A team of volunteers who support police on search and rescue missions has acquired a van to act as a control centre after operating out of car boots for over a year.

The 30 volunteers in the Oxfordshire Lowlands Search And Rescue group (Oxsar) spent the past 18 months raising the £9,000 needed to buy and equip it.

The van will be used as a control centre during searches.

Group chairman Steve Butcher, an electrician, said: “The van is crucial. We have had a few searches where we have tried to operate from cars in the rain and that’s not ideal. We need an area where we can plan.

“The two search controllers have been carrying a printer, a laptop computer and maps in our cars for the past 18 months, since our last van was declared beyond repair.”

When a missing person is reported, often a vulnerable adult or elderly person, the police call Oxsar search controllers, who get in touch with volunteers to ask them to turn out and gather at a rendezvous point where the control centre will be set up.

“What we do isn’t glamorous and a lot of the time when someone goes missing, they don’t want to be identified to their community, so it’s quite hard to get publicity. But we do an awful lot of work.”

The £9,000 needed for the van was raised through donations from families affected by searches, police staff and car boot sales. The team is totally self-funded.

Thames Valley Chief Constable Sara Thornton, who handed over the keys to the van to the team, said: “When a person who is vulnerable goes missing, the police really appreciate the experience and assistance of the search and rescue team. For the past 18 months they have managed without a control van and it is really great that they have raised enough money to buy this – I was delighted to celebrate that with them.”

The team now plans to raise £12,000 for specialised helmets, dry suits and personal flotation devices, so they can assist the fire service during floods.