A new state-of-the-art sexual assault referral centre in Nottinghamshire which was created by working closely with people with lived experience was officially opened this week.
The Topaz Centre will support all female and male adult survivors in Nottinghamshire and the new building is designed to vastly expand the capacity of the existing offer in Nottinghamshire and meet new forensic standard requirements, while making survivors feel as comfortable as possible following their traumatic experience.
“When you have been sexually assaulted or raped you are on fight or flight. You are looking around and you notice everything that you don’t need to notice,” said Michelle, one of the people with lived experience who helped shape the new centre.
“So if you’ve got a picture on the wall behind two police officers you focus on that. It distracts you.
“With the new Topaz Centre we tried to make it feel and look as comfortable and aesthetically soothing as you would in your own home so you are not walking into a grey police station.
“The whole process is horrific as it is, so to go to a place that has been decorated and has all the touches like plant pots and pictures and soothing colours – the difference is incomparable. You feel safe and listened to and comfortable. It is going to be absolutely amazing.”
Michelle said she was proud to have played a part in helping shape the centre, which will replace the existing Topaz Centre.
“I used the Topaz Centre,” she said. “It was very small but when you used it, it felt like home. It was supportive. It was somewhere you could run to when you needed to because I had a lot of support from the service.
“To have a brand-new service that is four or five times the size, if not bigger, means it will be more accessible and supportive for people. It’s amazing. It is a tear-jerker to see it open.”
Dame Vera Baird, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, attended to officially open the centre.
She said: “The change you have found you’ve been able to deliver here is an amazing asset and an amazing declaration of how far forward we have come.
“I wanted to particularly mention the survivors who have played a role in this.
“What a service they have done, it’s not a great thing to have to remember that you are a survivor again and again and again.
“But to be able input your wisdom into this for other peoples benefit, what a great piece of work they have done and how well Caroline and Craig have done to listen with such care.”
The centre, which is at an undisclosed location to protect service users, includes two self-contained forensic suites, plus survivor-friendly waiting rooms, a sensory room and office space.
There is also brand new digital recorded interview suite for survivors’ use, as well as dedicated office space and a meeting room for Independent Sexual Violence Advocates to meet with survivors.
The building has been carefully designed, led by Notts Police, who have worked in partnership with survivors, NHS England and Mountain Healthcare Ltd (the sexual assault referral centre provider).
Detective Inspector Gail Routledge is from Nottinghamshire Police’s public protection department, a specialist unit dealing with sexual violence and domestic abuse.
She said: “Being the victim of a rape or sexual assault is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can go through.
“This building has been designed to ensure survivors get the very best support while vital early evidence is secured.
“Ultimately, it is about securing the best possible evidence and driving up conviction rates for these offences.
“I am delighted with this facility and I’m confident that we now have one of the best such facilities in the country.”
The centre, which has cost around £2m, has been funded by Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry, with NHS England contributing £300,000.
Commissioner Henry said: “Sexual assault is one of the most traumatic things anyone can experience in their lifetime, so it is important when we create buildings and services like this that we listen to people who have been through it, so we can limit the trauma in any way we can and learn from their experiences.
“This new facility aims to provide a safe haven for survivors, where they can feel more comfortable as they go through the forensic process, give evidence that could help result in a judicial outcome for the perpetrator, but also to access support for their recovery.”
Ellie King, Senior Public Health Commissioning Manager, NHS England in the Midlands, said: “The development of the new site has been a collaboration between survivors, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Nottinghamshire Police, Mountain Healthcare and NHS England.
“We aim to offer the best health and care for anyone affected by sexual assault to ensure they have the very best opportunity to recover.
“The new site will provide more modern and comfortable surroundings for adults who need to visit for care, which will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”