In this guest blog Tammy Banks, former CEO of re:shape, talks openly about the recently closed charity and what led to its demise. She discusses the rising need for the charity’s services – preventing sexual harm – the commitment of its workforce, and the challenges of the funding environment.
I have recently closed down a charity doing excellent work because statutory services are in disarray. re:shape was an organisation that used volunteers to prevent sexual harm, working with hundreds of volunteers across Yorkshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Lancashire. It was a community project which transformed people’s lives and prevented people becoming victims.
re:shape worked positively with people who were a risk of causing sexual harm or who had already caused harm. They had been through the criminal justice system and were released back into the community, but were still assessed as being a risk. I saw a rapid rise in the demand for the service over the six years I was CEO. Our referrers were the National Probation Service, the police, prisons, local authority, NHS, charity projects, religious communities, parents and even individuals themselves. Volunteers gave thousands of hours every year to the charity. Interventions were independently proven to prevent further offences by nearly 80%.
I joined the organisation just as Transforming Rehabilitation was being implemented. My brief was to survive the year (or two) it would take to embed the new way of working. We scrimped and scraped by with charitable funding plugging the gaps, whilst statutory funders tried to get systems in place. We navigated complex statutory relationships where we often knew things about their internal workings before they did; where senior managers, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and other commissioners hadn’t told their operational staff about the internal changes they were making.
At the same time as this was happening, the country – and the world – appeared to be waking up to some of the realities of sexual abuse. The media was helpful in some cases by breaking down stereotypes and highlighting the abuse that was happening in organisations, the collusion and the fact that it generally isn’t the stereotype of old men in parks abusing children. #Metoo happened. Other high profile cases stunned the country and we suddenly saw another rise in the people wanting to access our services. Amazingly, we also received enquiry after enquiry from people wanting to volunteer. We built an army of trained, informed people, dedicated to preventing sexual harm and working towards no more victims locally.
The incongruence is almost laughable! People’s needs were increasing, understanding of our services was increasing, while funding was decreasing. Applications to our usual funders who have been so supportive in the past were met with sad and resigned no’s. They said things like, “your work should be funded by statutory services, we’ve subsidised it for 10 years already”, and “There are other charities that need our money and we need to distribute our limited funds fairly.”
At the same time, we were being asked by statutory funders to develop more flexible services – to amend our approach to work with more people – giving us small amounts of money here and there. Probation started looking into national commissioning for us and other intervention providers because the work was so valued. There is nothing else like it and it works – it prevents victims.
We continued developing, increased our impact and grew the most amazing, professional, skilled and dedicated staff team and hundreds of volunteers. The difference we were making was tangible. It was real, it was preventing victims. Then we received the news: there would be no national funding. The MoJ had made its decision and the decision was final. We received a letter saying they recognise the importance of the services we were offering but that they had re-routed the money elsewhere. We were asked to apply locally and to go on the Community Rehabilitation Company rate cards.
This meant four more complex organisations to engage with and months and months of inconsistent messaging and processes. All the time, during this uncertainty, fantastic staff and volunteers were still delivering interventions, working with some of the riskiest people in the community, helping people transform their lives, being part of the change and making a difference – working collaboratively towards the mission of no more victims.
We literally tried everything to survive: fundraising, small grants, large grants, local commissioning and national commissioning. At every juncture there was hope and we continued in hope, whilst watching our reserve funds dwindle away.
A couple of years on and the momentum that was built around truly preventing sexual abuse has nearly silenced. The media isn’t bothered anymore as Brexit has taken over. People’s heads are turned and they’re focused on other situations which are also very concerning. The probation service is going through reform again. Perhaps they’ve realised Transforming Rehabilitation was a mistake. Perhaps they’ve listened to all the dedicated frontline probation professionals who proclaimed that these radical reforms were devastating, and who shouted it from the rooftops six years ago.
Of course, sexual abuse continues. It’s an unfortunate fact that instances are rising and rising fast. Convictions are lower than ever before and the talk of culture change, abuse of power and standing together is growing weaker by the day. If we look at the situation from a cold monetary perspective, the current situation isn’t good for the public purse. Sexual abuse impacts everywhere: the victims, their families, the local communities, NHS services, courts, police, prison, social care, mental health services… and let’s not forget that trauma can impact a family’s ability to thrive for generations.
I look at the criminal justice system in absolute despair. Operational professionals in the system are under immense pressure. They’re trying their best whilst the whole system works against them. I’ve watched good service after good service close these last few years. Services that absolutely change people’s lives, prevent abuse and champion change… and now it’s us. I’m watching colleagues and friends in the sector near collapse and good people leaving through fear for their own mental health. What are we going to be left with?
As a country, I’m so worried about the future. I’m holding on tight to the fact that, in the last ten years, our dedicated volunteers have done amazing things. They’ve absolutely prevented hundreds and hundreds of victims and I’m sure that their training and experiences will have had an impact on their values and understanding. I think this is true of many partner agencies that we have worked with and trained too. I’m pleased to say that a selection of our services will be continuing under the umbrella of other organisations, but unfortunately many areas, including all of Yorkshire, will have no service available.
I am truly thankful to the wonderful trustees, who gave up their time and used their skills and expertise for further impact. Quakers gave us our beginning and our principles and, over the years, this has led every single decision towards our aim of ‘No more victims’.
We are at the end of the road now. We will be putting all our intellectual property as a free download from March at www.re-shape.org.uk. Please take and utilise what you wish. I hope it continues to help prevent sexual harm in the future.
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It is imperative that government prioritises and resources the tackling of race inequality in the criminal justice system. It is crucial that voluntary orgs led by and focussed on racially minoritised people are listened to, taken seriously and consulted in these conversations. https://twitter.com/HMIProbation/status/1451073306791223296