Celebrating SEA’s achievements under Nicola Sharp-Jeffs’ leadership

As Surviving Economic Abuse’s (SEA) founder Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs steps down after seven successful years as CEO to focus on her role as Founder, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate all the charity has achieved under Nicola’s exceptional leadership.

Nicola will be stepping down as CEO and from the day-to-day running of the charity to focus on her role as Founder at SEA. Former CEO of The Fawcett Society, Sam Smethers will take up the role of interim CEO on 23 May 2024, where she will remain in post until a permanent CEO is in place. Find out more about this announcement here

We are delighted that Nicola will continue to lend her passion, expertise and drive to SEA in her role as Founder. We want to mark this moment by paying tribute to the remarkable legacy she has built.  

Founding Surviving Economic Abuse 

Before SEA was an award-winning charity, it was a bold idea in the mind of Nicola, a policy and research expert in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector.  

In 2016, Nicola was made a Churchill Fellow and travelled to the US and Australia to explore innovative responses to economic abuse. On her return, she knew those ideas needed to be implemented here. That’s when she decided to set up Surviving Economic Abuse – the UK’s only charity dedicated to the issue – and in 2017 SEA was born.  

SEA started as Nicola intended to go on: with full impact. The charity embarked upon its inaugural Economic Justice Project, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and was launched in parliament by Victoria Atkins MP, the then Minister for Safeguarding.  

Within just four months, Nicola introduced SEA to the world via BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and its nearly four million listeners – the first of many high-profile media appearances that would help establish SEA and an understanding of economic abuse with the general public.  

From this, the first members of what would become the Experts by Experience Group (EEG) reached out to Nicola and began forming the heart of Nicola’s mission: a group of victim-survivors who would work alongside the charity and whose voices would be central to everything SEA does. In time, the experts attended parliament with Nicola, contributed to research and policy papers, and shared their stories with the press to raise awareness. These voices were Nicola’s north star and remain foundational to SEA’s work today.  

Changing laws and transforming practice 

From the start, Nicola set about tackling two major areas that would directly improve victim-survivors’ experiences and help save lives.  

The first was successfully changing the law. In 2019, SEA secured a commitment from the Westminster government to include economic abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. She also worked with the EEG to ensure their lived experience was reflected in this law through the criminalisation of post-separation abuse. MP Alex Chalk, now the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, called SEA’s campaigning an “important public service”.    

The second was transforming the financial sector’s response. Nicola set about quickly working with all four of the Big Banks, as well as industry and regulatory bodies, to implement best practice. SEA’s partnership with Lloyds Banking Group led to innovation and transformation, for both colleagues and customers, with the creation of a specialist team supporting thousands of customers who have experienced economic abuse.  

Nicola understands the power of alliance. Following a tube journey with Jeanette Hope from the charity Money Advice Plus (MAP), the idea of the Economic Abuse Evidence Form (EAEF) was born – a pioneering way to communicate victim-survivors’ experiences of economic abuse so they only tell their story once. MAP has, since the very start, been an integral partner of SEA, providing frontline support to victim-survivors through its Financial Support Line.  

SEA’s reach didn’t stop there. Under Nicola’s direction, the team trained police officers, lawyers and insurers. Nicola also cemented SEA’s place within the wider women’s charity sector, working with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Women’s Aid, SafeLives and Tender, among others. Nicola and the MAP team also consulted on a Coronation Street storyline, bringing awareness of economic abuse to over five million viewers.  

Winning awards and the charity’s phenomenal growth  

As the years passed, the charity grew from one employee to a team of nearly 30 specialists and over 100 Expert by Experience Group members, all supported by celebrity ambassadors and a panel of advisors from different sectors. In 2020, Nicola steered the charity through the pandemic, both supporting the team to continue their important work in unsettling times and managing increased advocacy for victim-survivors at a time when perpetrators intensified their control.  

During her tenure, Nicola was awarded an OBE for services to victims of domestic and economic abuse and published her book Understanding and Responding to Economic Abuse. She met regularly with MPs, members of the Lords and industry captains, and she spoke at countless events, both in the UK and internationally. Her talent did not go unnoticed. In 2020, she was named winner of the Third Sector Award for Rising Chief Executive and also named Rising Leader of the Year the following year by the Charity Times Awards. 

Nicola’s outstanding leadership has been defined by tenacity, ambition, collaboration and a profound commitment to the women SEA works alongside. Thanks to her vision and tireless work, women have, and will continue to, feel heard and believed, including accessing new paths to safety and the tools and resources needed to rebuild their lives after abuse. This is Nicola’s remarkable legacy.