A counselling service with an Andover hub is set to expand across Hampshire after merging with a nearby charity.

Community First, also known as RASAC, which provides support for those who have undergone rape and sexual abuse, is merging with the Basingstoke Rape and Sexual Abuse Crisis Centre (BRASACC) to create a combined service called Sexual Trauma and Abuse Restorative Therapy (START). It is hoped the merger will allow the service to expand into new areas such as Hart and Rushmoor.

Trevor Lewis, vice-chair of Community First said the merger was “an exciting opportunity” which would improve service for its users.

Community First provides counselling for victims of rape and sexual abuse from its hubs based in Andover and Winchester, and already provides services in many of the areas BRASACC operates in. It currently operates services out of The Bridge in town.

The merger is hoped to improve the long-term sustainability of the counselling service, while allowing them to offer more capacity for clients. The merger will have no impact on those currently in counselling, with counselling continuing as normal, with the same counsellor, until their sessions come to an end.

START will now be able to offer more services in Basingstoke, as well as a planned expansion into Hart and Rushmoor in the coming year. Services will be delivered by face-to-face counselling, supplemented by on-line and telephone consultations, as well as peer support groups.

Trevor Lewis said: “This is an exciting opportunity for both RASAC and BRASACC. We look forward to the launch of START, working for the benefit of our service users, staff and volunteers, and focusing on reducing waiting times and broadening our service offerings.”

Kathy Wilson, Chair of BRASACC, said: “Both BRASACC and RASAC have been providing specialist counselling services in a very complex area for many years and we have shared ethical and professional values which make us a good fit. BRASSAC joining Community First gives us a better opportunity, through START, to sustain this much needed service for the long-term.”