Richmond Fellowship proves the voluntary sector can provide effective alternative place of safety for people in mental health crisis

Home Secretary Sussex place of safety 1Richmond Fellowship’s pilot scheme to trial an alternative ‘place of safety’ to police custody for individuals in mental distress has been hailed a success by an independent evaluation.

Reducing the use of custody cells for vulnerable people in a mental health crisis detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act is one of the Government’s key priorities.


We worked with the Home Office to trial an alternative place of safety in one of our supported housing schemes in Sussex. It was the first time a voluntary sector provider had worked in partnership with the NHS and police to offer this type of service.

And now an independent evaluation of the scheme has concluded that it’s an effective model that could be used more widely across the country. The report recommended that NHS commissioners actively seek to work with third sector organisations to support people detained as an alternative to police custody.

Home Secretary Sussex place of safety 4Home Secretary Theresa May said: “This pilot scheme is proof that alternative places of safety, provided by charities or community groups, can make a genuine difference alongside traditional health-based models, and provide the safe environment and round the clock support that vulnerable people suffering from mental health issues require.”

A reason Richmond Fellowship was selected for the pilot was because of the individually tailored support we could provide to people. This included emotional support, social care support, and signposting to other agencies, self-care promotion and basic therapeutic techniques.

These are not currently provided in custody suites or health based places of safety but the independent evaluation concluded that these sorts of approaches work and should be made available.

One of the individuals we helped said: “This has been really helpful and made me see my issues I need to address.”

Richmond Fellowship chief executive Derek Caren said:

“We’re really pleased at the success of the pilot Home Secretary Sussex place of safety 2which demonstrates that the voluntary sector can be an effective partner when it comes to providing alternative places of safety to a police cell or hospital.

“We’re keen to work with the NHS and police to develop our model in other parts of the country so we can increase local capacity and ensure people experiencing a mental health crisis get timely access to the right support they need.”

Under the pilot scheme Richmond Fellowship provided a secure room that individuals could be brought to by the police or ambulance service. Our ethos was to provide a safe environment but one that was more homely than a clinical setting or police cell.

Our experienced recovery workers provided round the clock support until the individual was assessed, transferred to a health-based place of safety or had other suitable arrangements made for their ongoing care or treatment.

More than half the individuals brought to us had been detained because they’d expressed intentions to commit suicide or self-harm as well as alcohol or substance misuse issues.

However, none of them went on to require a hospital admission and all were discharged home with ongoing GP or community mental health support as required.