‘Today is LimeCulture’s birthday’, explains Stephanie Reardon, one of LimeCulture’s Joint Chief Exceutives. ‘As we step forward into our 6th year of operation, its tempting to look back on all of our achievements since we started LimeCulture. We have done so very much as an organisation; pushed boundaries that we never thought possible and as a result, our work has taken us to places that we never envisaged or dared to dream possible’. Kim Doyle, LimeCulture’s other Joint Chief Executive attributes the success that LimeCulture has experience to ‘our unique oversight of the sexual violence agenda, spanning both the health and social care agenda as well as the criminal justice agenda, our thorough knowledge of policy development in this area and deep understanding of commissioning and service improvement initiatives’. Kim explains that all these unique skills and competencies has meant that LimeCulture quickly developed in to one of the leading sexual violence organisations in the UK. ‘Steph and I have really different but complementary professional backgrounds that has helped to move things forward. We have also ensured that we bring in the best of the best to work with us. So together, as a team, we have all bases covered in relation to sexual violence and can see the whole picture, not just part of it. This is very important.’
When LimeCulture was established back in 2011 as a not-for-profit social enterprise, LimeCulture’s aim was to improve the competence and confidence of organisations, agencies and professionals who have a role in supporting victims of sexual violence. ‘We knew from previous work experiences that there was an awful lot of good will, passion and experience amongst the specialist sexual violence sector to support victims, but we also knew that there was areas for improvement. Professionals told us they didn’t always feel always confident in their abilities to support their clients, particularly if this included a journey that involved law enforcement agencies or the criminal justice process’. This is something that squarely impacted on Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs), a relatively new workforce whose role it is to support their clients through a trial, if they so choose to report to the police. ‘We wanted to do more to support the ISVA workforce as we knew their work draws entirely on the skills we had within our brand new organisation’, reflects Kim who is responsible for Training at LimeCulture’. ‘With that, we immediately developed a specialist training course for ISVAs in order to support this ambition. We actually thought we’d run the ISVA Development Programme once, but it has grown from strength to strength, attracting more and more ISVAs each year, and most importantly it has cemented the realisation that specialist training is required to underpin this highly specialised role that provides vital and specialist support to the most vulnerable in our society’.
Along side the training with ISVAs, LimeCulture has also developed specialist courses for other professionals working with victims of sexual violence. This has included training Crisis Workers and Counsellors for example. ‘What’s different from the ISVA Development Programme is that much of our work outside of ISVA training is delivered in-house – bespoke if you like – to meet the needs of the staff within a specific service, agency or organisation. We have really enjoyed this aspect of our training work as it allows us to go out and work with the staff within a SARC, or a counselling service, or the police, or another service and help them to develop in a way that is specific to their needs’ explains Kim. ‘ We listen to them, and get to know where they don’t feel quite so confident in their abilities and we can tailor our training to support exactly that area. It’s really very effective and the feedback we have received has been excellent’.
However, as the years have passed, LimeCulture’s role in training the ‘specialist’ staff responding to victims of sexual violence has expanded in a way that had not been envisaged or planned. ‘We have increasingly been asked to provide training for non-specialist staff to raise awareness of sexual violence amongst their staff. This has been fantastic, as it shows how far the reputation of LimeCulture has come, spreading outside the specialist sector and beyond’. For example, LimeCulture have recently signed a contract with the Premier League to provide training to their young players about sexual consent and other important related topics, such as sexting. ‘This is a huge step forward for us as an organisation, but it also represents the recognition that sexual violence is an area that reaches far wider than just the specialist sexual violence sector. It has an impact everywhere, and it’s excellent to see organisations such as the premier league realising that they need to take responsibility to raise awareness in their area, which is fantastic’.
