Isabelle Kerr - Women of Inspiration 2017

          

There is so much work we need to do, a huge area to cover
and a growing demand for our service.           

What is your current role within the company?

I am the Centre Manager with the Rape Crisis Centre in Glasgow.  I manage a team of 17 support and advocacy workers as well as 2 prevention workers. 

We also have 32 volunteers who staff our helpline and cover our evening drop in service.  Although my title is Centre Manager, as is common within the Third Sector, I have a range of different roles within the organisation including training our workers and volunteers, fundraising, media – including social media and working with partners such as local councils, Scottish Government, police, higher education establishments, and other support organisations.  I have also been known to slip on a pair of Marigolds and unblock the toilet (on more than one occasion).

What is your background prior to working for this company/setting up your company?

I’ve been working in the Third Sector for 35 years.  I was first a volunteer for the Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre in 1981 then when I moved to live and work in Aberdeen I was one of the founding members of the Aberdeen Rape Crisis Centre in 1984.  I have worked in a range of organisations over the past 35 years – in homelessness, benefits advice, community projects, youth work, equalities work, with gypsies and travelling people and of course always within the violence against women field.  I volunteered with rape crisis centres in Glasgow and Aberdeen for 11 years before moving to London to work with unemployed people and rough sleepers.  I came back to Glasgow (having worked in Plymouth for a while in an area of exceptional deprivation) in 2000 and worked with the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership.  In 2006 I was appointed Centre Manager at the Rape Crisis Centre.  It’s the biggest and the busiest rape crisis centre in Scotland. 

What makes your company and/or your role stand out?

The Rape Crisis Centre in Glasgow was the first RCC in Scotland (and the second in the UK, opening in 1976, only six months after London Rape Crisis Centre) and we have delivered a support service for survivors without a break for the past 40 years.  With little funding we deliver a service to a large area across the West of Scotland (Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde).  We are staffed by a team of highly skilled, passionate women who have a huge commitment to the issue of working with survivors of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation and who have made our centre a role model and an inspiration for all other rape crisis centres in the country.

What is your area of expertise / inspiration?

My area of expertise is working with trauma.  Not only has this informed my practice over the past 35 years as I have built up my skills in this field, but I have written about it and I also teach a course at Glasgow University (DACE) on Working with Trauma as part of the Counselling programme.  I have supported survivors of trauma over a number of years but do not have as much time as I’d like to do this side of the work as the management of the centre takes up so much of my time.  I also do a lot of fundraising for the centre and have been very lucky recently in receiving a three year grant from the Big Lottery for half a million pounds to carry out work with very vulnerable and hard to reach groups of women and develop the work of our organisation.  We have also been lucky enough to be shortlisted for this year’s People’s Project, a partnership with STV and Big Lottery and a short film about our service will be shown on STV in March with a public vote which we hope will bring a further £50,000 into the organisation for development of a Trauma Recovery Groupwork programme.

What are your plans for the future?

Our organisation is very busy.  Last year we had 11,383 calls, texts and emails relating to support and advocacy alone.  We’re anticipating exceeding this number in the current year and the number of survivors we see for long term support is growing year on year.  But we need to reach the most vulnerable and isolated sexual abuse survivors, particularly those who are disabled either physically or psychologically because of the abuse they have suffered.  We have also just developed a working partnership with the University of Strathclyde and are working to provide counselling services for young women students who have been raped or sexually assaulted as our experience at rape crisis over the years had shown that many young women student drop out of their university courses in the aftermath of rape, sexual assault or stalking experiences and fail to realised their full potential.  We want to develop an early intervention counselling service for young women that will be accessible and on campus.  We’re also working with university staff, training them to respond appropriately to disclosures of abuse and refer on to us quickly.

There is so much work we need to do and a huge area to cover and a growing demand for our service.  We’re a work in progress and will respond to the changing demands of survivors – as long as we can resource the services and keep it growing.

What inspires or motivates you?

My motivation is always the young women coming into this area of work, full of passion and energy and so keen to support other women and girls.  We have a volunteer training programme every year which is always full, even though it’s a gruelling 20 week course plus practical shadowing time and reading.  The women who come through our course staff our helpline, help us fundraising for the centre, carry boxes to schools supporting our sexual violence prevention workers and even do the hoovering when needed. 

I am always energised by the commitment of these young women and although I’m galloping towards the end of my own working life, I know that as long as our service is needed, there will be passionate women here to deliver it and support other women without judgement or blame. 

What inspires me is the bravery and resilience of survivors and how they manage day to day sometimes struggling to do even the smallest tasks.  Also what inspires me is my anger – which can be used for positive action.  I still get angry when I answer the door of our centre and see a young girl standing in her school uniform, coming to us for her counselling appointment.  No child should have to experience abuse or exploitation – that keeps me motivated and doing this work.