Interview: Sarah Phillips, chairman of Victim Support

She tells Paul Jump why the charity works much better now that it's a single entity

Sarah Phillips, chair, Victim Support
Sarah Phillips, chair, Victim Support

Sarah Phillips wants to be known as the 'chairman' of Victim Support, the support organisation for witnesses and victims of crime. "Please don't call me the chair: I am not a piece of furniture," she says. She is also unwilling to call herself a crime victim - despite having once been pickpocketed.

Phillips is a veteran of numerous charity and NHS boards, and was 'chairman' of the MS Society, a post she occupied for seven years. She applied to become Victim Support's chairman in 2005 simply because it was "an opportunity to help another group of vulnerable people".

Phillips is not keen for Victim Support to reserve seats on its board for beneficiaries. "It is tokenism," she says. "One victim cannot represent two million others. It is more important that the board has information from victims and witnesses and we learn from what they tell us."

This desire to listen and act on victims' concerns is one reason why, not long into her tenure, Phillips undertook to merge the Victim Support Federation into one organisation. "How do you get 77 different organisations heard by policymakers? You don't," she says. "Now we are able to be a strong national voice."

That voice is informed by an assembly of local volunteers, consisting of two elected representatives from 10 English and Welsh regions, plus four from London. "It is a kind of bridge to the board," Phillips says. "The chairman of the assembly sits on the board as matter of right, and I and my colleagues attend regional forums."

The merger was completed in summer 2008 after receiving 90 per cent support at an extraordinary general meeting the previous summer. It allows Victim Support to monitor its performance better and ensure consistency of service, according to Phillips. "Previously, the national office had no teeth," she says. "It could make inspections and recommendations, but it was up to local trustees whether they did anything about it. So there were pockets of good practice and not-so-good practice."

Phillips is keen for the charity to do more fundraising to supplement the central government grants that make up 75 per cent of its income; most of the rest comes from local agencies. "Government money covers our core services but it doesn't allow us to roll out new projects and good practice in the country," she says. "We want to do more, and better, for more people."

She says this reliance on government funding will not muffle Victim Support's campaigning voice. "You don't have to create war when you want to disagree with government," she says. "It won't be easy all the time, but it is about maintaining your integrity and proving what you are saying."

She also disagrees with the view that state-funded charities are not real ones. "Our services are provided locally by volunteers - that is what charity is all about," she says. "There might be other organisations that could be criticised for not being like charities, but not us."



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