Security and privacy will be paramount for those seeking help they need
Belfast Telegraph writer Fionola Meredith was the first journalist to see inside the controversial Marie Stopes clinic
As I was shown around the new Marie Stopes Northern Ireland clinic on Wednesday afternoon, I was impressed by the bright, fresh open-plan layout and simple, contemporary design.
This did not feel like a medical, or institutional, setting: my first impressions were of a calm, welcoming space that's attractive and easy to use.
There are colourful posters on the freshly-painted walls explaining the range of services that the clinic can provide, alongside information about the history of Marie Stopes International, a not-for-profit organisation which has existed for more than 30 years and works in 42 countries around the world.
Dawn Purvis, the centre's director, who was giving me a tour of the premises, said that they want people to feel relaxed and comfortable when they come through the door.
The clinic occupies eighth-floor premises in a modern office block on Great Victoria Street.
Services — which include short and long-term contraceptive options, emergency contraception, HIV testing, STI testing and treatment, ultrasound scanning and medical abortion up to nine weeks’ gestation — are accessible by appointment only.
Ms Purvis said that they deliberately chose a multi-use, multi-tenant building in a busy street for the clinic, with lots of footfall and access to good transport routes.
Security is paramount for the clinic, and she has made it clear that strict measures will be in place to reassure clients.
On arrival, and after passing security personnel on the ground floor, clients take the lift to the eighth floor.
From here, they are buzzed in to a reception desk and a small waiting area. Beyond the reception area there are further concealed seating areas, each with two or three comfy pink armchairs and wall-mounted TVs.
These break-out spaces are for facilitating private conversations with staff, or simply offering a discreet place to rest, relax and reflect. I'm struck by the thoughtful design: again, great attention has been paid to making people feel at ease in their surroundings.
The main consultation room is equipped with a medical couch where patients can receive ultrasound scans — necessary, for instance, to screen for possible complications in a pregnancy — and a large glass cabinet where contraceptive options will be on display.
This is part of the clinic's philosophy — a straightforward, upfront and open approach to matters that were previously treated as embarrassing, secret and even shameful.
The premises also contain staff offices, a nurse's station and a treatment room. The lay-out — which is designed for full disabled access — has been planned so that clients, having completed a consultation or treatment, can leave discreetly without having to go back through the reception area.
Perhaps some people have lurid ideas about what the inside of a sexual and reproductive health centre looks like, especially one that offers abortion services.
However, it's a simple, clean, modern space where people will quickly feel at home and access the help they need.
Fionola Meredith is a writer and commentator who has argued previously for liberalising Northern Ireland’s abortion laws