Staff

Staff

Matthew Smerdon

Matthew joined LEF in October 2013 as its first chief executive.

He has had longstanding involvement in the role of law as a tool for social justice, both through grantmaking and work in delivery charities. Matthew has worked in the foundation sector since 2004 when he joined the Baring Foundation as deputy director.

Previously, he was director of community work at Community Links in east London, where he continued as an advisor from 2004-2012; and, from 2007-2009, was seconded to the Prime Minister’s Council on Social Action. He is the author of publications on legal advice, social action, public services, the voluntary sector and grant-making.

Deborah Acquaah

Deborah joined LEF in 2022.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Deborah worked as an immigration adviser at Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre where she advised and supported individuals seeking leave to remain under the EU Settlement scheme.

She is an unregistered barrister with a background in legal and programme management, having worked in a variety of organisations including Support through Court, the Free Representation Unit and King’s Legal Clinic, King’s College London.

As Justice First Fellowship Manager, Deborah will work closely with colleagues to oversee the management of our Justice First Fellowship programme, assisting with the assessment of grants and providing support to both our Fellows and Host organisations.

Outside of work, Deborah is a Sunday school teacher at her local church and plays basketball in a local London league.

Farah Al-Haddad

Farah has international work experience in the Third Sector across research, education and programme delivery, with a focus on refugees and asylum seekers. Her previous role at Resourcing Racial Justice has sparked her interest in grant making. She was awarded multiple scholarships, culminating in obtaining a MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) specialising in Women, Peace and Security Studies. Her dissertation focused on men and masculinities among Syrian refugees. Farah is also a member of an all-women’s dance company called ‘Hawiyya’ [identity].

Usha Allear

Usha joined LEF in March 2023 as finance officer.

She is responsible for processing supplier invoices, claims and payments and account reconciliations.
Usha has held a variety of roles in charity organisations including Finance Manager at the Academy of Medical Sciences and is actively studying with ACCA.

Anna Béar

Anna joined LEF in 2023 and is responsible for planning and delivering communications at the Foundation across our different programmes of work, including amplifying the work of our grant partners. She also manages LEF’s website content and social media channels.

Before joining LEF, Anna worked in communications at charities, most recently at Carers UK where her focus was on policy and campaigns. She has a background in English literature and outside of work enjoys reading, cooking and walking around London.

Belinda Berry

Belinda is the Operations Manager and has worked at LEF since 2012.

She is part of the administration team that provides a wide range of support to our governors and executive team, which includes grant administration and systems, facilities management, HR and diary management, collating and producing meeting papers and helping to organise special events, including the Justice First Fellowship conferences and annual dinner.

Belinda previously worked at the College of Law, first in student services, and then as assistant college secretary, providing admin support to the trustees and board of management.

Jennifer Burgess

Jenny is an administration officer and joined LEF in 2017.

She is part of our team that provides a wide range support to LEF’s governors and executive team, which includes helping to organise the Justice First Fellowship conferences and dinner, co-ordinating the fellowship interview process, and collating meeting papers.

Paresh Dodhia

Paresh joined the LEF in September 2024 as Head of Finance.

Paresh is a qualified Chartered Accountant,  He has longstanding experience in senior finance positions in the not-for-profit sector with organisations of differing sizes – international, national and regional.

His passion is to apply his professional skills to lead a finance function that is responsive, highly effective and empowers decision-making whilst maintaining the integrity of compliance requirements

Fidelia Elias

Prior to starting at Justice Together Initiative, Fidelia worked as a Grants Officer for the Research Project Grant scheme at the Leverhulme Trust. Her other experience has been varied and ranges from teaching in a state school in Bucaramanga, Colombia, to administrative work at a number of London schools and working at a Buddhist centre in South London. She has also volunteered and fundraised for a number of small London based charities.

She has a degree in Psychology (with a dissertation on the emotional response to music), is based in South London and when time permits is usually found meditating or experimenting with yet another recipe for pistachio and lemon cake.

