The Harrow Sanctuary Scheme

Prior to the introduction of the Harrow Sanctuary Scheme, there was a great deal of moral support being offered to victims of domestic violence and hate crime, but there were no facilities available to help them secure their homes and prevent repeat victimisation.

Concept: The idea for the Harrow Sanctuary Scheme was conceived in 1998 by police constables Mark Dowse and Geoff Bigby from the Harrow Police Crime Reduction Unit. Due to lack of funding at the time, they ran the scheme for the next four years with a dedicated group of volunteer tradesmen, in conjunction with the Harrow Crime Prevention Panel.

The main feature of this pioneering scheme is the creation of a Sanctuary or safe room within the house. This enables the occupier to retreat to a place of safety to await the arrival of police and other emergency services. The Sanctuary room is created by replacing an internal door, generally the master bedroom door, with a solid core, hour fire rated door. This door is reversed to open outwards onto the landing, to ensure that the doorjamb acts as an additional barrier to the reinforced frame, locks and hinges. Fire safety is paramount, so occupiers are supplied with a fire safety kit, which includes intumescent fire seals around the Sanctuary door, smoke alarms, an anti-arson letterbox, fire blanket, torch, break glass hammer and fire extinguisher. Additional locks and bolts are fitted to the remaining windows and doors throughout the property to delay the suspect, giving the victim and their children sufficient time to escape to the Sanctuary room.

Harrow Crime Reduction Unit have forged close partnerships with all of the agencies involved, i.e. Harrow Police Community Safety Unit, Housing Services, Harrow Womens Aid, Social Services and the Harrow Womens Centre, who can all refer clients to the Harrow Sanctuary Scheme.

Successes and Results: The Sanctuary Scheme is a robust and very real alternative to repeat domestic violence and hate crime. Since its official launch in 2002, the Sanctuary Scheme in Harrow has helped approximately 291 victims of domestic violence and hate crime stay in their homes, and despite numerous attempts by ex-partners and assailants, none have been compromised.

Very few Police Officers have an opportunity to make an impact and effect change nationally, but PCs Dowse and Bigby have achieved this, as there is now a drive for every borough in the country to have a Sanctuary type scheme. The Sanctuary Scheme forms a key part of the domestic violence indicator BVPI 225, which came into force in April 2005. Its purpose is to assess the overall effectiveness of local authority services designed to help victims of domestic violence and prevent further domestic violence. Numerous boroughs around the country have sought advice and guidance from the Harrow Crime Reduction Unit and have subsequently implemented the Sanctuary Scheme. It is not known at this stage how many vulnerable repeat victims and their families have had their lives transformed by the Sanctuary Scheme nationally, but it is estimated that this number would run into thousands.

Partnerships that survey survivors of domestic violence who have had a Sanctuary room installed record that they do feel safer. The following are quotes from women who have requested Sanctuary security:
“I feel 100% safer than I did before and I’m really pleased that I didn’t have to move somewhere else. My baby and me are both settled in this flat and I can now sleep at night.”
“I didn’t think I’d be able to stay here anymore. I was terrified that he’d kill me. I now feel safe in the flat and have started to get a bit more self confidence.”

In 2005, PCs Waine, Bigby, Dowse, Barnes and Sullivan received an award from the Mayor of London for making an outstanding contribution to life in London. PCs Dowse and Bigby have also been awarded an Assistant Commissioners Commendation for their work on the Sanctuary Scheme. In December 2006, based on the success of the Harrow model, Government Minister Ruth Kelly announced 74 million national funding for all boroughs to have a Sanctuary Scheme.


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The project started in 1998 and is still running.
Last review: February 2012.


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