SAVE OUR SHELTERS
I was preparing to head to the cosy confines of my family home in Somerset last winter when I heard of yet another potential funding crisis which would affect thousands of domestic violence victims and their children. Only five years previously, a campaign I spearheaded with The Sun called Give Me Shelter helped to secure £3.2million in additional Government funding for refuges faced with closure by local authority cuts.
But now ministers wanted to remove refuge hostels from the welfare system. Women would no longer be able to pay with the housing benefit that currently accounts for 53 per cent of total refuge funding. As a result, the last guaranteed source of income for refuges, run by charities such as Women’s Aid, was threatened. I felt so many emotions - anger, disbelief, shock - but mostly concern for the one in four victims of domestic violence. For them, there is no cosy Christmas. Only fear, uncertainty and in some cases, extreme danger and even death. So I dumped my Somerset suitcase and headed straight to the Sun on Sunday offices. Editors Victoria Newton and Steve Waring wasted no time in agreeing to give Save Our Shelters the powerful canvas it needed and we got to work with Women's Aid on a series of articles bringing victims' voices to the fore.
Over the years, I've met many domestic violence survivors and their children. Their courage moves me beyond words and it is their faces I see and voices I hear when I prepare to go into battle journalistically. During this campaign, it is 'Alison' who drove me on through the late nights of research and interviews. She fled her abusive partner with her 2-year-old under one arm and a cereal packet stuffed with cash under the other. But funding cuts meant there was no refuge space for her and she was forced to live next-door to drug addicts in a filthy hostel and sellotape a bin bag over a cot mattress crawling with spiders. Her story made me ruthlessly focussed in my aim. There should never be another Alison and her baby left in that situation ever again.
Earlier this month, I heard our campaign aim had been met. Of course, I am delighted, happy, proud - but most of all humbled once again to have been trusted with telling the stories of so many exceptional women.
For me, campaigning is the essence of pure journalism. It's about shining a light on topics that are shrouded in darkness and giving a voice to those who are silent. I'm very proud of the campaigning work I've done, particularly highlighting aspects of domestic violence and human trafficking.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a diversity of high-profile people and organisations to produce campaigns that have changed lives and even laws. From helping Bill Gates to promote his argument for foreign aid to teaming up with David Walliams to boost literacy, I have always been drawn to this style of journalism.