Sarah Fullegar

Sarah joined the Foundation in January 2024 as the Senior Operations Officer with a focus on the Foundation’s Governance. Sarah has worked within the not-for-profit sector with a focus on social justice across housing, health and the wider community for many years.

She completed her BA(Hons) in Media with Cultural Studies and holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Communities, Organisations and Social Change.

Hannah Hajee-Adam

Hannah joined LEF in February 2024. Prior to this, she spent five years working as a Finance Officer at the Savitri Trust, a small family trust supporting the health of people and planet in India and beyond. She has recently completed an MSc in Environment, Politics and Development at SOAS. Her dissertation focused on exploring feminist approaches to climate justice.

Julia Himmrich

Julia oversees the policy work of the foundation, including the Fairer Systems funding strand. Previously she worked in the third sector and academia and before joining the LEF in March 2023 she advised the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on EU-UK relations and worked in the Public Policy team of ESRC (UKRI). Until 2022 Julia was a board member of the Work Rights Centre (WoRC).

Sheena Khanna

Sheena joined the LEF in September 2020 as Grants Officer. She moved to the role of Power, Culture and Inclusion Lead in December 2023 .

Her background in funding started at Arts Council England where she worked on project grants and developing and managing International grants. Prior to joining LEF, Sheena spent five years freelancing in the contemporary dance and theatre sector as producer, project manager and fundraiser. She specialised in disability arts having been a producer for disabled artists and freelanced at Unlimited, a funding programme for disabled artists. She is passionate about disability rights as well as wider social justice issues of marginalised groups.

As Power Culture and Inclusion Lead, Sheena’s work crosses the foundation and is focused on developing our diversity, equity and anti-oppressive practices, internally and externally.

Jake Lee

Jake joined the Foundation in 2016.

He spent 10 years at A&O, initially as an EU lawyer, before managing its global pro bono and charity programme. He has particular expertise of immigration systems from his role at Unbound Philanthropy (part-time).

Jake has worked with multiple trustee boards and advisory committees, including advising on the incorporation of Justice Collaborations, which hosts Justice Together, a funder collaboration that helps people who use the UK immigration system to access justice and thrive.

He was the first in his family to attend university, and understands the barriers people face entering and progressing through the legal profession. He was closely involved in the creation of the Justice First Fellowship, and continues to seek new ways of ensuring sustainable careers for social justice lawyers.

Joy Matthew

Joy has a background in law and is studying the LLM. She previously completed the 2027 placement scheme, which is designed to introduce lived experience individuals into the funding sector. Joy is now exploring the philanthropic space and has a particular interest in network, collaboration, and advocacy. She joins the LEF from two years at the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, working on policy and grant management. She wants grassroots communities to be trusted by funders to lead their own transformation.

Ali McGinley

Ali joined LEF in 2023 as Head of Grants. She manages the grants team and the Foundation’s grant-making processes, as well as overseeing the Justice First Fellowship.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Ali worked in various areas of social justice, with a focus on immigration detention and prisons. Ali was Director of the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detention (AVID) for over a decade, building and developing a national network of support for people in detention and leading on policy and influencing. Ali was a founding member of the Detention Forum, a civil society coalition advocating for detention reform.

Ali previously held roles with Amnesty International and HM Inspectorate of Prisons. She is currently a Trustee of the Bromley Trust.

Alex Mik

Alex has worked and volunteered in a range of places addressing migration issues, from the British Red Cross Refugee Services in Nottinghamshire, to the Azerbaijan Migration Centre in Baku, as well as spending several years as a caseworker for a busy immigration and asylum practice in North London. He also has experience of project design, fundraising and coordinating a network of lawyers from across Europe.

He has a law degree (although this feels like a long time ago now for him) and a Masters in International Relations. When not working, you might find him swimming or at the cinema.

