Councillor Gavin Callaghan will post regular updates here about the progress the council is making to transform Basildon borough.
• Find out more about Councillor Gavin Callaghan
• Leader's update - Planned development is all that should be permitted - 23 July 2020
• Leader's update - Keeping vulnerable children fed during school holidays - 17 June 2020
• Leader's update - Black Lives Matter - 03 June 2020
• Leader's update - A plea to all residents on behalf of Basildon Council - 28 April 2020
• Leader's update - Thank you to all our NHS workers and carers - 24 April 2020
• Leader's update - Coronavirus (COVID-19) message from the Leader - 26 March 2020
• Leader's update - Turning the council digital - 31 January 2020
• View the Leader's earlier updates...>>
Covid-19 has impacted on us as individuals and as a community in many, many ways. One particularly distressing consequence is the rise in domestic abuse. A surge in violence inside the home has been reported across the country and worldwide.
This trend is mirrored locally too. The South Essex Domestic Abuse Hub has reported an increase in approaches from people in the Basildon borough since April from 141 in the same period last year to 214 this year - an increase of 52%. The hub does a brilliant job and is one of the most valuable services we have for people in incredibly tough and dangerous situations. It has supported 1,200 people and their families since it started in 2017 with housing advice and refuge accommodation, legal assistance, advocate support and many other services. Earlier this year its work earned it recognition in national awards for transforming lives. But there is no doubt that the service has been under serious strain keeping up with demand and working under difficult conditions over the past months. We owe them a huge debt of thanks.
I also want to highlight the support to the community that has come from the staff at Walsingham House at Abbotswick and thank them too for the sanctuary they have generously offered people fleeing domestic abuse during lockdown.
Unable to run their normal programme of retreats and events they put the immense resource of their beautiful house, with 10 rooms and such brilliant facilities and grounds, at the service of their local community. Basildon Council was only too pleased for the generous offer and quickly established links with the domestic abuse hub.
During lockdown, I visited Father Dominic Howarth and he showed me first-hand how, with the support of the Brentwood Diocese, Walsingham House went through the Covid and Risk protocols and have, between April and August, provided a safe haven for five women and three children from our borough at Abbotswick.
"It was a privilege to be able to get to know them all and to be able to walk with them for the time they were with us," Father Dominic told me. "The memories that will endure of our time with them were the moments of laughter, of joy, especially with the young children who brought their beautiful smiles, fun and positivity. The way our guests were able to support one another, with new friendships being formed. Being able to see the burdens of life being taken off their shoulders as they were able to relax in a place of safety and peace. It was a privilege to witness and for each of us to play a small part in facilitating.
"For us, as young staff and volunteers here at the house, we had been aware through the news and political reporting that domestic abuse was a rising problem, as were cuts to council funding and support which had stretched services near to breaking point. But to see that played out in the lives of our guests, to be defining their life chances and especially that of their children, was extremely difficult. At times we felt powerless, all we could do was sit and listen as one of our guests vented to us about the latest complication or delay in their case. As much as we wished there were easy and quick fixes to their problems, that isn't how life works. All we could do was give our guests a place where they felt safe and were able to relax as they worked through what they needed to. One of them said, 'This is the first time in four years that I have been able to relax.' That resonated very deeply with us - imagine feeling so unsafe that you could not relax even in - and sometimes especially in - your own home."
Imagine, indeed. I will never forget my first visit to the refuge in our borough in 2014. The stories I was told on that day have lived with me ever since. I always wanted to do more to support victims of domestic violence and I'm pleased we have been able to create the hub, support the staff locally and reach out to partners such as Father Dominic, to help people in their hours of absolute desperation.
I know it can be very hard sometimes for people in an abusive relationship to reach out for help. But Basildon Council wants you to understand that there are places to go and people who can help. If you are in immediate danger, call the police. If you want to talk to someone, and work out how to leave an abusive situation, there is help and support for you, and lots of people who will do all they can to help you to find safety. The South Essex Domestic Abuse Hub (SEDAH) is a good place to start. Phone them on 01268 206798 for help and advice, in complete confidence.
The pandemic isn't over. There will be hard days to come as winter draws in. But by leaning on each other, reaching out and talking, we will be able to help one another and come through coronavirus together.
Walsingham House at Abbotswick is in urgent need of funds to maintain and support our work with young people across Essex and East London. To make a donation please visit:
Councillor Callaghan has served Pitsea North West as its ward councillor since May 2012. In 2017 he became the youngest leader of a local authority in the UK. As head of a hung council with no party in overall control, Councillor Callaghan:
Returning as Council Leader in May 2019 he has identified priorities to revitalise the borough's town centres, clean up neighbourhoods and protect open spaces and modernise the council's governance making it fit to manage inclusive growth of the borough in to the future.
As Council Leader, Councillor Callaghan chairs its Policy and Resources Committee. He also chairs the council's Town Centre Revival Committee.
Gavin is a Director of a public affairs company and previously worked as a political adviser, a lobbyist for national charities and a parliamentary speechwriter.
Gavin has a degree in politics from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and attended Campion School in Hornchurch.
For further information see Councillor details - Councillor Callaghan
You can contact Councillor Callaghan by email, see contact details below.