A SCHEME aimed at helping vulnerable sex workers has been praised by Swindon’s former top cop.

Former superintendent Charlie Armstrong, who until August was Wiltshire Police commander in Swindon, hailed the Nelson Trust-spearheaded Sex Worker Outreach Project as an example of “excellent” partnership working.

The project, which began in 2013, sees two full-time workers go out into street sex-worker hotspots.

The staff, who are employed by Victoria Road-based women’s centre the Nelson Trust, gain the women’s trust and offer a range of services, including condoms, sexual health check-ups and food donated by Greggs. The scheme is supported by Wiltshire Police.

Charlie Armstrong, who now works for police watchdog HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, said: “It’s incredibly humbling to see the work that’s done. The ladies who do this outreach work - their phones are never off.

“I can’t think of a more vulnerable group of people that I have come across as a collective in my 25 years of policing.”

The veteran cop said that the more supportive approach taken by the project had contributed to the recent jailing of several “monsters”, whose convictions would “never have happened had it not been for this project”.

“Those ladies would never have thought they were going to be believed,” added Charlie. “Five years ago we would prosecute the victims because that was the most expedient way of getting them off the streets.”

Christina Line, centre manager at the recently-expanded Swindon women’s centre, said: “We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of women being referred or self-referring.”

She put the growth down to a recent expansion of the centre, which currently supports 250 women. The centre runs a range of schemes and activities, including educational workshops, lunch clubs and art therapy.

“We really go out of our way to help,” said Christina.

Her comments came as dignitaries met at the Nelson Trust’s Victoria Road women’s centre to celebrate the charity. Last year, the trust came second in the Organisation of the Year category at the Howard League for Penal Reform’s annual Community Awards.

The Howard League’s chief executive Frances Crook spoke at the women’s centre open day. She joked: “We’re very happy the Nelson Trust keep winning. It’s exactly what should happen.”

But she blamed government for putting women’s centres like the Nelson’s Trust under increasing financial strain.

“We know that government is committed to spending more and more on building women’s prisons,” said Frances. “But we know that prisons don’t work for women and we know that the work of women’s centres do.”

John Trolan, chief executive of the Nelson Trust, said that cuts to probation service funding had left the charity with a 30 per cent drop in the amount they received from government to support each woman who approached the centre.

“It’s getting harder because of the funding cuts,” said chief executive John Trolan.

The charity now gets £770 funding per woman per year. They estimate it costs them an average of £3-4,000 to support each individual.

The cash shortfall has been made up by funding from NHS England, the Police and Crime Commissioner and fundraising – including support from fundraising umbrella group Swindon Cares.

John Trolan questioned the rationale for the cuts, saying that women’s centres were more effective than prisons at preventing reoffending.