Domestic Abuse - High Sheriff Nicky Alberry's guest blog
The role of High Sheriff is the oldest secular appointment in England after the Crown and dates back to Saxon times, when we were known as Shire Reeves.
We are appointed by the Queen to uphold and lend active support to the principal organs of the Constitution - the Royal Family, the Judiciary, the Police and other law enforcement agencies, the emergency services, local authorities, all recognised church and faith groups and the voluntary sector.
Today, many High Sheriffs use "their year" to focus on a particular theme. As Chair of Swindon Women's Aid, which provides refuge facilities and support for women and their children affected by domestic abuse (DA) in Swindon, and because I have 2 friends who both were in very unhealthy relationships and experienced physical domestic abuse, I knew my focus would be on raising awareness of the impact DA has on victims and families in Wiltshire.
Over the last 9 months I have talked to Swindon Borough and Wiltshire Council - both Councillors and Staff about their work with victims, families and perpetrators.
I've had great support from the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Chief Constable and his officers for whom DA is certainly a high priority. I spent a Saturday evening with the custody staff at Gablecross Police Station and saw how they dealt with a man who had been brought in after threatening to pour boiling water over his wife.
The MOD have recently published a Domestic Abuse strategy and Wiltshire senior army officers have been very open on how they are dealing with incidents of DA. They recently invited many of their Unit Officers, and Army Welfare Officers to a short play at The Tidworth garrison theatre called "Beyond the war zone" - a play that raises awareness around coercive control & DA within the armed forces community. It was an extremely powerful drama and gave a very strong message to all of us in the room, particularly around "spotting the signs/early intervention opportunities."
I've visited charities providing support to victims and working with perpetrators; sat in court and listened to judges hear some horrendous cases; visited my local prison Erlestoke to talk to the governor about some of his offenders; met the Crown Prosecution Service lead for DA; talked to probation and community rehabilitation staff about offender management; and met specialist support workers in mental health, drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
It's been hectic, but I have been so impressed by the caring and professional approach shown by all of those I've met. It's clear to me that the money available to tackle DA is very stretched, this makes collaborative working a priority. This was the focus for my DA Conference in January 2019, supported by The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Over 100 people, who are engaged in working with victims, their families and perpetrators, came together to hear about new initiatives that are being delivered to tackle this problem. Three workshops were run by local professionals on healthy relationships and young people, health and domestic abuse, and delivering an integrated family approach with low level perpetrators.
New connections were made, meetings arranged to talk about working together, and importantly a commitment from Wiltshire Police, Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council to work together with partners more closely to look at new ways of working to tackle this increasing problem today.
As the Police and Crime Commissioner says: "Domestic Abuse is everyone's business" and I hope during my year as High Sheriff I have made it the business of a lot more people in Wiltshire.