Guest blog: Nick Lewis, director of Umbrella Cymru
Back in 2012 I was asked to chair the LGBTQ+ Community Liaison Safety Group for Gwent. This was a forum that invited LGBTQ+ people living or working Gwent to engage with representatives from the police and other criminal justice agencies. The purpose of the forum was to discuss the issues they were experiencing and the barriers they faced accessing services.
The idea for (what was at the time) Umbrella Gwent emerged as this group wasn’t well attended and we felt that there was a need to shift the focus from being ‘agency led’ to ‘communities led’. To pilot this approach, I set up a Facebook page with the purpose of signposting people to relevant support services and advocating with agencies for those who found it difficult to access criminal justice and support services.
Very quickly, there was a huge and increasing response the service, and it was clear that there was a gap in provision for services that understood and focussed on gender and sexual diversity, particularly of victims of crime.
Umbrella Cymru (then Umbrella Gwent) was set up as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation in 2015 following a growing number of requests for more face to face support as well as signposting and advocacy services. This was the same year the Connect Gwent victim’s hub was launched, so it felt a natural and obvious fit for us to be a part of this flagship multi-agency support service in Gwent. We joined other agencies in the hub from the very beginning and, although we now offer broader specialist gender and sexual diversity services across Wales, providing advice and support to LGBTQ+ victims of crime in Gwent remains one of our main areas of work.
Although society has come a long way, LGBTQ+ people still face many challenges. These include social prejudice, conscious and unconscious bias, and a fear that they will not be taken seriously if reporting many types of crimes or accessing services. This is where we can help, either by supporting clients directly, or through helping to reduce or remove barriers to accessing other services. We know that some will prefer to access our services ‘just because’ they feel more comfortable talking to a team of people who are specially trained to understand specific barriers they might experience, or because they can trust that our staff will simply understand their gender or sexual identity.
Some people come to us specifically because they have experienced hate based on their perceived gender or sexual identity, where others might come to us because they have experienced other crimes not relating to their identity, but where the experience might have an impact on their level of social interaction, confidence or wellbeing.
The support we offer is completely tailored to the individual. We build a package of support around the person, focussing absolutely on what is important to them. This could typically include emotional support, advocacy with the police force, or helping people navigate the criminal justice system with more practical information and support. We will also support people to build resilience and confidence to deal with any issues or concerns they might face in the future.
Since Umbrella Cymru opened, we have seen positive changes in policing in Gwent. Gwent Police have made great strides in the way they deal with hate for example, being identified as providing effective practice in 2018. The force has more recently committed to a large-scale roll-out of training for all front-line officers that will support officers to work towards an even more victim-centred approach.
There is also ongoing work in relation to encouraging reporting from, identifying and supporting LGBTQ+ people experienced domestic or sexual abuse, and I continue to work with the force and other partner agencies to enhance the services offered. Through this work, Gwent Police also funded a space for me to complete an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor course, meaning we will be able to offer even more specialist support and advice to LGBTQ+ victims and survivors of domestic violence.
We should never be complacent; there is always more we can do. I would encourage more training within policing around gender and sexual diversity, particularly to help build confidence of officers and those reporting that services can be appropriate, support is available, and people will be listened to and taken seriously. Within wider training, I also encourage more diversity of experiences to be used throughout to ensure understanding and reflecting on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people is not seen as a standalone course that ‘ticks a box’.
As ever, and increasingly so in these particularly challenging times, investment for specialist support services is key to ensuring services are not only available, but accessible to all people in Gwent and across Wales.
If you’ve experienced crime as a result of hate or prejudice towards your gender or sexual identity or you identify as LGBTQ+ and have experienced any form of crime in Gwent, please do get in touch.
You can request support easily online at www.umbrellacymru.co.uk
Call us on: 0300 302 3670 or see our full contact details at www.umbrellacymru.co.uk/contact
You can also follow us on social media @umbrellacymru
In an emergency you should always call 999.