Sitting along side LimeCulture’s training work, there is the Service Development arm of the organisation. ‘Our Service Development workstream has proven to be quite diverse and has included a wide range of projects over the years’ explains Stephanie, who is responsible for Operational Delivery. ‘We’ve worked with commissioners and funders, as well as service providers to see how they can develop moving forward. It’s involved us being called in to undertake Needs Assessments, and Independent Service Reviews. More recently, we were called in to a specialist service to investigate after something had gone wrong and Commissioners wanted an independent assessment of what had happened in the service and what could have lead to the outcome that had unfolded. Work like this is fascinating as it enables us to have a thorough look into the operational practices within an individual service or group of services, but as we are not embroiled in the everyday detail of delivery, we are able to see so clearly where improvements can be made, or operations can be tweaked to make things run in a more effective way. Importantly, this sort of work also exposes us to really good practice on the ground. We can see immediately where things are working very well, which is really important to highlight and communicate with others’.
LimeCulture have also been commissioned by service providers to provide Service Development support to them. ‘Sometimes the services themselves ask us to come in to undertake a review or to help them to move the service forward’. Some services will recognise that an independent view of their service provision carries a lot of weight, and can be used to show commissioners or funders the effectiveness of what they do. While other services recognise that it’s helpful to have input from somebody external. ‘Its a brave and dynamic service that asks us to come in to review their service provision’ laughs Stephanie. ‘We won’t say a service is good unless there is evidence to show that it is! However, we’ve generally found the services that have asked us to come in to help them are extremely forward thinking and want to get things right for the people they support. They want us to be honest and help them evolve if there is a need or a gap that we identify as part of the review. It really is a two-way process that involves them being really honest and transparent about the way they operate, and once they’ve done that, we work with them to find solutions that will work for them, taking consideration of their ethos and organisational aims and boundaries. We know it can be a bit uncomfortable, painful even, to have their services unpicked and scrutinesd, but our experience is that it is overwhelmingly positive for them in the long run to have fresh eyes coming in to support them. Our team at LimeCulture is so diverse, we can send in people in with the exact skills the service needs’.
When asked what they are most proud of since establishing LimeCulture, Kim says ‘there is so much that I am proud of in relation to the work we have done since LimeCulture was established. However, I am particularly proud of the work we did for the Office of the Forensic Science Regulator for England and Wales, which involved drafting the standards and guidance for forensic medical examinations of adults and children following a sexual assault’. Kim explains ‘the effort that went into this piece of work was phenomenal. It was so complicated and technical. It required pulling together all of the key things that would enable the standards to be raised around a forensic medical examination. Currently, the standards of provision vary dramatically around the country, for a variety of reasons, but the aim of this work is to create standards that will lead to improvements for every single child or adult that has been sexually assaulted and a forensic medical examination takes place. It is a very important piece of work that has never been attempted before in this country, or in any other country, because of the complexity involved. Once these standards are implemented, I think they will change the shape of our service provision in this country and maybe in others too’.
Stephanie says that she is most proud of the work that they have at done at LimeCulture to promote the ISVA workforce. ‘When we started back in 2011, the Home Office knew of 87 ISVAs, who they part funded, but nobody really knew what ISVAs did, and even those employed themselves to carry to the ISVA role, were not always completely clear how they should be operating. Since then there has been a huge increase in the number of ISVAs, and they are beginning to be recognised for the professional and highly-skilled workforce that they are. Obviously, the ISVAs themselves have contributed to this recognition, but I think LimeCulture has done a lot to promote the workforce and lobby on their behalf. We have trained over 270 ISVAs since 2011, and this gives us the credibility to say where things need to move forward’. LimeCulture are once again hosting the national conference for ISVAs in September, ‘Knowledge & Network’ which is being chaired by Sir Kier Starmer QC MP, the former Director of Public Prosecutions. ‘We have been able to persuade Keir of the importance of the ISVA workforce and the role they can play in making improvements for victims. He is very supportive, which is fantastic’. Stephanie adds that LimeCulture has also recently launched the LimeLight Awards, which ‘are intended as professional recognition for the work that ISVAs are doing. It’ll be really hard to pick the winners, as there is so much incredible work that is done by ISVAs, but we hope the LimeLight Awards are the start of continued recognition of the professionalism of ISVAs across the country’.
