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Women’s refuge founder dies aged 60
DEDICATED Jenni Manners MBE, who spent more than half her life helping victims of domestic violence in Swindon, has died.
Jenni, who ran the Swindon Women’s Refuge, had been battling cancer for a number of years, but passed away last Saturday at the age of 60.
She first became involved with the voluntary group that set up the refuge as a 24-year-old single mother after suffering abuse during her own marriage.
Months later she was running it and was regarded nationally as an expert on the subject of domestic violence and rape.
In 1999, she was named the Swindon Advertiser ’s Citizen of the Millennium after she inspired the Allied Dunbar charitable trust’s decision to pour more than £2m into providing and extending women’s refuges elsewhere in the country.
In 2003, she received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honour List, which she regarded as a tribute not to herself, but to all the people who made the refuge possible.
Jenni was well-known in the town and tributes have flooded in since she passed away.
Her son Simon, 41, said: “Jenni was a truly loved daughter, sister, mother and grandmother and a trusted friend to many.
“She lived all her life here in Swindon next to the refuge – she believed in staying true to the cause and that was here in Swindon.”
Derek Benfield, who was Swindon Mayor from 2003 until 2004, chose the women’s refuge as one of his charities of the year during his time in the role.
“Jenni was unbelievably kind and considerate,” he said.
“She was beautiful and lovely and a really caring individual.
“She was given an honour by the Queen and it couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person.”
Derek raised about £9,000 for the women’s refuge during his year as mayor, including £1,000 which was given to him as part of an award from Thames Water.
“When I was mayor I ran an operatic dinner and Jenni was one of my guests. “She found out that my wife Pam and I had a favourite song called Enchanted Evening. “Unbeknown to me, Jenni went up to one of the performers and asked him to sing it. That was typical of Jenni,” he said.
“She was a model for many people in this town to look up to. “I don’t think you would find anybody that would say anything disrespectful about her.”
Francis Wakem was a close friend of Jenni’s, having spent 10 years as chairman of Victim Support Wiltshire, while Jenni was deputy chairman.
He said: “I worked very closely with Jenni, she was a wonderful lady, very knowledgeable. What she has done for victims of domestic violence is just tremendous – she was a legend in her own lifetime for what she achieved locally as well as nationally.”
Jenni and her outstanding work with domestic abuse victims was especially well known within Wiltshire Police.
Detective Inspector Matt Stone, of the Swindon Public Protection Department, said: “It would be fair to say that anyone who worked in domestic abuse in Swindon knew Jenni Manners.
“She was passionate about protecting and supporting those who suffered abuse and this passion did not diminish over the years.
“This was reflected in her knowledge and understanding of domestic violence issues.
“This knowledge was shared with others to ensure the best possible outcomes were achieved for all concerned and she was instrumental in raising awareness and challenging cultural beliefs.
“She recognised the importance of working with partners in Wiltshire Police at all levels, from the probationary police constables in their first few weeks to various chief constables making sure they were all welcome to visit the refuge.
“Jenni expressed her experiences and observations in poetry which she frequently shared with police staff. Her commitment, dedication and passion has shaped and influenced our strategic priorities and response to domestic abuse and she will be sadly missed.”
Her funeral will be held on September 14 at Kingsdown Crematorium at 1.30pm.