On a cold January morning I went to visit the Aurora Foundation for People Abused in Childhood. Based in south west London they operate from an unassuming terraced house that sits between a busy main road and the tranquillity of Richmond Park. Leaving the noise of the A3 firmly behind as the door closes, you enter a calm and peaceful space; comfortable chairs and cushions centred around a coffee table encourage interaction, there’s tea and coffee on offer and the kitchen backs on to a garden creating a warm and inviting feel. The house has three therapy rooms, all of which are cosy and put you at ease.
Aurora was set up by Susannah Faithful in 2006 as a result of both her experiences as a survivor of childhood abuse and her professional work as a therapist with adult victims. The importance of access to ongoing therapy for people who have experienced childhood trauma is clear but the organisation offers so much more than this. Aurora is a therapeutic community, running workshops and group sessions from a local church as well as the Aurora Choir- as ex-service user Keith told me, “It literally gives us a voice, which is difficult for many of us.”
Other services include body therapies and social meet-ups. One-day Aurora would like to be able to offer residentials. Clients can arrive before their session to ‘settle in’ and can stay afterwards to ‘de-brief’. They also offer telephone support in between sessions if a client is in crisis.
Nick Gauntlett, Aurora CEO and husband to Susannah has a background in mental health research and evaluation as well as being a qualified counsellor. He talked me through Aurora’s recruitment process for taking on new therapists; they are required to volunteer for 6-8 weeks before being interviewed for the post. As part of the interview process they provide counselling to a volunteer client whose feedback influences whether or not they are deemed a good ‘fit’ with the organisation. It is difficult to put your finger on just what it is that makes a person suitable- it can be experience but equally important is making clients feel safe and comfortable, being able to build trust.
For Keith, trust has been one of the hardest things he has had to learn. In fact, he has had to learn about all sorts of emotions on his journey: anger, jealousy, forgiveness, acceptance. Keith believes that sometimes you meet the right person in life at the right time. For him this was a therapist provided through work whom he instinctively trusted and disclosed to. She had the humility to say that Keith needed specialist support, did some research and found out about Aurora. Keith self-referred and says that he immediately felt comfortable in the environment and with the staff. "It gave me hope."
Keith has had some dark times and over the years has accessed different types of support for different issues; what comes across is not just the impact of the therapy but becoming part of a community. “No-one can understand you better than someone who has had the same experience as you,” Keith tells me. He says he has interacted with people that he wouldn’t ordinarily have and has even had conflicts with people- but this is an important part of the recovery process. Keith shares some very painful experiences and I find it emotional. His resilience is incredible, as is his ability for self-reflection. This is a man who has come a long way but you get the sense that he is constantly learning- whilst he has got to a place of acceptance, he will continue to grow. He told me that some of the things he learnt in therapy 40 years ago make sense to him now- you have to be ready to deal with certain issues and "it’s when you don’t know what to do that things tend to fall into place."
This is the difficulty for organisations like Aurora who deliver vital work which has a lasting impact on people’s lives; sometimes the outcomes won’t be apparent until much later in people’s lives. It’s not the easiest sell but this specialist service is changing people’s lives. We discussed the recent coverage of sexual abuse cases and the fact that it is more openly talked about these days. All of those children will grow into adults, and when they do where will they go for support? Nick asked.
The Aurora Foundation for Abused People in Childhood was awarded £34,900 a year for three years from the MOPAC Victims Fund. This funding has gone towards supporting their counselling and therapeutic community support service for adult victims of childhood abuse.
This piece was written for Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, which is being held from the 5 – 11th February this year. Events and conversation are taking part across the UK to say #itsnotokay.