, working in the community both with women and with agencies. In 2005, Mhairi joined ASSIST, Scotland’s first IDAA project, as it’s Coordinator, having helped design the service the previous year with the Police, Crown, Social Work and Glasgow’s VAW Partnership. This team of 5 began by covering a small area of Glasgow. Now – 14 years later, ASSIST has 50 members of staff covering 40% of Scotland’s population, and has a Leading Lights accreditation.
What made you decide to work with people experiencing domestic abuse?
I wanted to put my knowledge of the benefits system to good use and I was frustrated at a system that refused to take into account the real dangers being faced by women and children.
How have you seen the Scottish domestic abuse landscape change over your career?
There have been huge changes. The biggest driver for change was the re-establishment of Scotland’s parliament in 1999. VAW policy was devolved, so that meant we were able to begin to change things on the ground. The setup of the parliament, had been agreed beforehand through a process involving all parts of Scottish society, so there was a real willingness to change and that has continued whichever political party has been in power. With ASSIST being based within the CJ system, we’ve also seen cultural change within all the agencies involved, however, there are still gaps that those who experience abuse fall foul of. We have great hopes for the new DA Scotland Act 2018 that criminalised coercive control, but it’s early days and we have lots more still to do! I’m leaving ASSIST at the end of July to start a new phase of working freelance, I hope still to be working on building partnerships, creating and sustaining change and eradicating more of those gaps!
What keeps you going when the work gets tough?
The support of others in the field, as well as friends and family. For me it’s also very important to get out into Scotland’s landscape. I grew up in Balloch, Loch Lomond and spend most of my holidays in Scotland exploring and walking. There’s something really special about the West Coast and the Islands!
What are you most proud of?
ASSIST being the first service in Scotland to systematically risk assess every client and setting up a Marac in Glasgow in 2005. But also ASSIST’s ethos of partnership working – we always say the ST in the title – Services Together is the most important!
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering your career, what would it be?
Make sure you have support and supervision – reflective practice is a must and you will only ever take your client as far as yourself! Keep striving.
Do you know a professional who has gone above and beyond to change the response to domestic abuse and keep survivors and their families safe? Nominate someone for Star of the Month by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Star of the Month’ as the subject line.