An interview with Surviving Economic Abuse’s Trustee Richard Walsh

To mark Trustee Week 2023, we spoke to one of Surviving Economic Abuse’s (SEA) founding trustees, Richard Walsh.  

Richard has worked in the banking sector in a variety of roles for over 16 years. In this interview, Richard talks to us about how SEA has grown over the past six years since the charity was founded, and where he sees the charity going in the future. 

Why did you decide to become a Trustee for SEA? 

Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, SEA’s founding CEO, asked me to come on board and help with setting up the charity from the start. Given I’ve only worked in the corporate sector during my career, I thought this would be something interesting to do and would be completely different from my daily role in corporate banking.  

I saw Nicola’s passion for shining a spotlight on economic abuse and following the inaugural trustee meeting, I felt that I could assist in bringing some of my skillset to help the charity in its infancy. The other founding trustees had a wide range of experiences and views, and it was felt that as a group we would be able to make her dream work as a reality.  

We were thrilled when SEA obtained a grant from the Tampon Tax fund to undertake the Economic Justice Project, which was to last 3 years, and the rest is now history. Back in 2017, I don’t think any of us thought that SEA would grow at this speed or become as prominent.  

We never imagined that SEA would successfully call for economic abuse to be included in the new statutory definition of domestic abuse or go on to influence the government to extend the coercive and controlling behaviour legislation to include post-separation abuse. 

As a founding Trustee, how has the charity grown over the past six years and how have you been involved in that growth? 

The growth has been phenomenal. The charity itself has grown from one part time employee and four founding trustees to 26 full and part time employees and 12 trustees. Our grant income was £36K that first year and has grown to £1.4million in the current financial year.  

Over the years, my role has been as Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee. I have moved from being very hands on in the early years, helping with the setting up of bank accounts and payroll, to signing off on each expense payment on a weekly basis. Now, we have a specialist finance team, and my role has changed to a challenge and oversight position and one assisting with SEA’s strategy going forward.  

In your opinion, what have been SEA’s greatest achievements since the organisation was founded? 

This is a difficult one as there have been so many in such a short space of time. As a founding trustee, I am so proud that SEA is now known throughout the country as the “go to” charity in the sector for professionals or people wanting to know more about economic abuse. It was incredible that in the charity’s first three years, SEA was recognised by the charity sector with its awards back in 2020. SEA won two Third Sector Awards and its CEO, Nicola Sharp-Jeffs was also awarded an OBE for services to victims of domestic and economic abuse. 

Personally, lunching in parliament in December 2017 for our official launch with Victoria Atkins, then Home Office Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, who was supporting the work SEA was undertaking, was a real highlight.  

But the greatest achievement so far has to be SEA successfully influencing the Government regarding the amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, leading to post-separation abuse becoming a criminal offence. Being able to provide a platform so that more people can hear victim-survivor voices in the future will be one of the biggest wins thus far.  

What do you hope to see in SEA’s future as an organisation? 

SEA wants to stop economic abuse forever, and its ambitious strategy sets out the path to achieving that.  

Only two in five people are currently aware that economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse, so continuing to grow public awareness of economic abuse and keeping the issue foremost in people’s minds on a day-to-day basis is paramount.  

SEA’s work in the financial services sector has achieved so much already, including working with UK Finance to shape the 2021 Financial Abuse Code and the training delivered to banks and other financial services. I hope that all banks, building societies, insurance companies, housing associations, etc, will undertake SEA’s specialist training, so that all victim-survivors of economic abuse get the best response every time they reach out for support. 

What would you tell someone thinking about becoming a trustee? 

Do it. It’s a great way of meeting a diverse group of people from different walks of life and will likely be completely different from anything you do in your day-to-day role. Go for something in an area that you are passionate about or in an area where you believe you will bring something new to the charity in your role as Trustee.  

Once people have discovered I am a Trustee for SEA, I have had a lot of people asking for further information because they may have friends or relatives going through some sort of coercive control such as economic abuse. Being a spokesperson for a charity, being part of the trustee board and being able to help from afar is something I am immensely proud of.