Barnsley in crisis..

The 20th anniversary of Barnsley's Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Helpline should be a cause for celeb

Barnsley Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Helpline (BSARCH) is celebrating its 20th birthday. Established in 1988 in response to a lack of local women’s services, BSARCH is still the only organisation run by women for women in the borough today. It’s also the only organisation here providing specialist support services for those whose lives have been affected by sexual violence. And it’s facing closure in less than three months’ time.

With a team of just four paid workers, BSARCH is a relatively small Rape Crisis centre, which relies heavily on its dedicated team of 27 trained volunteers for the delivery of its front-line services.

Over the last year, we’ve handled around 600 calls on our helpline, and counselled and supported around 120 women on a face-to-face basis, and yet we know this barely scratches the surface of the need that exists in our community. Using local population figures and published research, we estimate there are around 22,560 women living in the Barnsley borough who could benefit from our services. But with limited resources, it’s a constant struggle for BSARCH to reach those most in need. To address this, our staff, volunteers and service users recently put great energy and enthusiasm into developing a five-year strategic plan to guide our future development. It’s an optimistic, forward-thinking vision but it means little when our core counselling, helpline and advocacy services are in jeopardy.

BSARCH receives an annual sum from its local authority, which represents less than 5% of our costs for the current year. Aside from this, we rely entirely on short-term grants from bodies such as the Lottery for our survival. Despite providing support and information to statutory workers, and despite many of our referrals coming from CMHTs, Health Visitors, GUM clinics and so on, we have never received a penny of funding from our Primary Care Trust or any other health body. People are often shocked and surprised when we tell them that an organisation supporting victims of such serious crime has to beg for money. Sadly, we ourselves are no longer surprised.

As we work with women who’ve experienced sexual violence, and strive to empower them to rebuild their lives and work towards positive futures, we’re often overawed by their inspirational capacity to survive. At this stage, we can only hope that, as an organisation, we are able to emulate that incredible achievement and survive to provide support for these women who so richly deserve it.