It’s the dawn of a new decade, perhaps more than usually at New Year a time for reflection and for taking stock. With that in mind, we’ve been taking a long, hard look at the organisation and its readiness for the demands, and the challenges, that lie ahead.
The most immediate challenge that we face is one that has been building, steadily, for the last three years. Demand for our assistance has risen in that period from around 120 applications per year to almost 250 in the last twelve months.
Why so? Probably because a class of victims uniquely overlooked by the support mechanisms of the state are disproportionately further disadvantaged by the growing crisis in Legal Aid. Whether it be for advocacy assistance or for aftercare support, a growing number of people in our society have nowhere else to turn.
In response, we have to up our game.
This process started, in fact, in the second quarter of last year. Structural weaknesses were identified, by ourselves, in our constitutional and governance arrangements. Necessary improvements – essential improvements – were made to these, in a process that was not universally welcomed within the organisation. The resulting turbulence was, at times, severe. What had to be done was, however, done – and the result is that we now have a constitution and a governance structure that are entirely fit for purpose, and in tune with the demands of a legislative framework that has changed significantly since our inception in 2001. That our house is entirely in order has been openly confirmed by our regulators, the Registrar of Companies and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
A significant improvement introduced in this process has been the expansion of our Board of Trustees, by the addition of representatives both of our staff and of our clients. Further strengthening of the Board is in the pipeline.
From these strong foundations, we look now to expand and to enhance the services we offer to the people who really matter – our service-users. Our ethos and our mission do not change. We continue to exist to bring hope to the innocent, to give a voice to the voiceless. We simply look to do these things better.
In terms of our Aftercare service, this will involve more intensive intervention in the crucial early stages. It will involve better, and earlier, access to professional psychological support. It will involve a more tailored, client-centred approach to the processes of recovery, development and re-integration. And it will involve the same dedicated, caring support that we have always provided to each of our clients, and to their families.
We have now, for the first time, secured funding for our Advocacy service. This very welcome development is not simply a recognition and endorsement of the value of this service; it will allow us to do important things. It will allow us to consolidate, to improve, and to expand, our work in assisting in the preparation and pursuit of appeals against conviction. It will allow us to extend the training, and awareness-raising, in miscarriage of justice related law that we provide to our volunteer caseworkers. And it will allow us to expand and develop the close relationships that we already enjoy with the Scottish universities who supply those caseworkers.
We currently benefit, hugely, from the dedication and commitment of 20 volunteer staff – without whom our work could not be done. In the coming year we will be extending this to 25. These volunteers support our full-time staff. In recent months we have been delighted to employ Scott Jenkins in the role of Aftercare and Welfare Rights Officer, and Euan McIlvride in the role of Legal Officer. Both Mr Jenkins and Mr McIlvride have previously volunteered with the organisation for a number of years. The ever-present Cathy Molloy, who was appointed to the Board of Trustees in June, holds the position of Chief Executive Officer.
The planned expansion of our services will require bigger premises, better suited to the varied nature of the work that we do. We are at an advanced stage in negotiations to secure the long-term lease of a property that will allow private meeting rooms, a training room, a shared activites space and a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of everyday office life. We’ll keep you posted as this comes to fruition.
We approach the coming decade with a keen sense of excitement and anticipation. We have much to do, but we have the will and the energy to do it. Your generous support and assistance has always been critical to the success of this organisation, and will never have been more needed than it is now. We appreciate it more than we can tell you.
Finally, we are acutely aware that we have been lax, in recent months, in communicating with you. Our Newsletter has been almost entirely absent during this time. For this we apologise. We hope that, having read this article, you will understand why this has been so. In this new year, we will remedy that omission. We will also be publishing regular updates and articles on our website.
From all at MOJO, a very Happy New Year.