PCC, DCC, OPCC chief of staff at the SARC Image OPCC

Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner (PCC), Kathryn Holloway, has marked the first anniversary of the specialist centre she introduced to support victims of serious sexual assault from across the county.

The Sexual Assaults Referral Centre (SARC) moved from a hospital setting to a standalone centre in central Bedfordshire in February 2020.

Commissioner Holloway said:

“It was a personal ambition to move services to support the victims of sexual crimes out of a hospital to a setting in which they could not only be confident of quite excellent care from the staff but where their overall recovery could genuinely begin.

“We opened the new centre in February last year, just before the pandemic, but I trust that this extensively refurbished, thoughtfully decorated and fully equipped facility, in a tranquil setting can offer victim support for many years beyond this emergency as well as operating in a Covid secure way right now.

“It was one of the proudest moments of my life when it was finished and ready to open and I wanted it not only to help support victims but also be a soothing working environment for the exceptional staff who help them and deal daily with some of the most traumatic incidents possible.”

The SARC is jointly funded by the police and crime commissioner and NHS. It provides initial and on-going support following a sexual assault to individuals of all ages. The centre has staff to conduct examinations, identify individual victim needs and provide pathways to counselling if required.

The location is also a base for police officers who deal with rape and sexual crimes to work from, but who are based in an area which is independent from the main SARC waiting and medical rooms, enabling a close working partnership for those whose referrals may lead to a police investigation.

Within the SARC there are separate areas, created by the PCC for children and teenagers, decorated in a way that is most suitable depending on the victim’s age as well as an adult sitting room.

Commissioner Holloway said:

“I feel very strongly, having been placed on a young children’s ward when I was in my own mid-teens, that we need to make small children and teenagers as well as adults comfortable in environments which suit their age groups to encourage them to want to confide in staff and officers in order to bring about the best outcomes for them in terms of criminal justice as well as making them feel fully supported.”

The SARC has remained in operation during the whole of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff have developed protocols to ensure victim and staff safety is a continuous priority. Referrals into the SARC have remained constant throughout this period.

The SARC was also a stand-by location for victims from the Thames Valley area at the end of last year as the Thames Valley facility had to temporarily close .

Debbie Liverpool, the SARC centre manager, said:

“The new premises have provided a much nicer environment for victims to attend. The staff team are equally appreciative of their working environment and enjoy the tranquillity of their surroundings whilst performing a very intense role.”

Debbie also provided comments from people who have used the centre including “everything is perfect“, “it is such a beautiful place“, “very well done” and “the buildings and its surroundings are welcoming and peaceful.”

Commissioner Holloway said:

“This is what all the hard work was for and I could not be more delighted that the victims of these terrible crimes themselves are now feeling benefit from it and truly hope that it will help them move forward in their recovery.”

OPCC chief of staff, Clare Kelly, who also worked on the refurbishment of the centre alongside the commissioner, said:

“The PCC has publicly stated that this project is the one that she is most proud of during her time as Commissioner and from the outset she was determined to get the building, surroundings and environment as good as they could be to support victims of serious sexual assault.

“I was delighted to help her and, judging by the feedback the SARC staff are receiving, that aim has been well and truly achieved.”

If anyone has been affected by a sexual assault they can contact the SARC on 01234 842750 during office hours or 0330 223 0099 out of hours or via admin.emeraldcentre@nhs.net.

Victims can also be referred to the SARC by Signpost the service for victims of crime on confidential Freephone 0800 0282 887.