On Friday 23rd September, clients, and staff members from Savera UK met with the High Sheriff of Merseyside, Ms Lesley Martin-Wright JP DL to discuss the charity’s work, challenges, and upcoming campaigns.
The Office of High Sheriff is an independent, non-political Royal appointment that lasts for one year. Ms Martin-Wright was installed in office in April 2022 and at her installation, she made three pledges that outlined her key priorities – to work with young people to help them achieve their potential, to support mental health and wellbeing and to offer advice and support around domestic abuse.
The High Sheriff, who also sits on the board of Savera UK Funder P H Holt, instigated the meeting to support work on her priorities while in office, learn more about what Savera UK does and find ways to help us continue our work.
At the meeting, the High Sheriff heard from Savera UK clients, who shared how the service had helped them through both practical and emotional support, and from Malcolm, a member of the Savera UK Youth Advisory Board, who explained how the charity supports young people to educate their peers about ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and harmful practices, while also allowing them to develop valuable skills.
CEO and Founder, Afrah Qassim and Chair of Savera UK’s Board, Aislinn O’Dwyer also explained the origins of Savera UK and highlighted the ongoing need for a specialist service in Merseyside tackling culturally specific abuse and harmful practices including forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
“When we were first established in 2010 there was nothing at all that addressed this issue,” Afrah said. “Cases of HBA and other harmful practices were being recorded as general domestic abuse and survivors and those at risk weren’t getting the specialist support they needed.”
More than a decade on, in 2021/22, Savera UK supported 136 new referrals into the service, who were either survivors of or at risk of HBA, and a total of 202 active clients. However, the team knows that these numbers are still only the tip of the iceberg.
While understanding of HBA and harmful practices has increased, Savera UK’s support team – who work with statutory and voluntary services to support and advocate for its clients – still face significant challenges, describing the service as “a small river flowing through a glacier, chipping away to break down barriers” – citing barriers including lack of understanding, lack of education and fear.
Drawing on 30 years’ sitting as a magistrate, the High Sheriff shared her experiences of hearing the cases of those affected by domestic violence and recognised the unique challenges faced by those affected by HBA and harmful practices, and barriers that people from diverse backgrounds may face in accessing the justice system.
Ms Martin-Wright said: “In my role as High Sheriff I meet with many charities and voluntary organisations who do tremendous work in Merseyside and Savera UK is no exception. It tackles extremely challenging issues with compassion and strength and gives support and hope to some of our region’s most vulnerable people.
“It was an honour to meet some of its beneficiaries, the team that support them and those who are creating campaigns to raise awareness and change attitudes in our communities. I look forward to supporting and raising awareness of Savera UK in its work for the rest of my term and beyond.”
The Savera UK team also looks forward to working with the High Sheriff and thanks her for her time in coming to visit our service and meet our team and clients.