Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner -  
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PCC, Police and partners celebrate opening of new centre to support victims of sexual crimes described as the new ‘gold standard’
Bedfordshire’s PCC, Kathryn Holloway, Bedfordshire Police and the NHS have opened a new specialist centre to support victims of sexual crimes and investigate on their behalf, designed by the Commissioner as a new ‘gold standard’ service (on Monday 10 February 2020).
 
The PCC’s office had been seeking a building for almost four years in which to base the Sexual Assaults Referral Centre (SARC) in order to move it from a hospital setting to a more supportive and home-like environment for the first time in Bedfordshire.
 
The PCC has invested £475,000 in the new SARC for the county, made up of £300,000 of her police budget, £175,000 of her Commissioner’s Fund - as her single largest grant of her four year term - and £75,000 of help from the NHS. Moving forward, the running costs of the new centre will be split 50-:50 between Police and the NHS.
 
“In 2020 and in future a hospital is not the appropriate place to bases services for those who’ve experienced rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse, in my view. However fantastic the service - and I know that provided by the Bedfordshire SARC staff currently is exemplary - a hospital is associated with sickness, death and disease and that is unhelpful, at the very least.
 
“Incredibly I showed a picture of the new SARC building to my staff nearly four years ago and said ’this is what I’m looking for; a building that looks like a beautiful house, in a peaceful setting, with dedicated parking and an entrance for victims of sexual crimes but a separate entrance and parking area for police officers'. It needed to have space for forensic examination rooms and police evidence suites but, also, for non-forensic waiting rooms that are more like an ideal home from home, to allow such service users to start their recovery as soon as possible.
 
“Almost unbelievably, after considering dozens of alternative sites, the original building which was my inspiration became vacant and I opened negotiations for a long lease on the property with the landlord, which will save around £250,000 a year and provide a far better setting for both victims of crime and the officers, staff and volunteers who work in this very challenging area,” said Commissioner Holloway.
 
While a board of representatives from Bedfordshire Police, the NHS and specialist SARC service provider Mountain Healthcare, drew up the operational and forensic requirements, the PCC designed the interior herself and sourced, purchased, stored and installed every other item in the building. She was inspired by the Cambridgeshire SARC, The Elms, whose management, staff, volunteers, forensic nurses and a representative of SARC service users she interviewed to gain their advice concerning the best aspects of design and any learning points, such as recessed upper cabinets in the forensic examination rooms to allow nurses to label samples with clear headroom.
 
The completed Bedfordshire SARC was visited for the first time by regional NHS head of health and justice, Claire Weston, who leads the commissioning of health services for people who have experienced sexual assault and abuse. She told launch guests, “It’s fair to say that when SARCs were first launched there was a huge desire to provide the best service possible but to do that, some compromises had to be made. We’ve all learned so much since then and from what I see of the new Bedfordshire SARC today there don’t seem to have been any compromises on what is now being offered.  NHS England is confident that  the Bedfordshire SARC offers a compassionate and expert response to survivors of all genders and ages, whether or not they choose to pursue their case through the courts, or not”
 
The PCC commented: “I’ve heard three things from visitors which have absolutely delighted me, given the ambition I had for this building: a five-year-old who was shown the family waiting room having been told that children need to be looked after there said, completely unprompted, “It’s so peaceful and safe.” A recent user of the existing SARC service toured the building and told us that, while the people who had looked after her were unfailingly kind and supportive, she felt she would have been far happier about the whole experience if she had visited the new facility. 
 
“Last but not least, the regional lead for the NHS told the Deputy Chief Constable, my Chief of Staff and I that my original inspiration - the Cambridgeshire SARC - had been her own ‘gold standard’ but she now thinks that the Bedfordshire facility has moved into that position. This makes this quite simply the greatest achievement of my term as PCC and the one of which I am proudest.”
 
Deputy Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst told the audience: “If a member of my own family was a victim of this sort of terrible crime, that can happen to anyone, I’d like to think that they would feel supported by coming to this building. It’s taken a huge amount of work and partners working together to iron out all the competing needs but now it’s been achieved. Many people have been thanked but I’d like to say thank you to the Commissioner without whose focus and drive this may never have happened.”
 
The Bedfordshire SARC will become a base for some of Bedfordshire Police’s specialist rape and sexual crimes team, a visiting base for the DCC and the workplace for specially trained SARC staff, volunteers and forensic nursing staff. It includes two interview suites to allow police to interview those who have suffered sexual crime, if the victim wants this to happen. Victims can also be referred to the SARC by the Signpost Victim Support Hub on confidential Freephone 0800 0282 887 Monday-Saturday. Outreach teams will also use the unit for counselling.