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Ruth Davies is the Communications Officer at SafeLives. In this series she'll interview a different team member every month - over a nice cup of tea.

Ruth: So, could you tell me a little bit about how you came to found CRARG [the first incarnation of SafeLives] and what your motivations and approach were at that time?

Diana: Years ago I was working for New Philanthropy Capital, a charity that advises donors and grant makers on which charities to give their money to. On one occasion I asked some of the children’s charities we’d given to: “If we hadn’t given you this grant, who should have got it instead?” My criteria were that it should be the biggest human problem that was the hardest to raise money for – and all three of them said domestic abuse.

So what was the next step?

I went and visited a whole range of different domestic abuse charities, big and small as well as spending time with the police, children’s services and domestic abuse coordinators. I’m a believer that when you’re coming to something from the outside you can see it very clearly – whereas when you’ve been involved with something for a long time it can become overly nuanced and complicated.

I was very struck that the overwhelming focus at that time was on safeguarding women and children by taking them from their homes and giving them shelter in a refuge. I knew that if I’d been in that situation there was no way I could go into a refuge with my three teenage boys, so I thought ‘what do we do about those women who can’t go into refuge?’ It was clear that refuge played a vital role but that women needed more choices and options.

At SafeLives we always work with what we call the ‘best friend rule’; if your best friend was experiencing domestic abuse, what would you want for her? We decided that it’s a single person to talk to – which is the Idva – and that they should be an advocate for you with all the different statutory agencies – via a Marac. The third principle was that in a world without enough money, you have to start with the victims at highest risk of serious harm or murder. We wanted to make the case that it was a human, practical and cost-effective approach – that should be available wherever you are in the country. For the first ten years we focussed almost entirely on rolling out that model.

At what point did you realise that your approach was working?

When we did our first Idva training course, it was in a tiny room – the learners had to crawl under the desks to get to their seats – and I’d dragged the course materials across London in two wheelie suitcases to avoid paying for a taxi! Before the first course was over we’d had enquiries about running a second course. We then had a massive waiting list for about the next five years. It became clear that we’d tapped into a real unmet need for recognition in the sector. The last day of the first course was very emotional, it felt like a real landmark moment.

How do those early years relate to the strategy now?

From the beginning what’s always worked for us is the combination of practice, data and the voices of victims and survivors. What we do has changed, but how we do it is the same – I think we’re at our best when those three things work together. For example the Cry For Health report. That came out of the practitioners and the researchers sitting down together, looking at our Safety in Numbers report and saying “We’ve got a few referrals from hospitals, and they seem to be very different kinds of people to the other referrals. We need to look at this some more.”

What excites you the most about where we are now?

I think our vision of the whole family response is incredibly exciting. I think we’re at the most creative phase that I can remember since those early years. We focussed for a long time on implementation and now we’re in a real creative phase again. I also think it’s so exciting to be working in partnerships – almost everything we’re doing is in partnership, and I think we’re going to learn so much, and hopefully share some things too. The other thing which makes me smile, is that we’ve got some amazing people. If you look at the quality of people we’re bringing into the organisation at the moment, as well as those who have been with us for years, I sometimes have to touch wood to believe it’s all real! So I think it’s the combination of creativity, partnership and people that makes this moment so exciting.

Finally, what keeps you going? What makes you feel confident that we’re on the right track?

If you look at who is working alongside us to deliver our big projects, we seem to have the confidence of some incredibly thoughtful and experienced funders, really busy other charities who are already doing a huge amount of great work, and amazing sector professionals. When I walked out of the Cry for Health launch, I felt a real sense that we were part of a movement. Being part of something bigger feels very positive. I also think that our commitment to being very brave in the way that we work with our survivor Pioneers, and the trust they place in us, is extremely powerful. My amazing colleagues have such brilliant human instincts around how we work boldly but respectfully with people who have been through immense trauma. The relationship we have with our Pioneers just makes me grin from ear to ear.