‘Survivors Together’ has a simple but transformative aim – to provide a space for women survivors of sexual abuse, outside of their homes and families, where they can socialise with women with similar experiences.
Since 2008, they have run two groups which meet monthly, alongside one-to-one sessions. One group tends to focus more on talking and socialising, with plenty of tea and cake, the other on learning new skills, from exercise to music, self-defence to Mindfulness. Most recently both groups have collaborated to produce an emotional poetry collection reflecting on their personal experiences, and they often have away days from craft and therapy days to seaside trips. Yvonne Fletcher, a woman of warmth and strength, is the Director of Survivors Together. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse herself, Yvonne was inspired to create ‘Survivors Together’ partly due to her own personal experiences, but also by the lack of sustained NHS support for female survivors of sexual abuse in Newham. She felt strongly that women survivors needed a place to continue their healing journey long-term, to confront the complex consequences of sexual abuse outside of traditional therapy and with other women who may understand their experiences.
Yvonne moved to Newham in 1986 to work as a Matron in a care home, but in 2008 was working at the building manager at Memorial Community Church. This huge 1920s church on Barking Road, with its long history of working with local community groups and good transport links, was the perfect site for ‘Survivors Together’. In 2009 the group became a registered charity and began work. In 2011 they were given a three-year grant by the Big Lottery Fund, which in 2015 was extended for a further 5 years. Since 2009 the group has grown rapidly and in 2015 has around 50 members, some of whom have been there since the start.
Yvonne believes this increase is in part due to the number of high-profile sexual abuse cases in recent years – but it is also testament to the success of her approach and the benefits ‘Survivors Together’ has brought. Yvonne and ‘Survivors Together’ plan to continue their work for as long as possible, reaching as many women as they can and expanding their skills and therapy provision to work with more teenage female survivors. Talking to Yvonne, her pride in the group and the dedication she gives it is vividly clear. I imagine ‘Survivors Together’ will continue to offer help to the women of Newham for as long as they need it.