***BREAKING NEWS: Grassroots activist for the ‘Save South Yorkshire Women’s Aid’ campaign, Louise Harrison, is facing dismissal from her role at South Yorkshire Women’s Aid ****The shocking news was sent by post to Louise just before Christmas. Louise is on a fixed term contract which would need to be renewed at the end of the year; the trustees make allegations in the letter which put Louise’s renewal at risk.
Louise has been organising to try and save South Yorkshire Women’s Aid since Doncaster Metropolitan Council said they will not renew funds to SYWA when they run out in December 2017, as the council has made cut backs from the voluntary sector. South Yorkshire Women’s Aid was initially set up on a grant of £30,000 in January 2017 from the council after the previous Doncaster Women’s Aid was closed due to lack of funding in March 2016. The small grant of £30,000 was hard fought for by Louise and others in 2016.
The service currently runs on two part-time staff, a third part-time staff member is on maternity leave. The service has around 40 hours of staffing provision per week. Whilst the service has few resources and staff, it does lifesaving work for women and girls in Doncaster. The services runs two therapeutic courses, a free phone line, 1 to 1 advice and advocacy. Louise had been trying to raise money for the already struggling service.
Louise was off sick with exhaustion, stress and a recent family bereavement when she received the letter from the Trustees. The letter insinuates that some of the Trustees are unhappy with the service she has been providing women.
Louise was not only instrumental in setting up the service but also brought in the majority of new funds to stop the service from closure. However, we are not surprised that this has come at a key point in the campaign to save the service. Since the campaign to save the service began, Louise and volunteers of the services have vocally opposed the council’s decision to not fund the service past December 2017.
The trustees however have opted to attempt to water down the campaign and work to silence Louise and others attached to the service, by putting pressure on Louise and others to stay positive about the council.
The trustees who are members of the Labour Party have clearly been put under pressure from the council and have bought the right-wing Labour line of the council – that Louise and other campaigners are what is scuppering the chances of SYWA funding.
A witness working on a big lotto bid for SYWA was present at a meeting with a Labour-affiliated SYWA trustee and MP Rosie Winterton where Rosie alluded to volunteers and staff militantly leading a campaign to save the service and that this could make the service unattractive for funders and clients.
However Louise has received huge support from clients who were kept up to date by Louise about the funding status of their service. Clients asked to write letters to Ed Miliband, one ex-client in particular has been central to the campaign to save the service.
The trustees are working to distance SYWA’s image from campaigners. We think that it is a mistaken belief of the trustees that they and campaigners should placate the council. If all it took to save women’s specialised domestic violence services was difficult discussions with the council then we wouldn’t see VAW services disappearing from our towns and cities. This weak position could lead to SYWA trustees now in charge of negotiations with the council, folding to the position of the council that there ‘is no funds’.
The argument of lack of council funding has been at the heart of the fall out between campaigners fighting to save SYWA and the council. From the start Louise and other campaigners refused to accept that the council had no money to renew the £30,000 SYWA grant. The campaign highlighted the 91 million in ‘usable’ council reserves and the inflated pay of the council senior officials (the pay of the top ten senior council officials equates to over £1 million – all of which can be found online).
Louise said “I am deeply shocked about the inference in the letter that I have let women down. For the past 7 months I have worked largely unpaid to try to secure funding for our service with little or no support from some of the Trustees. It is deeply upsetting to read that I would do anything that would harm the women who desperately need our services.”
Only a week ago Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, came out in public support for the campaign to save the service (see quote below). The three Doncaster Labour MPs and the Labour council should now put that support into action and back Louise as a staff member at SYWA and all the community campaigners in fighting for their service.
A Stand Up For Louise Harrison Campaign Group are mobilising quickly mobilising amongst supporters.
1. For further information please contact Amy Cousens: firstname.lastname@example.org 07517207061
2. Details for the petition are as follows: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stand-up-for-louise-harrison-south-yorkshire-women-s-aid
3. “I want to pass on a solidarity message to South Yorkshire Women’s Aid campaign. Your campaign is an inspiration. I will liaise with the three local Labour MPs and Doncaster Council to seek to save this much needed service. I give this pledge that a Labour Government will ensure funding for these vital women’s services will be provided because Women’s lives matter – solidarity – John McDonnell Shadow Chancellor”.
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