The FIRST Stop service, which provides a safe-haven during weekend evenings in Reading, is set to move to a new permanent location within Reading Minster this February.
The FIRST Stop, which until now has operated from a bus located in Broad Street, works to improve safety for people and helps prevent unnecessary admissions to A&E by providing advice, reassurance and first aid. It has featured in Reading town centre from 9pm – 3.00am every Friday and Saturday night, for the past four years.
The service is staffed by first aid trained volunteers and medical professionals from South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS).
The FIRST Stop, which is contracted by Reading Borough Council, is vitally supported by its partner organisations, including Thames Valley Police, SCAS, the four clinical commissioning groups in Berkshire West, Reading BID, Reading Street Pastors, Reading Minster, Reading Buses and Reading Voluntary Action.
The FIRST Stop project board had been exploring options to secure the service’s long term future when the option to join forces with Reading Minster was suggested.
No longer running the service from a bus will provide substantial savings and will make the service far more sustainable. There will be greater involvement from Reading Street Pastors and TVP Special Constables, who will provide discreet, low profile presence at the Minster.
The church, which has successfully operated its own ‘sanctuary’ scheme every weekend, from 10pm on Saturday nights until 2am on Sunday morning, since early 2016, already provides a place of refuge, recovery and refreshment for anyone in need.
The Minster’s Reverend Stephen Pullin, said: “We are keen to make the best use of the Minster to serve and support people in the town and we’re looking forward to joining forces with the FIRST Stop team. Our current weekend Sanctuary project, run by volunteers, has proved extremely successful.”
The church has reorganised its use of the building to provide for all the clinical needs of the FIRST Stop medical team.
From Friday 10th February, the FIRST Stop at Reading Minster will be open from 9pm to 3am on Friday and Saturday nights. Current FIRST Stop volunteers will transfer over to the new location and there will be no break in the service.
The service will continue to be managed by the current project board, with the Council managing the budget.
The FIRST Stop bus will still be used for health, educational and promotional events during the day.
Reading’s Lead Member for Neighbourhoods, Cllr Liz Terry, said:
“The FIRST Stop has helped to keep people safe and well in the town centre for several years now. It is an asset to Reading’s night time economy and a credit to everyone involved, not least the dedicated team of volunteers.
“We are grateful to The Mustard Tree for all their hard work managing the running of the service since January 2015. We are also delighted to now work with Reading Minster to provide the service in a new form. In its new location, with our new partners, we are confident we have found a way to make this service sustainable for the foreseeable future.
“The FIRST Stop provides a vital service in keeping people safe and tackling the negative effects of excessive drinking. The figures show just how many people have benefited from this service and impressively, just how much it has saved our NHS partners through people avoiding unnecessary trips to A&E.”
Inspector Penny Jones, based at Reading police station, said:
“We want to ensure that people can have a safe and enjoyable night out, the FIRST stop has helped with this and is a benefit to Reading’s night time economy. This focus has helped us to work together to improve our services to vulnerable people, victims and witnesses and reflects the strong partnership in Reading.”
Penny Meadley, Specialist Paramedic Practitioner Manager, said:
“SCAS is delighted to be continuing with the FIRST STOP project and are looking forward to continuing to provide medical care to the people of Reading. We are excited to work alongside our new partners as the First Stop Team moves to Reading Minster and we hope that it will enable us to develop our service for the future.”
Since its launch in December 2013, figures reveal that the FIRST Stop has had a major positive impact on wellbeing in the town.
In the last year, the service’s medical staff and trained volunteers have helped 250 people with physical injuries and 66 in emotional distress.
Since it launched, it has helped over 1,200 people with physical injuries or in emotional distress, with 91% of these requiring some form of medical assessment or treatment. 83% of the people treated by SCAS staff would have otherwise required an ambulance call out or a trip to A&E. This roughly equates to a saving of £164,000 to the NHS since December 2013.
Photo opportunity: The media are invited to a photo call at Reading Minster on Friday 10th February at 4.30pm with representatives from the church, FIRST Stop volunteers and members of the FIRST Stop project board.