03 August 2005
by Anna Browning
For nearly 10 years, Renee Gallop has given her time to the Lambeth branch of the charity Victim Support, in southeast London.
She has helped thousands overcome the trauma of crime -- everything from pickpocketings to murder -- all for free.
At 81, the grandmother of six might have been forgiven for taking it easy, but instead she spends a day a week in the Victim Support office, while other days can be taken up with home visits.
"In my case I feel I am giving them one-fifth of a member of staff by doing one day a week, which is quite a help. That's a nice feeling that you can give that help," said Mrs Gallop, who lives in Dulwich, south-east London.
"The other reason I do it is the help one gives to victims, either by telephone or in the flesh. They often say afterwards they feel so much better now, and that's wonderful.
"If I can help people feel better than that is better than financial reward, I think."
Since January, the Lambeth office has dealt with more than 10,500 cases, thanks to a pool of 40 volunteers, as well as two full-time and three part-time staff.
While there are always plenty of people offering to help, the massive workload means there is always a demand for volunteers.
Training takes around two weeks and volunteers should not themselves be recent victims of crime as their own trauma may impinge on the work they do.
The job can mean anything from helping victims of crime apply for compensation, giving them information on how the courts work, or just lending a sympathetic ear.
"I think you can help people a lot by guiding people to the right place, whether it's a solicitor or a refuge for domestic violence. If you can fix a lock for them without charging, or arrange counselling, they are very, very grateful," said Mrs Gallop.
While they do get a grant from the Home Office and the local authority, it is not enough to cover their expenses, she says, and they all work "incredibly hard".
But its charity status means Victim Support is independent of the police or courts and this can be a positive.
"I think it is probably better to be a totally unbiased group, so people can trust what we're telling them," she said.
She became involved after she was inspired by a talk from a Victim Support manager at a Neighbourhood Watch meeting.
"I was impressed by how much they helped so many people with so few resources."
"The staff are not lawyers and not necessarily trained counsellors, but even if they can only help people so much, they can still guide people to the help they need."
One such case was a woman who was mugged by a young man who lived near her.
"One day he rang her door bell and asked if he could pick up a ball. She said no, she would get it herself, but as she tried to shut the door he pushed her to the floor and laid into her," said Mrs Gallop.
"She was very traumatized. I went to see her and got her £1,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
"It didn't repay her trauma, but it was a sign that the community cares. It was a sort of recognition that she had suffered."
The only time Mrs Gallop has felt "inadequate", she says, was when she was sent to see a mother whose son had been murdered.
"I felt I was useless, nobody could help her. What can you say to a woman whose son has been shot?"
All told, it is a job which can be tough, she admits. "If I did it more than one day a week I would not be able to do the work, I would get so very depressed because you are dealing with very depressing subject matter."
For instance all they could do was advise one woman to go to a refuge - they could not change her violent husband.
"You can't change life and you can't change human nature, but you can try and make the best of it," she said.