Our brilliant Chair of Trustees, Sarah Mullen, has come to the end of her eight-year tenure. Under her expert stewardship, Respect has grown both in size and influence, and has navigated some difficult challenges. We asked her to share some of her insights, learnings and reflections in this blog. 

My term as Respect’s Chair of trustees came to an end last week and on Tuesday I chaired my final board meeting. I am sad to be stepping down, but it is the right time for someone else to lead the Board and to take Respect into the future. 

I am handing the baton to Purna Sen, who I know is going to be a great asset for Respect. Over the last few weeks, Purna has been shadowing me and preparing to take on the Chair role. She has already been adding a fresh perspective and bringing new ideas to our discussions. I know she is looking forward to getting to know you all and Respect’s work over the coming months. 

Over the last few weeks I have been doing some reflecting on my eight years as Chair, and I thought I would share some of those reflections with you. 

So how far has Respect come? 

When I joined Respect in February 2016, there were just 15 staff members, of which 9 were Helplines staff. Our income was small, and we were largely reliant on a Helplines grant from the Home Office.  

Looking back at the concerns of the Board at that time...

Financially, we were in a vulnerable position – but money wasn’t our only challenge. We were effectively a Helplines service trying to do practice and policy work on the side. We, and our members, were being criticised in some quarters for being too traditional and rigid in our approach, focusing only on Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes (DVPPs) and not enough on more flexible and innovative solutions. The Respect standards  needed re-writing. There was also a backlog of organisations that needed to be re-accredited, or accredited for the first time – but we did not have the funding to do it. We didn’t know exactly how many members we had or where they were located. Our website was clunky and not user-friendly. Whilst the need for working with perpetrators was beginning to be recognised, it certainly wasn’t central to government thinking; and there were still people who were strongly opposed to any form of perpetrator work. 

There was also considerable anxiety about other organisations stepping into the perpetrator space, who perhaps did not take the same feminist-informed approach; or took a more cavalier attitude to safety. Respect had just embarked on a new partnership with SafeLives and Social Finance which was to become the Drive Partnership, but there was a lot of suspicion about the wisdom of us doing this amongst members, staff and even on the Board. 

Looking back, I am struck that in 2016, Respect was struggling to define our identity: lacking confidence in our expertise and our voice; acutely feeling our small size and our financial vulnerability; nervous about putting our head above the parapet or challenging the status quo. Our early strategic ambition therefore became fairly simple - to strengthen and grow our position as the "go to" organisation for perpetrator work. And to grow to a more sustainable size with more diverse funding sources and less reliance on the Helplines funding. 

How have things have changed? 

Some things haven’t! In particular, the continued need for fundraising to develop and expand our project and sector support work and the challenge of funding our vital core services remains. But in many ways Respect looks very different now: not just bigger but confidently taking up the space of being the expert on perpetrator work, with a diverse range of projects and a much stronger focus on influencing policy and systems change. 

Of course, the world is a very different place – whilst the years of public spending austerity were already beginning to bite, we could not have known back in 2016 that we would face a global pandemic, a cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine and the Middle East, as well as horrific events such as the murder of George Floyd, and the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving policeman. Our trustees, staff and beneficiaries have all been impacted in different ways by these events and others, and our work has needed to adapt and change to those impacts. 

Respect now employs 47 staff, our income has grown to £3.3m (2022/23), so we are now nearly four times the size we were when I became Chair. We have more diverse income sources, and the Helplines grant now accounts for a far smaller proportion of our income. We are more on top of our finances and we have been able to make better decisions about investing in core capacity – and now have an expanded core team which has enabled us to raise our game on programme management, financial management, communications, public affairs and policy work. For the first time we have a clear strategy that is ambitious and bold in wanting to bring about systemic change, and that is owned and embraced by everyone, from the Board down through the whole organisation. 

And we are very much the “go to” organisation for perpetrator work – other organisations have entered this space, but we've held our own and are now seen as the trusted adviser to government and across the sector. Our public and media profile has magnified considerably. Most importantly, perpetrator work is at centre of DVA work – we’ve had a major influence on policy through the Call to Action, culminating in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which committed the Government to publishing a perpetrator strategy for the first time. This manifested as the perpetrator pillar in the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan of 2022, which came with a £75 million funding commitment from the Home Office, £36 million of which formed the Perpetrator Fund. 

We are now an integral part of a significant number of partnership projects, working alongside many other organisations across the country, offering a range of innovative and inspiring interventions including Make a Change, Safe and Together, the Respect Young People’s Programme as well as the Drive Partnership. All of these projects are transforming workforce development in health, housing, police, social care and communities more generally, creating much greater awareness of DVA and instilling people and agencies with the confidence and tools to hold perpetrators to account. They are quite frankly having life- changing and life-saving benefits for victim/survivors. 

The Helplines are still providing their vital services but have expanded and diversified their offer, responding to a huge growth in demand for their services, particularly through COVID. Our accreditation standards have been updated twice during my tenure, becoming principles- based, and incorporating standards for services working with male victims, and the process is now more streamlined and affordable. We have also seen a significant growth in the number and diversity of our members. We now have 51 organisational members, 29 accredited members and 29 individual members, and we continue to provide well-respected and reviewed training for a range of organisations and workforces. 

We have gone from being office based to being a fully online organisation – in fact we were early adopters of remote working, meaning that we were well placed to manage through the pandemic. Remote working has also meant that we can access a diverse range of talent from across the whole country, and we have proven that a remote and hybrid meeting model can work successfully and supports staff and trustee engagement and retention. 

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Respect made strides in our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) work, challenging our thinking and stepping out of our comfort zone, both at Board and across the wider organisation. We didn’t always get things right, but we committed to learning by doing and reflecting, particularly listening to the concerns and experiences of our Black and minoritised colleagues. Most importantly, we now centre the need to routinely involve by and for organisations in our work. We are very proud, through the Drive Partnership, to have been part of the HOPE Leadership Programme to develop emerging leaders in the sector from minoritised groups. 

And the Board has changed almost beyond recognition. Since I joined in 2016 I have worked with 31 trustees! In the early days we often struggled to get quoracy for Board meetings, but there is much more stability now, and a greater breadth of expertise, background and diversity. The Board is more active and engaged, and also more curious and constructively challenging. Conversations are more strategic and less involved in the day-to-day operations of Respect. 

The final thing I wanted to acknowledge is how being Chair of Respect has also contributed to my own personal growth. I have had the privilege to listen and learn from everyone I have encountered at Respect - Trustees, the leadership team, the amazing staff, members and stakeholders. In particular, my eyes are now wide open to continued and systemic misogyny and racism and Respect has rightly challenged my own complacencies and privilege and made me (and my family!) more active in challenging the views and behaviours that perpetuate these injustices. 

Respect is a registered charity in England and Wales, number 1141636, in Scotland, number SC051284 and a company, number 7582438. Registered address: VAI Second Floor, 200a Pentonville Road, London N1 9JP
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