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Episode 1: Introduction

Mark Groves our CEO explains how the collaboration came to be.

“Diane Wilkie contacted me last year when she was writing a book requesting permission to mention NCDV. Having received many such requests over the years I agreed but with my tongue firmly in my cheek I told her ‘only if she sent me a copy of the book’.

Lo and behold some 6 months later a book arrived on my desk where I have to admit it stayed for a while… dealing with the stories of victims every day I did not look forward to having my bedtime read being more sad stories of unfortunate victims. Recently Diane contacted me and asked if I had read the book and if I had any feedback, so I thought it was about time I did.

It did not take me long to make my way through it, I was amazed at how easy the book was to read. Not only were the short stories she told easily absorbed but the resources on help agencies were comprehensive and extensive. Diane also gets into the psychology of victims, offering genuinely practical good advice.

Diane and I had a Zoom enabled coffee together, during this meeting we came up with a plan to help people read her book by publishing bite size pieces, easily read, and easily absorbed.

If you ever read a book about surviving domestic abuse you should read this. Diane tells her own story as well as others and part of her survival was writing her book. It is a genially good read, super informative and a must for anyone involved with helping victims and for victims to understand there is light at the end of the tunnel”

Why NCDV? Diane explains her motivations for choosing to share her valuable work with NCDV and those we aim to help.

“When it comes to the challenge of dealing with domestic violence, a woman has so many things to consider. More often than not, she has been completely traumatised by her experience which puts her at a substantial disadvantage. Typically, it will take years for her to fully recover and get back on her feet. When there is the added need to go down the legal route, it just adds to the pressure that she already feels and battles with. 

As author of the book, ‘Surviving Domestic Violence, (A simple guide to breaking free), the plight of victims and their journeys, is a subject that is especially important to me, and the reason I wrote the book. To find like-minded people who do not just mean well and promise the earth, but who are equipped and, in a position, to make a practical difference to victims at the point of their need, is truly a dream come true!

Feeling lost, out of their depth, and in completely unfamiliar territory, when it comes to legal matters, a client centred service is exactly the help and support desperately needed by a survivor. Their whole world has fallen apart, they cannot necessarily articulate clearly how complex their struggles are, and how intimidated they feel at the very thought of what might be involved. To receive such help when they need it the most, is frankly a godsend, and makes all the difference to their ability to entertain the much-needed hope, that life can and will get better.  

This is where National Centre for Domestic Violence comes into play and why I deeply value what they offer and bring to each client.

I have chosen to partner with and support NCDV primarily because I believe that they genuinely care about people. It is an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with an organisation that has both vision and heart. These qualities are demonstrated by their willingness and heroic determination to empower vulnerable people, to benefit from having the weight of the law on their side.

They understand the legal process and help to ensure it is as smooth and painless as possible.

The fact they help everyone and anyone, means their service is accessible to those who need it, completely free of charge; finances and means do not have to be another insurmountable obstacle a victim has to climb over!

There are of course, other much needed and valued agencies out there helping victims in other ways;  however, the thing I love the most about NCDV is that it is made up of real people with a big mission, to help those who need help in tangible and timely way.

They do not ask for anything in return, but choose to help because they can, taking the weight off exhausted shoulders. 

Indeed, I am excited to be associated with an organisation of such calibre in an area I am so passionate about, they offer something so unique, they help transition victims into survivors.”

By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”