A woman's hands work on a bright pink craft flower

Durham PCVC support survivors of rape and sexual abuse.

“It can only make a community safer – to have strong women at the heart of it. Everything we do is about empowering women and helping them to feel in control of their lives.” 

Isabel Owens is deputy chief executive of the Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre, a charity run by and for women living in County Durham and Darlington.  

Before the pandemic, the centre ran regular groups to support survivors of rape and sexual abuse: including a peer support group and a Recovery Toolkit group. 

Isabel explained: “For the peer support group, all of the participants are women, and all are survivors, so it’s a very safe space with no hierarchy, where they can talk, catch up and exchange skills. We have a woman in the group who is a quilter, and another is a watercolourist – crafts have always been really appreciated within this group.” 

Durham PCVC support survivors

Now, thanks to a £9,000 grant from the Community Safety Fund, funded by the Office of the Durham Police, Crime & Victims’ Commissioner,  Isabel is confident that this support can continue throughout 2021, despite the pandemic. The fund is managed by County Durham Community Foundation and supports causes that make communities safer.

She said: “Due to the pandemic, our groups had to stop, and that was really significant because those groups are often supporting some of the most vulnerable survivors. These women may have mental health issues, other health issues or multiple challenges in their lives, and peer support really helps. 

“Though we have kept in touch with the women who use our services, we have found that many of them need support even more, because they were already carrying so much. The pandemic and the withdrawal of other services has been very hard on them.” 

Community Foundations

Now the Peer Support group has restarted and the funding will allow the centre to run two of their Recovery Toolkit courses next year – 12-week programmes where survivors can learn skills to help them cope, feel empowered and move on with their lives.  

Isabel added: “It’s the mark of a strong community that we can offer safe spaces for survivors. 

“The survivors of sexual violence who access our services often request group support from us. However, we currently only have the capacity to deliver a limited number each year.  

“This means the demand for group support is much higher than we can currently meet. Support from this grant will help us meet this demand.”