"My name is Laura Riley and I am the founder of Mums In Need (MIN). Before MIN, I worked as a health care professional in mental health, and I am still a registered nurse and very occasionally practice. Now I run a charity to help mothers who have been where I once was.
"I was in an abusive relationship when I was 26. I met a man who seemed kind, charming, funny and very caring, and I fell in love. But then I became pregnant and cracks began to appear in the relationship. He manipulated our financial situation so that I was paying all the rent and he gradually started to isolate me from my friends and family. Friends stopped coming round because he would make it obvious they weren’t welcome in our home; he’d make snide comments about them or humiliate me so they felt uncomfortable being with us.
"As the pregnancy progressed, my ex manipulated our relationship so I was to blame for everything that went wrong – his usual reason for this was that I was 'hormonal'. One day, I found a hole in a door which had been covered up by a poster. His daughter from a previous relationship told me that he had punched a hole in the wall during one of his rages. It was then that I realised he had serious anger issues. He started going out and would drive back steaming drunk. He would borrow my car, get parking tickets then refuse to pay. He would tell me to write him blank cheques so he could make payments to whoever he wanted. I stupidly allowed him access to my bank account and he ran up a huge overdraft, which he then refused to pay back. When we argued, I was always in the wrong and he would never accept my point of view.
"When my son arrived, I tried to play happy families, but his bullying began to escalate further. He took money from my son’s bank account and refused to replace it. He used to shout and swear at me, standing millimetres from my face. I felt intimidated and scared on a daily basis.
"When my son was one and I stopped breastfeeding, he asked me to leave. His intention was to take me to court and gain custody of our son. Although relieved to finally be out of the relationship, I was terrified about going to court and battling with him. He’d already been to court with his ex-partner and the process had lasted 11 years.
"At the beginning of the split, we set up an arrangement for our son almost immediately. My ex was to have him while I worked three days a week and I was to have him the remainder of the time. But the problems began within weeks. I would go to collect my son and he wouldn’t be home. He would switch his phone off and I wouldn’t know where my son was. This happened on multiple occasions. The nursery would call me to ask where my son was because my ex would simply refuse to take him there. He began harassing me for money and making demands that I pay his bills even though I was no longer living in his flat. Whenever we had contact, he became hostile and aggressive. He would shout abuse at me over the phone and throw things around the house in anger.
"I was terrified he would take out his anger on our son – a side of him I had seen when we were together. Eventually, I told him I would keep my son with me until he could sort out his anger problems, and at this point he threatened to burn my house down. I went to the police, but other than giving me a reference number, they didn’t take the matter further.
"An arduous legal battle ensued in which I found myself completely unsupported by the legal system. The fact that he was an emotional abuser wasn’t recognised by the courts, and each week I found myself handing over my son into a home situation that was potentially unsafe for him. On one occasion, a neighbour informed me that there had been an incident at his home and the police had removed his daughter from there for her own safety. I had no idea what had happened and was terrified about leaving my son with him when I didn’t know what the police were accusing him of. I sought legal advice from my solicitor who advised me I would still have to hand my son over regardless.
"I felt I wasn’t listened to and that my child’s safety and emotional needs weren’t being met. I felt completely alone and unsupported by the legal structures that were supposedly in place to protect me and my child. During this time, I felt I was merely surviving and I was scared my life would be like this forever. I underwent an immense amount of stress, loss of money and mental anguish as a result. I wanted to do the right thing and to try and achieve the best possible outcome for my son, so I kept to my side of the arrangement and allowed my son to have contact with his father, despite my fears.
"The original court case began in 2009 and ended in 2011. Unfortunately, due to physical and emotional safety concerns that I had, the matter returned to court in 2013. It stopped and then started again in 2015 and lasted for a year. It took me some time to accept that I had to go through the family courts again, but I have now learnt to accept that no matter how hard things get and how difficult the battle is, it is worth fighting for the safety of our children.
"It’s been incredibly difficult- but I have been able to rebuild my life and am now in a good place. I am married to a very loving, caring man, who has supported me 100% in setting up Mums In Need. Now that I’ve come through this, I feel so strongly about supporting others who have been through similar and to give them the help that I never got but so desperately needed”
You can find out more about how Laura set up Mums In Need from this Unison article.
In 2019, Laura was nominated for Stylist's Remarkable Woman of the Year Award. You can read more about this here.