Kim and Stephanie explain that while it is important for them to reflect on the achievements of LimeCulture, they are more focused at looking to the future and exploring what that might hold for LimeCulture. ‘We think the next few years are going to be extremely interesting for the sexual violence sector. The ongoing focus on sexual violence is not going to go away. We believe the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has the potential to change the face of sexual violence services moving forward. What is clear to us, is that the demand on specialist services is going to keep growing. As more and more people are encouraged to come forward and report their abuse, we need to make sure that as a society we don’t fail them by ensuring that there are a range of high-quality services out there providing excellent support to meet their needs’. When asked what they think this will mean for service provision, Stephanie says ‘Obviously, this will require an increase in investment, which is difficult when budgets are being cut’. However, LimeCulture believe that it will be difficult to ignore the arguments for investment, if – and only if- specilaist services are able to evidence the benefit of investing in them. ‘I think it’s fair to say that there has been a lot of money spent on the specialist sexual violence sector over the years, with some of it not being invested wisely’, adds Stephanie. ‘However, it’s clear to us that there is a whole lot more investment required if we are to properly support those who have experienced sexual violence’.
LimeCulture clearly believe that increased investment will come eventually, but so too will come competition from other non-specialists services who want a bite of the cherry. ‘Look at the CSE agenda’, explains Kim ‘when that shot up the political agenda, with money following it, a whole load of new services popped up and with it a load of new ‘experts’, many of whom were clearly not, but merely capitalising on an opportunity for funding. Sadly, Commissioners and Funders are not always wise to this and it meant that many of the existing specialist sexual violence services lost out to those people or services because they were not well placed to compete, even though many would have been much better equipped to provide the support to victims of CSE’. Stephanie explains that in her view ‘many of specialist sexual violence organisations are so under funded, that they spend their time getting on with the job of supporting people, and are not always able to properly look to the future to position themselves effectively for funding. Some services, but not all of course, need to be supported to do this. Many services operate in isolation in local areas where they are not informed of changes in national policy or funding pots that become available. Furthermore,they don’t always have the resources to get involved in complicated commissioning processes and as such we have seen an increase in non-specialist agencies moving into this sector’. ‘Look at ISVAs for example, the majority of ISVA Services now do not sit within specialist sexual violence charities, they sit in a much broader variety of organisation such as Victim Support, domestic abuse charities, charities supporting sex workers, NHS organisations, local authorities, and so on’, explains Kim. Though its clear that LimeCulture don’t think the specialist sexual violence should have a special pass to get funding, as ‘we have seen non-specialist service provide some really excellent sexual violence services, but we do think that more needs to be done to showcase the level of specialism and expertise within this sector, including what they can do and what services they can provide. There is often nobody speaking up for these services, and those that do, are not always positioned effectively to be listened to at the right level. If this is done properly, it would be very hard to ignore the skill and experience that exists within specialist services’.
‘Moving forward, we want to ensure that LimeCulture remains the leading organisation supporting a professional response to sexual violence. We want to continue to provide support to the specialists through our training and development initiatives, but we also want to ensure that awareness of sexual violence continues amongst non-specialist sexual violence organisations. There are a whole range of organisations who have a responsibility to victim care and more should be done by them. We will continue to focus our attention from a strategic perspective on these areas’.
‘We have a fantastic team already in place at LimeCulture, and because of the variety of work that we do, we attract a lot of interest from professionals who are keen to work with us, many of whom are extraordinarily passionate about this area of work and have excellent and impressive CVs. We are expanding as an organisation to meet the requirement of a number of new contracts that we are involved in and we will be bringing in new talent over the next few months’ says Kim. ‘With them will come new ideas and fresh suggestions and it feels exciting’. LimeCulture is confident as they step into their 6th year, armed with a number of new innovative contracts that will take them in a variety of new directions. ‘There are lots of unknowns but there are so many opportunities in front of us, and for the sector. We can’t wait to get going’.
For more information about LimeCulture, visit our website www.limeculture.co.uk