Suffolk employers urged to support their staff to become special constables
- Credit: James Bass
By day Darren Hills is a café kitchen cook in Adnam’s flagship store on Drayman Square in Southwold. But in his spare time the 25-year old serves as a special constable in Halesworth and Lowestoft, patrolling the streets at night, attending traffic accidents and investigating crimes. Last year, he clocked up more than 350 hours volunteering as a ‘’special”.
Darren’s life is made easier because his employer, Adnams, supports him in his voluntary work. Since he joined the business in September 2015, the company has rearranged his rota around the days that he needs off for training or shifts. More recently the company has offered him an extra 10 days paid holiday a year that he is able to dedicate to his special constable duties.
Adnams has signed up to Suffolk Police’s ‘Employers Supported Policing Scheme, (ESP) - an initiative that encourages businesses and police to work together to support their staff to become special constables.
Other businesses on board in Suffolk include: BT/Open Reach, AXA, Willis, Forestry Commission, Waveney and Suffolk Coastal District Councils, Network Rail and British Gas.
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According to Adnam’s head of Human Resources Sadie Lofthouse, the company works hard to have a positive impact within the communities it operates.
She added: “Becoming involved in the specials scheme is one way we are able to support our employees to do just that.
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“In challenging economic times when budgets within the public sector are so stretched it is important that business understands the positive role it can play in different ways within our society.”
Suffolk Police hope that by persuading more employers to sign up to the ESP they can encourage more employees to consider becoming a special.
Special constables are volunteer officers who give their time to assist the regular police force. The role of a special constable includes providing high visibility patrols and helping to police major incidents and events. They also offer vital links in the partnership between the police service and the public.
The force is currently on a recruitment drive, according to specialist volunteers and cadet managers Karen Harris, who says there are around 225 specials in the county at present although Suffolk Police would like to see that number top 300. Over 40 of these work for employers signed up to the ESP.
She added: “People become specials for a number of reasons, some are career specials attracted to the role, and others use it as a route into becoming a full-time police officer.
“Some people sit behind a desk all day or are lone workers, and by becoming specials they can keep fit and interact with people in the community.”
Training for the role takes up ten weekends over a 20 weekend period and takes place at Suffolk Constabulary headquarters in Martlesham. New recruits are trained in a wide range of disciplines from personal safety and law to traffic and road safety and domestic violence. Once trained up, volunteers – who range from people in their late-50s to 18-20 year olds, - are expected to commit to a minimum of 16 hours a month. There is no pay but special constables can claim travelling and subsistence payments.
Karen says employers who join the ESP scheme and facilitate employees becoming special constables will reap “huge benefits”. “They are supporting the local community and enhancing their reputation as an employee, while the employee is gaining transferable skills that may be of use to the employer.”
For Darren Hills at Adnams, being a special also makes him feel as if he is making a meaningful contribution to society.
“I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with my time – I’m not the kind of person who likes to stop at home watching a movie,” he said.
Darren works out of the police stations in Lowestoft and Halesworth where his uniform and equipment are kept in a locker. The equipment he carries on him regularly includes a stab vest, a utility belt, a baton, handcuffs, a torch, a radio and two forms of headgear. The flat hat is worn when going to the house of a member of public while the classic tall domed helmet, known as a custodian, is worn on street patrol.
Darren says there are numerous elements of police work that appeal to him.
“I enjoy investigations where you are required to analyse evidence, and examine and write up statements,” he said
“I also like to attend traffic incidents and to investigate what could have happened by looking at the tyres marks on the road and where impact took place.”
And when his work shifts allow, Darren can be found patrolling the streets of Lowestoft from 11pm on Friday evening until 4pm on Saturday morning.
He continued: “It’s usually quite busy with loads of things going on and my role is just to keep an eye on people.”
“Sometimes you can get called to a job and you have no idea what will happen. You have to ignore your nerves and know that you have your team behind you. For night patrols we always go out in pairs, so you have support with you.
“We get text messages asking us if we are free to attend events and I’ll always say yes if I’m available. Recently, we had a call to ask if we could lend support in the operations dealing with the coastal flooding. I went straight on duty from work.”
Darren says knowing that his employer supports his work as a special constable, makes him feel at ease.
He added: “I don’t have to stress about whether I can do both roles. I couldn’t imagine working at a place where they didn’t support me.
“By supporting me they are supporting the community and being a special constable has boosted my self-esteem and confidence and hopefully that has benefitted my workplace.
“I feel the more they support me as an employee, the more I will give them back.”