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Runners prepare for Plymouth challenge to support First Light

A team of runners are preparing for the Plymouth Run on Sunday 14 May to support people whose lives have been affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence.

Five people are entering the 5k, 10k and half marathon in aid of First Light, the charity which provides support services across the South West, including a sexual violence therapy and counselling service in Plymouth.

The team is made up of staff, supporters and former service users, who all know how vitally important the charity’s work is for victims-survivors of abuse.

Toni Clark, a former service user with First Light, said: “I actually hate running! I ran the 10k in 2017, and always wanted to do it again, but never really found myself in a position to do so. After all the help I received from First Light, I really wanted to give something back as I feel like they helped give me my life back. For that I owe them everything.”

Anna Mitchell, Fundraising Officer at First Light is running the half marathon. She said: “I personally want to wish all of our runners and walkers the very best of luck. They are all taking on a huge personal challenge -including myself as I am not a runner- and have been training for weeks and months for Sunday’s race.

“Every one of our amazing fundraisers plays a huge part in life-changing work First Light does and we couldn’t do it without them. If you’re attending the event, please look out for our t-shirts and give us a big cheer!”

So far, the team has collectively raised £1,470. They are hoping to receive even more support over the next few days to try and reach their £2,500 fundraising target. Support the team here.

Safety update for survivors – emergency phone alerts

The government is rolling out a new Emergency Alerts system, designed to warn people about emergency situations (such as extreme flooding).

The system will be tested at 3pm on Sunday 23 April, with alerts being sent to mobile phones accompanied by a loud noise, even if your phone is on silent.

If you are living with an abuser, an alert could put you at risk because it might let your abuser know you have another separate or secret phone.

Refuge has put together a video to show you how to disable the emergency alerts, with versions for both Apple and Android devices.

You can find out how to turn off these notifications here.

What is Safe Spaces?

In early 2023, First Light became the new provider for Safe Spaces, a support service for survivors of church-related abuse. We caught up with Safe Spaces manager, Martin, to find out more.

Tell us about your role

I joined Safe Spaces when First Light became the service provider in January 2023. As the Safe Spaces team manager I oversee the daily running of the project, and lead on the development and growth of the service so we can reach more people in need of support. Along with this, I manage the team of caseworkers and support workers, and provide updates to the board of trustees.

What is Safe Spaces?

Safe Spaces is a free and independent support service, which provides a confidential space for anyone who has been abused by someone in the Church or as a result of their relationship with the Church of England, the Catholic Church in England and Wales or the Church in Wales. Our service is for people over the age of 18 who have experienced any kind of abuse, from sexual violence, inappropriate sexual behaviour and physical abuse to financial abuse or exploitation, spiritual abuse and coercive control.

We support people no matter how long ago the abuse took place, regardless of whether they are still a member of the church. Safe Spaces is very much shaped by our service users, so we will tailor our support to what each individual needs.

Talk us through what happens if you call the helpline

If someone emails, calls or sends a message to our online chat, one of our support advisors will make the initial contact to give people the opportunity to tell us as much as they feel comfortable to. They will explain the support that we can provide. We are survivor-led, so we tailor the support to the individual. Whether someone wants emotional support, help applying for funding for therapy, or they wish to engage in a dialogue with the diocese safeguarding, we are there for everyone. Our team can help with advocating with authorities and other agencies and can provide information on church and police procedures.

There is no rush, we give everyone the time and space they need to decide what support is best for them. If someone want long-term support they will be assigned a caseworker. There is no time limit on cases or the people we support.


What would you say to someone who is afraid to speak out?

If you’re nervous about calling, you can make initial contact by email or web chat. Our advisors are trained professionals, they are here to listen, support and advocate for you. We don’t judge anyone or pressure you to take a particular action, but rather empower you to make your own decisions.

Why is it important to have a dedicated support line for church-related abuse?

We understand that while all abuse causes immense distress and trauma, abuse that involves the church is often even more complex. People who attend church see it as a source of solace and support, therefore if the place of safety becomes the source of abuse, it is very difficult for people to know what to do or where to turn and how to reconcile their faith.

It’s important that there is a safe space, where advisors with specialist training can provide independent advice and support to people in this situation. We can’t guarantee a result, but we can guarantee we will listen to you and believe you.

What role does the church have?

Safe Spaces was developed when both the Church of England and the Catholic Church of England and Wales identified the need for an independent service to support survivors of church-related abuse.
While the service was commissioned by both churches, they don’t have a say in the daily running of it and the decision-making process is independent. We don’t share any information with the church without consent.

What is the future direction of Safe Spaces?

We know there are many more people across England and Wales that are entitled to and would benefit from our support. We want to reach as many of them as we can. We will continue to listen to survivors and use their input to help shape the future of the service.

Find out more at www.safespacesenglandandwales.org.uk.

First Light awarded ISVA contract for Swindon and Wiltshire

First Light is pleased to announce it has been successful in the bid to provide the Independent Sexual Violence Advisory (ISVA) service for Swindon and Wiltshire.

