Press Release

22 July 2021

Refuge welcomes new trustees and committee members

Refuge welcomes two new trustees to its board of trustees and three independent sub-committee members as the charity’s governance goes from strength to strength

This month Refuge welcomes two new trustees, James Watson-O’Neill and Jon Rowney, to its board of trustees. James and Jon join eight other trustees and chair who oversee the charity’s work, delivered by CEO Ruth Davison.

Jon and James will be pivotal to the development of Refuge’s new five year strategy; selected as a result of their professional expertise and experience and their commitment to Refuge’s values.

Refuge’s current board of trustees, led by Chair Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, provide governance oversight and leadership on the future direction of Refuge. Hetti Barworth-Nanton said: ‘The introduction of new Trustees to our Board and independent committee members is part of our ongoing journey to increase the diversity and experiences across Refuge, including our Board. James and Jon join Refuge at an important time. Not only are we strengthening our governance structures, but also undertaking a strategic review to inform the development of a new five year strategy. The skills, experience and passion Jon and James bring to Refuge will hold us in good stead as we move forward.

‘James, a leader in disability rights and developing services for adults and services, is chief executive of the Deaf health charity SignHealth and has worked in the charity sector since 2001. It was James’ experience in equality, diversity and inclusion, alongside his commitment to justice and his clear alignment with Refuge’s feminist values, which made him the perfect candidate for this role.’ Said Barkworth-Nanton.

‘Our second appointment, Jon, is executive director of corporate services for the London Borough of Camden. His wealth of housing, welfare and social care experience adds specialist expertise to Refuge’s board. Jon joins as Treasurer to Refuge, and not only brings his financial acumen to the organisation, but also a deep commitment to the work Refuge does and its commitment end domestic abuse and all violence against women and girls.

‘This is an exciting year for Refuge – in November the organisation turns 50 and as we approach our sixth decade of running life-saving and life-changing services for women and children across the country these appointments will make Refuge more robust for the future. We are thrilled to welcome James and Jon.’

Alongside the two trustee appointments Refuge’s board has appointed three independent committee members. Barkworth-Nanton said ‘Vanessa, Leon, and Rachael each bring unique and brilliant experience and perspectives to our work and I am really excited to see the contribution they will bring’.

Vanessa Sanyauke will join the People, Remuneration and Nominations Committee
Leon Ward will join the Safeguarding Committee
Rachael Crook will join the Services Committee

Notes to editors
James Watson-O’Neill is Chief Executive of the Deaf health charity SignHealth which provides a range of services, including the only specialist domestic abuse service for Deaf women delivered by Deaf women, directly in British Sign Language. James has worked in the charity sector since 2001, including a variety of roles at Scope and the NSPCC and has significant experience in leading operational services at a strategic level, including a wide range of residential and educational services for adults and children. James is a trustee of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group; a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce; and a Leadership Fellow at the Society of Leadership Fellows at the College of St George at Windsor Castle.
Jon Rowney is the Executive Director Corporate Services in the London Borough of Camden. Jon has over twenty years experience working in local government across a range of social policy areas including housing, education, welfare and health and social care. Jon previously worked in London Councils, working with all London Boroughs, the Mayor of London, the GLA and central government on how London government could become more independent and shape services for benefit of its residents and communities.

Leon Ward is the Programme Innovations Director at the national education charity Future First. His background is in youth social action and education and so brings a deep understanding of working with children and young people safely. His career has largely been launching and growing charities in Wales; having done this for three national organisations over the last 6 years. Alongside his executive career, Leon is an experienced trustee having served on the boards of Plan UK, Interact Worldwide, Leap Confronting Conflict and Brook Young People, where he is Deputy Chair. He’s also a member of the organisational development committee at The Children’s Society. Leon was also one of the founding members of the Young Trustees Movement and has published several best practices guides around diversifying trustee boards.

Rachael Crook is the CEO and Co-founder of Lifted, an innovative start up on a mission to fix the care crisis by revolutionising home care. In just over two years, Rachael has grown Lifted to employ more than 100 people, deliver over 50,000 hours of care while retaining exclusively 5 star reviews, and raised over £8 Million in investment. Prior to Co-founding Lifted, Rachael was a consultant with McKinsey and Consultant where she advised FTSE 100 businesses and charities on business strategy and operations. Previously to this Rachael was a Senior Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit advising Cabinet Ministers on how to meet the Government’s highest priority commitments. As a Civil Servant, she set up and led a programme of 17 projects to protect women from female genital mutilation and forced marriage. She led the development of the UK Faith leaders; declaration against FGM, signed by every major faith in the UK. Rachael holds a BA (Hons) First Class from University of Warwick and an MPhil from the University of Oxford. Rachael is also a volunteer on the National Domestic Violence Helpline run by Refuge which inspired her desire to get more deeply involved.

Vanessa Sanyauke is a multi award-winning and globally recognised diversity and inclusion leader and social entrepreneur as the Founder of Girls Talk London, a global community that connects women with global businesses via programmes, events and digital content. Vanessa has 14 years of experience in diversity, inclusion, responsible business and sustainability working in the financial services, technology and government. Her expertise is in creating and executing global diversity, inclusion and sustainability strategies and programmes. She was listed as #15 in the Financial Times, Yahoo Finance and EMpower top ethnic minority future leaders in Europe, U.S and Canada. Recognised as one of 30 people changing the world by the London Business School and one of London’s most influential people by the Evening Standard Newspaper. Recognised as a thought leader in Diversity, Equality and Inclusion by Sir Richard Branson and Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and in The Guardian, Cosmopolitan magazine, Sunday Times Style magazine, Stylist magazine, The Evening Standard newspaper, Yahoo Finance, Financial Times, London Business School Review and Data Economy magazine.


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About Refuge:

Refuge supports more than 7,000 women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.