More than 140 senior policing leaders took part in the national Volunteer Police Cadet Conference held at the Greater Manchester Police Sedgley Park training centre on the 8th July 2019.
All police forces in England and Wales attended as neighbourhood policing, Citizens in Policing and VPC operational leads sharing ideas about the growing contribution that police cadets can make to their communities and to the experience of young people. Keynote addresses and speeches included introductory remarks from Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of Greater Manchester Police, Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer of Devon & Cornwall Police and from Policing Minister Nick Hurd (by video), all of whom expressed their continued commitment to the work that police cadets do in supporting communities through volunteering and social action projects.
Well over 17,000 young people currently participate in activities connected to Volunteer Police Cadets, through senior and junior cadet units and in the Mini-Police. Whilst being a great opportunity to recognise the youth achievement and engagement already delivered through police cadets and Mini Police, the conference also provided important forum to discuss how police forces can work together to support the consistent national development of the national VPC movement. Safeguarding, skills development, the value of youth inspired social action and the need create a robust police and volunteer-led network to support the activities of police cadets were key themes explored. Forces were invited to continue these discussions locally as part of providing further feedback on future plans to the National Police Chiefs Council later in the year.
Perhaps the best description of what young people can achieve through their participation in police cadets was brought the life by current and ex-cadets themselves, either acting as hosts, as speakers or as contributors at the conference. In particular, recently retired ex-cadets Soraya Holloway and Matt Strzeszewski played key roles as joint hosts for the day; introducing speakers, reflecting on their own cadet experiences and in helping delegates to get the most from the event. Recent months have seen both Soraya and Matt now graduate from their cadet days with Soraya embarking on her police training and Matt having already started on his police career.
A little older and now ten years on from their first cadet experiences, delegates also heard from ex-cadets Leon Coltress and Nana Ampaw, who talked about how their cadet experience had changed their own lives. Describing himself as having been a young man who was “constantly in trouble”, Leon recounted how early cadet sessions were something to look forward to each week and which in turn had ultimately led to a rewarding career. Now a sergeant with the Metropolitan Police, Leon talked about how the structure, sense of belonging and challenge that cadets provided were the inspiration for a change in direction in his life.
Meanwhile Nana talked about how having been “constantly picked on as a young person” had led to her frequent involvement in fights at school. On the brink of expulsion, Nina was referred to the police cadets by a school counsellor. Within five years she had become a cadet leader, a special constable in addition to having started a career as a housing officer. Now helping communities through her work as a Neighbourhood Manager with a local housing association, Nana says,” I simply wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for police cadets. Being a cadet felt like being part of an extended family that has helped me to understand right from wrong and how to help others”. Several other senior cadet representatives also talked about how they had recently worked with cadets from other forces to develop new ideas for ways that young people could have a bigger say in influencing the direction and activities of police cadets.
There was also a motivational speech full of enthusiasm given by Chelsea Way of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust praising the dedication given by the Volunteer Police Cadets on the first ever Stephen Lawrence Day 22nd April 2019 which is now an annual event. They would like to see even more involvement from the VPC going forward.
At the other end of the cadet spectrum Alex Goodwin, aged 11, took to the stage to talk about his experience as a Lincolnshire Mini Police Officer and his recent appointment as the UK’s first Special Wildlife Cadet. Alex is passionate about wildlife and within a policing context, the need to combat rural crime. It is this determination that has helped Alex to battle a rare form of bone cancer and to inspire the environmental related theme of the Police Cadets’ first ever Social Action September. This project will see cadet units across England and Wales being asked to protect the natural and open spaces where they live which in turn can help life in local communities, for people and for wildlife. Alex says he is thrilled to be asked to help co-ordinate the first Social Action September which he hopes can engage hundreds and even thousands of police cadets in supporting environmentally based social action projects.
The benefits and value that involvement in police cadets offers to young people has also been recently borne out by independent academic research involving more than 1,500 cadet and cadet leaders. Findings from the Nottingham University’s Institute for Public Safety and Criminal Justice recently showed that cadets view their experience very positively with seven out of ten saying they are very likely to recommend joining the police cadets to other young people. The development of communications, team working, problem solving and leadership skills were particularly highly valued alongside helping with self-confidence. Making new friends and meeting people from different background was also seen by cadets as being a key benefit.