Following a competitive tender process, First Light was awarded a five-year contract from the office of the Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner, which will commence on 1 April 2023.

The ISVA service provides support for anyone who has experienced rape or sexual abuse recently, or in the past. Support is available whether someone has already reported an incident to the Police, or if they are looking for advice and support on the options available to them.

Lyn Gooding, Chief Executive of First Light, said: “We are delighted First Light was selected as the ISVA service provider in Swindon and Wiltshire. As we already run the Swindon and Wiltshire Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), this latest contract will help to provide a smooth transition for our clients as they move from one service to another.”

First Light accepts referrals from professionals or people who wish to self-refer into the service. You can do this here or for more information contact the referral advice line on 0300 373 2715.

Independent Evaluation Report published for Safe Spaces support service

An Independent Evaluation Report for ‘Safe Spaces,’ a support service for victims and survivors of church-related abuse in England and Wales, has been published.

Safe Spaces is an independent advocacy and support service for adult victims and survivors of church-related abuse in the Church of England, and the Church in Wales and also the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

The report has been carried out by Rocket Science, an independent research and evaluation company, who were engaged to assess the pilot of Safe Spaces which ran from 2020 until the autumn of 2022.

The Independent Report supports the decision to continue the service after its initial pilot period, with a new service provider, First Light, commencing work in January 2023.

Responding to the report, survivor representatives from the Safe Spaces Advisory Committee said:
“We welcome the independent evaluation and the effort made by Rocket Science to canvas survivors and users of the service in making their recommendations. The evaluation identifies an ongoing need for survivor advocacy as well as a greater awareness of the service from those who might benefit from it.

“We also note that within the churches generally over the period of the pilot, there has been some slow progress in recognising the complex needs of survivors. We look forward to the continuing development of the Safe Spaces Service so that it can become a strong independent advocate ensuring that the churches respond in meeting these needs.”

Bishop Debbie Sellin, a trustee of Safe Spaces England & Wales (SSEW) said:

“The Evaluation Report clearly shows that Safe Spaces has already become a valued service for the many service users. We welcome all the recommendations, and where areas for improvement have been identified, we are already addressing these as part of our work to continually improve Safe Spaces and the service it provides to victims and survivors.

“We would also urge parishes, communities and public spaces to consider publicising details for Safe Spaces, so that those who are in need are aware of the support that is available to them.”

Bishop Paul Mason, Safeguarding Lead for the Catholic Church, Board Member of the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) and a Trustee of SSEW said:

“When it comes to support for survivors of abuse, it is vital that church bodies listen, and hear, whatever feedback is available. This independent report is no exception, and we look forward to the next steps in our journey of continual improvement.”

The Board also wished to record its thanks to Victim Support for running the service during the pilot phase, and to Rocket Science for compiling the report.

Read the full report here.

First Light launch new website

First Light has launched a new website to support people who have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence.

The charity created a new site to ensure users can find the vital information and support they need as quickly as possible.

First Light consulted service users in the early stages of the project, conducting research, focus groups and workshops to ensure the website had the right accessibility, features and look.

Lyn Gooding, Chief Executive of First Light, said: “Our service users are at the heart of everything we do at First Light, so the main aim has been to reflect their needs and create a website that clearly outlines all the services First Light provides. We are excited to be launching our new look site and hope people will find it more accessible and user-friendly.

“We would like to thank our web developers Ridgeline Studio who worked with us and created a site that captures the essence of what First Light is all about.”

Survivors of sexual violence asked to have their say on police experience

Operation Bluestone Soteria is an anonymous survey that has been commissioned to understand how the police process feels to victim-survivors of sexual violence. If you are aged 18+ and reported the crime to the police, you are being asked to have your say.

The findings from this survey, which has been created by an independent body with input from victims, independent sexual violence advisors (ISVAs) and academics and professionals, will help to improve the police response nationally to rape and other sexual offences.

It doesn’t matter when the incident happened, whether it has been resolved or if the process is still ongoing, just that is has been reported to the police.

The survey is completely anonymous so you cannot be identified.

You can complete this survey online in your own time, at your own pace, and at a place that feels safe and comfortable to you. It should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.

This is an academic survey conducted by City, University of London, and not a police survey. Please do not report any crimes in the survey as your response will be anonymous.

You can complete the survey here.

Support First Light through easyfundraising

First Light is now registered with easyfundraising, which means that you can raise free donations for the charity every time you shop online.

Over 7,000 brands will donate to us when you use easyfundraising to shop with them – and at no extra cost to yourself.

All you need to do is sign up and remember to use easyfundraising whenever you shop online. It’s easy and completely free.

Anna Mitchell, Corporate & Community Fundraiser at First Light, said: “These donations really mount up and make a big difference to the charity. It’s free, simple to set up and you can shop online as usual, while knowing that you are also supporting people who have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence. Please sign up and support First Light.”

You can find the First Light easyfundraising page here.