The NSPCC outline that 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused at some point during their childhood and, in 2016 alone, it was documented that 58,000 children were identified as needing protection from abuse. For more than five years, Support for Survivors have offered support to adult survivors of childhood physical and sexual abuse in Nottingham...
Often, when survivors are dealing with the police or counsellors when reporting sexual assault or abuse, they’re speaking to people who don’t necessarily have direct experience of the trauma themselves.
Support for Survivors is run by survivors, for survivors, to help people through the recovery process. Maxine Robinson-Leigh, the founder of the service explains: “Our support is ongoing because everybody’s recovery is different. Our model is based on empowerment and getting the individuals back into our communities.”
The charity started as a self-help group, and is now a service with ten trustees. The lack of support out there for Maxine, throughout her journey of 48 years in and out of mental health services, was a major factor in why she felt that a service like this was needed. The charity provides one-to-one support, group therapy, advocacy outreach, as well as mediation for family intervention. They also offer management survivor programmes and help with legalities, working alongside the police and NHS services to meet the individual needs of each person.
Paula Brennan is a prime example of the continued support the service provides: “I started as a service user and I’m now a volunteer events coordinator and the LGBTQ+ network leader,” she says. “Support for Survivors gives you the strength and support to be able to build yourself up into a position where you’re helping others.”
Up until the age of two, Paula lived with her biological parents, and they were both alcoholics: “They were quite abusive to each other and they used to lock me in cupboards, tie me in my cot. Things like that,” she continues. Paula was eventually placed into foster care but was subjected to further abuse while in the system. “I always felt like the black sheep who disappointed the family. Between the ages of nine and ten, while I was in foster care, I was sexually abused. At sixteen, I finally got the courage to tell my foster mother what had happened, and I basically got kicked out. Social services are still involved, though.”
Paula was then put into housing for vulnerable people with learning disabilities, and at the age of seventeen, she met a long-term partner, and yet again endured abuse. “I was with him for ten years, and there was a lot of abuse involved,” says Paula. “I ended up losing four children. Two to abuse from him.”
Paula started to open up about her mental health struggles, and in June 2016 she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, plus generalised anxiety and depression, after going through various psychiatrists, Community Psychiatric Nurses [CPNs] and suicide attempts. “I’ve taken overdoses and self-harmed just because of not feeling like I’ve been good enough, or I don’t deserve to be here,” says Paula. “I hated myself for a long, long time. Couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror because I was just disgusted.” It wasn’t until Paula began working with Support for Survivors that she gained the confidence and strength she needed to face the next chapter of her life.
Paula was directed to the service by the Nottingham Recovery College, and has been with the charity since last November: “It’s been a hard journey, but it’s been a really good journey,” she says. In recent months, Paula has organised a football match as a way to raise funds for the service: “To know that you can help other people that have been in the same situation as you… there are no words for it, really,” she says. The match, which took place at Harvey Hadden Sports Village, ended with a small presentation, and Paula was presented with an award for her consistent hard work and fundraising efforts.
“It was last November that I started coming to Support for Survivors,” says Paula. “Things started to make sense, and I’m doing so much better. Now I’ve near enough got to the point where I can go to the police. All that strength has come from Support for Survivors.”
During the match, I spoke with several people about the service itself and Paula’s achievements. Founder Maxine shares: “It’s been an amazing journey. She now has a voice. She wants to get stuck in. She wants to help others.” Among the many who are proud of Paula is her partner Kelly, who was helping with the raffle and cheering the players on from the sidelines.
Kelly talks about the charity’s influence in Paula’s life: “It’s been a long journey, she’s done amazing. She wouldn’t have left the house six or seven months ago, so this is a massive step for us. If it weren’t for them, she wouldn’t be where she is today. Doing this was a massive challenge for her because of how poorly she’s been, but she’s managed to get all her friends here, as well as people we don’t know. I’m so proud of her.”
Paula’s mentor, Marilyn, was another person keen to share the progress Paula has made in the last several months. She explained how Paula had gained a lot of confidence through working with Support for Survivors and was a lot more social and interactive. She says that the charity and its support network has played a big part in overcoming many personal obstacles: “I’m just so proud of her, she was one of my first ladies [to be mentored on the service].”
From the fundraising match, £279.48 was raised for Support for Survivors, and the charity is now looking to set up a football club, with Paula having been directly approached about taking a lead role on the project. There are a lot of activities in the pipeline for future fundraising events and Paula, along with the Support for Survivors team, are enthusiastic to see just what the future holds for the service.
“I would say to any survivor that’s out there, Support for Survivors is the best thing that I’ve ever done,” says Paula. “I think it’s the best thing any survivor can do, because you have so much support and there’s so much understanding. If you are willing to take that chance, there is something better for you. That’s what I really believe, and that’s what I’ve been shown.”
Support for Survivors is located at Sherwood Community Centre, Woodthorpe House, Mansfield Road Nottingham NG5 3FN. To get in touch, you can either call the service on 07815 715 698, email [email protected], or visit the website.