Charlotte Peel

Charlotte Peel joined the Foundation in 2022.

She started her career at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, where her research contributed to strategic litigation challenging the immigration rules preventing families from being together in the UK and highlighted the discriminatory impacts of the government’s hostile environment policy. She then moved to Ipsos MORI, where she led and managed mixed-methods and qualitative research and evaluations as an Associate Director in the Public Affairs department. Her research has covered a range of topics, including refugee resettlement, immigration, community integration, and modern slavery.

Charlotte sees social research as an important way to bring different perspectives to light, champion lesser-herd voices and give people the opportunity to shape the laws, policies and programmes that affect their lives.

As Learning Manager, Charlotte supports colleagues and grantees to strengthen their approach to learning and evidence by providing advice, developing ways for the Foundation capture and share learning systematically, and commissioning work.

Adam Pokun

Adam is responsible for all the support services at the Foundation which include HR, finance, IT, governance and administration.

Adam has held a variety of roles in corporate services including Chief Operating Officer at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Head of Corporate Services at the Pensions Ombudsman, and Head of Operations and Fundraising at the Early Intervention Foundation.

Annie Rockson

Annie is a writer, poet and has worked in the charity sector for 9 years. She has an MA in Human Rights and a degree in Law and International Studies . Annie has over 5 years experience in co-production and is passionate about building networks to bring about social change.

She set up a working group led by minoritised communities in 2019 alongside the local Community Development Agency. The aim of the group was to transform the provision of mental health services for minoritised communities in the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. This influenced provision of mental health services in the borough.

She additionally led multi sector networks consisting of youth services, young people and other agencies such as businesses and local authorities to inspire cross- sector collaboration and create opportunities for young people.

Sara Salehzehi

Sara joined LEF in January 2024.

She graduated in 2020 with an English Literature degree and then did a conversion course to complete her master’s in psychology and graduated from Birkbeck in 2021.

Prior to working for LEF, Sara worked for the Royal College of Psychiatrists. She has expertise in administration, managing various projects and coordination. She provides administration and project support across the organisation.

 

Alex Shedden

Alex joined LEF in March 2022 to carry out day to day operations and development of the Foundation’s Salesforce and other IT systems. A Salesforce Certified Administrator Alex has been active in a wide range of IT services and support roles. Alex is a specialist in Flows, automation, system architecture and business analysis. He brings in-depth knowledge gained working with organisations of all shapes and sizes worldwide, to ensure TLEF delivers the best possible digital experience for its users and partners.

Rachael Takens-Milne

Rachael joined LEF in 2018. She leads the Foundation’s approach to grant-making and learning. She is also co-Director of LEF’s subsidiary charity, Justice Collaborations.

She previously spent more than a decade at Trust for London, assessing and managing grants tackling poverty and inequality in the capital, supporting grantee organisations and leading programmes on safeguarding children’s rights, modern slavery, child sexual exploitation and the Strategic Legal Fund for Vulnerable Young Migrants. She was closely involved in the creation and development of London’s Poverty Profile, including managing its website. Prior employers include Lloyds TSB Foundation, Citizenship Foundation, Marie Curie Cancer Care and the Charity Commission.

Rachael is a longstanding trustee (and formerly treasurer) of Women for Refugee Women, which supports and empowers refugee women to tell their stories and make the case for a fairer asylum system.

Hazel Williams

Hazel has worked and volunteered in the refugee and humanitarian sector for 17 years, in various roles in the UK, Europe and Sudan. Most recently she was the National Director at NACCOM, a national network of organisations working to end destitution amongst migrants. Prior to this she was the Director at the Asylum Support Appeals Project, a charity providing access to justice for people seeking asylum. She is currently the Chair of the Metropolitan Migration Foundation and a consultant Elder with Doulas Without Borders.

She has a degree in Law, and is based in Whitley Bay on the beautiful North East coast, so when she isn’t working she’s on the beach – or sometimes trying to do both!


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