Michelle began her career by working with rough sleepers, before moving to drug and alcohol services and then the domestic abuse sector. She started as an outreach worker for a high-risk service but later saw an advert promoting the opening of My Sister’s House, the first women’s centre in West Sussex. She volunteered her time to support women experiencing domestic abuse and was later offered a paid position as a Community Idva.
What made you decide to work with people experiencing domestic abuse?
I recognised that in all of my previous roles, domestic abuse was a common theme and very much a part of the world of rough sleepers and people struggling with substance misuse.
How do you think we can best support marginalised women?
Here at the centre, we are always open and honest. We offer a safe space where anyone can come in and feel accepted for who they are. We believe women and want to encourage and support a sense of self belief too. The peer group does all of this; it’s a space where women can speak openly and honestly about their experiences. They are understood and never judged. It’s incredible to see women supporting each other, building friendships and support networks, and giving each other hope.
What are you most proud of during your time as an Idva?
I am most proud of establishing and embedding the ‘Stronger Futures’ peer support group. The group is attended by 10-20 women each week and we have always made a point of running it rain or shine and throughout the school holidays. The group has become a safe and supportive space for all women who have previously or are currently experiencing domestic abuse. My proudest moment was having Dame Julie Walters attend one of our group sessions during our grand opening. She described our survivors as warriors, a word we often use in the group, and said her time with the group was completely inspiring and unforgettable. It was a magical moment.
What keeps you going when the work gets tough?
We use a lot of reflective practice, and I know that we are really making a difference. I have amazing support from my team and service manager Faye. We laugh a lot and keep each other grounded.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering this career, what would it be?
You need to be resilient, open, honest and non-judgemental. It can be challenging but really rewarding work and I feel privileged to be a part of people’s journeys.
Do you know a professional who has gone above and beyond to change the response to domestic abuse and keep survivors and their families safe? Nominate someone for Star of the Month by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Star of the Month’ as the subject line.