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Cannock: Jill Saward remembered in Christmas Tree Festival

A tree decorated in memory of the sexual violence campaigner Jill Saward is on display at the Christmas Tree Festival in St Luke’s Church in Cannock, Staffordshire.

It is almost 11 months since Jill died unexpectedly in January this year after suffering a subarachnoid haemorrhage (stroke) at her home in Cannock.

Jill was a member of St Luke’s Church and regularly exhibited a tree at the festival to promote her campaign against sexual violence and also the hidden disability Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
 
“Jill loved Christmas and would always have a tree at St Luke’s Christmas Tree Festival,” Jill Saward’s  widower, Gavin Drake, said. “She would dress as an elf (see photo right) and remain at the church during the festival to chat with members of the public who came to see the trees. It was one of the ways she would bring joy to people.

“It was a difficult experience decorating the tree yesterday. I could feel Jill’s presence – telling me off for doing it wrong! I haven’t decorated a Christmas Tree for around 20 years. Jill knew how she wanted them to look, so at home, she had responsibility for decorating the Christmas Tree and I took charge of the Christmas lunch.”
 
The star on top of the tree in memory of Jill Saward features the logo of the 16-Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence – the annual international campaign that runs from International Women’s Day on 25 November to Human Rights Day on 10 December.
 
The tinsel is dark red – “the closest I could find to purple, a colour that is often associated with the campaign against sexual violence,” Gavin Drake said. The lights are white and the baubles are silver. “This signifies purity,” he said. “Victims and survivors of sexual violence often say that they feel dirty, defiled, and ugly. But they shouldn’t. Globally, the Mothers’ Union are campaigning during the 16-Days under the mantra ‘Break the Silence, Lift the Shame, and Shift the Blame.’ And that sums up the nub of Jill’s campaign in a sentence.”
 
The tree also contains a number of paper baubles, on which are printed some of the laws that changed as a result of Jill’s campaigning work and the widespread public and political revulsion at her attack – dubbed the Ealing Vicarage Rape Case. 

These include greater anonymity for victims of sexual violence; the right of victims to submit statements about the impact of the crime, which have to be considered during sentencing; the public’s right to appeal against unduly lenient sentences; and a ban on defendants personally cross-examining their accusers in court.
 
Gavin Drake commented: “Some people may feel that sexual violence and Christmas is an odd mix. But the reality is that Christmas is a season when many women and girls will experience violence – and especially sexual violence – at the hands of men; whether it is an abusive partner, a colleague at a work-place Christmas party, or a stranger.
 
“Exhibiting a tree with this theme is a simple way of continuing her work and remembering Jill and how much she loved Christmas.”
 
The tree in memory of Jill Saward is one of a number displayed at St Luke’s Christmas Tree Festival at St Luke’s Church, Church Street, Cannock, WS11 1DE. The festival is open today, Friday 1 December, and tomorrow Saturday 2 December, from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm each day. Admission is free.

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