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.