Financial support to pay for an Uckfield course run by HomeStart to help victims of domestic abuse was ruled out by town councillors on Monday (December 3).
The application for £5,000 came from HomeStart to pay for the 11-week, £5,500 course which would run in a “confidential and safe location”.
Women attending would also receive support in-between attending the programme with signposting to other community support.
The grant application was overlooked during the town council’s usual grants-awarding process in September and, as a result, came before the full council for a decision.
Members of the public can speak, with permission, on items on the town council’s agenda and during the period reserved for such contributions, Michael Lunn, criticised HomeStart.
Later, when councillors discussed the application for a grant, it was clear Mr Lunn’s intervention had made a mark.
Mr Lunn began by saying that he thought everyone could agree that any form of domestic abuse was unacceptable.
“However, I recently read in the UckfieldNews that you have an agenda item tonight to decide a grant application for the charity HomeStart.
“HomeStart, as I understand, is a small, positive charity supporting mothers who are struggling for a multitude of reasons.
“Its volunteers are not necessarily trained professionals but they do get training and are vetted.
“Historically, I understand HomeStart supports younger children and their mothers.
“Little or no support is given to the fathers.”
Mr Lunn, who was speaking as a private person, although he is a Wealden district councillor, said that when he learned HomeStart was applying for a £5,000 grant for a domestic violence course for women, known as the Freedom programme, he immediately had concerns.
“First, domestic abuse has no boundaries. It can affect anyone, at any time in any place.
“It can affect the young, the old, straight, gay, males, females, it can affect anyone of us at any time.
“There is no support for male victims.
“This is, of course restricted to women only.
“Indeed, it is more than that, it is a 12-week Freedom Programme with very much a feminist agenda.
“I have got the book of the Freedom Programme and I have read it in detail and it is disturbingly biased against men.
“Members may be interested to know that West Sussex County Council has withdrawn all funding for the Freedom Programme.
“I believe domestic abuse services need to be balanced and appropriate to the needs of the community.
“You may be interested to know there are multiple refuges in Sussex for women and it is only right that is in place but there is no support for men.
“In fact, there is only one refuge for men in the whole of the country.”
50% for supporting men
Mr Lunn said if the town council was minded to give a grant, 50 per cent of the total should be mandated for supporting men.
During the debate on the application, Cllr Paul Sparks, Liberal Democrat, Uckfield North, said before the meeting he had been minded to give HomeStart some money.
He said Mr Lunn had raised some very compelling arguments which he had not considered, but should have done.
His resolution that HomeStart that should not receive a grant was accepted by councillors.
Cllr Helen Firth, Conservative, Central Ward, said if a grant were to be made it should cover everyone, respective of gender and “we cannot keep handing out money. We have limited income”.
Cllr Daniel Manvell, Labour, Uckfield North, said he had spoken to someone before the meeting who worked for a domestic violence charity and they had read the UckfieldNews article.
He said the person had concerns about the people who would be running the course and their qualifications.
Cllr Duncan Bennett, Trust Independent, New Town, said that each year the council was faced with a gamut of grant applications and not all were successful.
“We cannot guarantee it is for Uckfield people and there is a level of controversy built up around it,” he said.
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