Safe as houses – how Eva Women’s Aid used social investment to fund a 45+ women’s project

Richinda Taylor, CEO at EVA Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, describes how she used social investment to support a project for women aged 45+

There is a scene in the popular comedy series ‘Father Ted’ where the hapless  Father Dougal is on an aeroplane staring for some time at a big red button above which a sign reads ‘Do Not Press’.  Father Dougal is sweating like toast on a worktop but not even the complete absence of knowledge of what might happen next prevents him from pressing that button.   Getting involved in social investment was a bit like that …

A random conversation with one of our older service users one wintry afternoon in early 2014 gave me an idea which,  by the time I had driven the 55 mile journey home later that day,  had implanted itself firmly in my mind as ‘A Thoroughly Brilliant Idea’.  Julie (not her real name) was in her 50s,  and had fled a 15 year abusive relationship literally with only the clothes she wore.  She left shortly after the emotional,  financial and psychological abuse she had endured turned into serious physical violence.  Julie went to her local refuge,  but her husband found out where she was so for her own safety,  and that of the other residents,  Julie was referred out of her area,  to EVA.  We don’t like turning anyone away at EVA so we gave Julie a bed space in one of our two existing properties that are geared towards accommodating women aged up to 24.  It soon became apparent that the mix of ages could be problematic for a number of reasons.  Most importantly,  the older women were becoming the ‘mums’,  which was great for the youngsters but meant that the older women were more focussed on the younger women’s welfare rather than their own recovery.  We needed to create a Safe House space for older women,  with a Specialist Support Worker dedicated to empowering and enabling women towards independence.  This needed funding for staff,  funding for the cost of a refurb to a new property, the deposit on a house purchase  and installation of security equipment,  and a loan to purchase a suitably located house.  Simple,  right?

This is how  the ‘45+ Project’ was born …

By the time I arrived at work the following morning,  I had convinced myself it was going to happen,  I just needed several hundred thousand quid…. So,  applications were made to two potential funders and after several phone calls,  visits and emails,  an application was made to Charity Bank to invest in EVA’s purchase of the UK’s first Safe House for women aged over 45.  It was important for EVA that our Investment Manager understood our M.O.  We wanted someone who ‘got’ why we wanted to do it and how it fitted in with our current practice and future plans,  as well as the social value of the project.

I won’t lie to you … there is a LOT of paperwork.  And you think you’ve got it right.  But you haven’t.  It goes back and forth,  back and forth. Understandably,  due diligence processes are wise and necessary.  You need evidence of good governance,  robust financial management systems,  flawless accounting history and a credible Board of Trustees … oh,  did I mention them yet?  Get your Board on board!  And take professional advice. My top tips?

  • Know your subject/theme (there will be lots of questions)
  • Research the need (the market, target group,  current offer locally)
  • Be realistic about your ability to service the loan (can you afford it?!!)

Oh ….  and be prepared to work more hours than usual (I don’t know any CEO who DOESN’T already do this,  but add a few more hours on anyway).  There is no doubt that pulling together all these elements is almost a full-time job in itself,  and there were times when I found myself looking at my Finance Manager and saying,  as I wiped a tear from my eye and some of that toast-sweat from my own brow ‘’please just remind me why we’re doing this?’’

Fast forward around seven months …  all three stakeholders were asking if the OTHER two stakeholders had made a decision.  I found myself saying ‘’will ONE of you PLEASE say ‘yes’!’’  And they did,  one by one,  until they all dove-tailed nicely in the late Summer of 2014.  Forms were signed,  timescales agreed,  funds were drawn down,  and we proudly took possession of the keys to our soon-to-be-fabulously-renovated Safe House.  Building work began (more anxiety and toast-sweat) and we finally opened on Monday 1 June 2015.

By Friday of that same week,  we were full.

We have remained at almost 100% capacity ever since.  The project attracted much local and national media attention and highlighted the issues surrounding the often hidden victims of domestic abuse as it is usually portrayed as only a young women’s matter.  It isn’t.  EVA is proud to have won three runner-up and two winning awards in 2016 for the ’45+ Project’ including Charity Bank’s ‘Greatest Impact’ Award.

Two years later and,  like the impending second-time Mum,  I forgot all about the anxiety,  pain and anguish of childbirth the first time round and decided to do it all over again,  having convinced myself the end result is worth it.  After all,  it can’t have been THAT BAD … can it?

We are now on the home stretch of purchasing a fourth Safe House property,  due to open in early 2018,  but my Finance Manager has threatened to leave if I ever suggest buying another house…

Oh … the big red button?  Father Dougal dumped the plane’s fuel supply and they were forced to rely on a novelty sticky-tape dispenser to save them.  EVA’s fuel tank,  thankfully,  remains undamaged.

Richinda Taylor, CEO,  EVA Women’s Aid, [email protected],, Facebook:  Eva’s House, Twitter:  @evawomensaid1