Our Volunteering Development Worker, Steve Hendry, spoke recently with Sgt Alex Kennedy , a police cadet leader with Thames Valley Police (TVP), and head cadet Victoria Turchyn.
How did you get involved in volunteering?
Alex – I was a police officer working in the neighbourhood team; we actually work in the office next door to Lesley Wakelin, who is the head cadet leader for Reading area, and she was talking to me about the scheme. I was actually looking at going back and becoming a guide leader again, something I used to do before I joined [TVP], but obviously with time commitments I struggled to keep it up. She suggested ‘why don’t you become a police cadet leader?’ At the time, I was looking at going for a promotion, and I thought ‘yeah, that would help, evidence of my leadership skills’, so I joined up a year ago now.
Our job as police officers… you go into peoples lives and you come out again. It would actually be nice (coming from a neighbourhood background especially) to give back something as well as just doing my job. Initially I was looking at guiding as something I knew, and I thought I could give back a bit of time, maybe not as regularly as I’d like to because of the hours I have to work. When Lesley said about potentially becoming a police cadet leader, I thought ‘actually they’d suit my shift pattern even better’, ’cause they’d be a lot more understanding that I can’t make every week and that sometimes, like tonight, I’m tired ’cause I’m on nights.
Victoria – Well, we have an ex-police officer who works at our school, and he came and told us about the cadets. A few of my friends were signing up and so I decided to join up too, just to meet new people, and just to see what it’d be about. I knew there as going to be some law based activities and at that time I was interested in becoming a lawyer, so I thought it would make a good kind of opening into that, but I didn’t really have an idea into what exactly I was signing up to, but I was very glad I signed up.
What does the volunteering involve?
Alex – Obviously the cadets comes under the Volunteer Police Cadets Scheme which is a national scheme and they put out suggestions of what they think the curriculum should be, but we kind of tweaked it to our own, so at the moment we have a curriculum but we kind of plan it week by week. This week they’ve got another law input; we have staggered grade levels within the cadets as well. Grade 2 are slightly more advanced and more experienced than the newer cadets we’ve got, so their input in law is going to be a higher level tonight than it would be for the new people; they’re going to be looking at GBH, examining the law behind GBH, possible defences, looking at then finding ways they can teach that to the rest of the cadet group.
Other things we do: we do first aid, we try and do as much community volunteering stuff as we can; so we’ve got Halloween coming up, we’re planning to do some events going out, giving vulnerable people leaflets they can put in their window saying ‘please don’t trick-or-treat at my door’. We’ll also be going to the supermarkets and give them posters to put up saying ‘sorry, we’re not selling eggs and flour for the next couple of days around the Halloween time’. We did the Moon Walk in London; we went there and they all volunteered to hand out bags to the people completing the Moon Walk.
Victoria – And we did police force open day.
Alex – Yes, that’s right. We did the Vaisakhi parade; the Sikh parade that goes at Cemetery Junction. [The cadets] assisted with all the road closures and supporting the parade there. It’s quite a lot you get involved with really…
Steve – A whole range of stuff. There’s kind of a core curriculum that’s set by the national programme…–
Alex – Yeah, it looks at all different aspects of policing. It’s the law; another thing that they’re supposed to do tonight is about the uniform, so how we expect the uniform to look, how to polish boots, how to iron (because some of them won’t know that), how we expect their hair to be, jewellery, that kind of stuff. We do leadership skills, so they’ll have a session on the different techniques they can use. What else do we do? Team building… so types of things they can use. It’s almost like preparation for if they ever become a police officer in the future, which isn’t necessarily the idea behind it but it gives them an idea of the kind of things we do, so if they were witnessing an incident on the phone how they can provide really useful information to the police about what was going on.
Victoria – We’ve been to Milton Keynes, we’ve done leaflet drops, we’ve been to NAG meetings, been to the council with NAG; which is the Neighbourhood Action Group; and we’ve done statements.
Steve – How often do you meet as a cadet?
Victoria – Once a week for two hours.
Steve – Wow, so you pack a lot into that once a week.
Alex – The volunteering stuff we do, it’s generally weekends or other sessions if it’s school holidays, but the Wednesday nights, I often say to people ‘come here before, and give them an input on communication skills and basic self defence and that kind of stuff.
Steve – You mentioned you were thinking about law, Victoria. Are you still interested in law or have you developed other motivations that kept you engaged with the cadets?
Victoria – Yes, I mean, we helped with the open day at Court Magistrates, and we actually staged a case against Goldilocks and the Three Bears in which I was the little bear, so I went into a little world of my own and dramatised that whole series. It’s definitely helped me to widen my perspective of law. Now using my leadership skills I’ve kind of gone towards the more teaching side of things, ’cause I’ve kind of seen how much I enjoy teaching. I taught how to care for your uniform to the grade that are now becoming the grade 1s, and I really enjoy doing that, so you definitely get to practice your leadership skills quite a lot, and it teaches you quite a lot of discipline ’cause you do quite a lot of drill, so a lot of self-control.
Alex – And obviously now you’re head cadet, we’ve got almost a rank structure within the cadets, we’re putting a lot more onus on the leaders within the cadets to start organising stuff, taking responsibility for the inputs, so, yeah, you’ll be practising.
What do you get out of it?
Alex – Being a serving officer, hopefully I can impart a bit of working practice around what I do, a bit more understanding about the police that then can get fed back to people they know. They get to see a bit more of workings inside the police station than perhaps a normal person would, so if anyone’s got an interest in it, it’s probably a good way of seeing if it is something they’d like to do. If not, it’s still a good way that they can give back to the community. For me, it’s great being involved in the community stuff, being able to go and do the parades and the Moon Walk in London. I’d never be able to go to the Moon Walk in London to volunteer as my job normally, but being a cadet leader obviously you can do stuff like that and give a bit back.
“You get to meet a fantastic group of young people, they all come from different walks of life, and I get just as much from them as (hopefully) they get from me.”
It makes you think sometimes as well, so when we have to do the training sessions on, for instance, the Stop-and-Search; actually targeting that to a younger audience helps your understanding a bit better at well, ’cause obviously we just get kind of the straight legal input, whereas when we’re actually having to teach other people about it that are slightly younger, you have to think about it a bit more. They will question stuff so if we kind of say ‘this is the process, this is what we do’, they’ll then go ‘why?’, and you’re like ‘that’s a good question’. <laugh>
Victoria – It definitely teaches you behavioural management, I think, and how to approach people differently.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about becoming a police cadet?
Victoria – I would say it’s a really, really good thing to come to, because we do so many different events. You get to see so many different perspectives to life, and you also get to go to so many places.
“You get to meet some really lovely people, some really inspirational people… I’d definitely encourage them. I think I’d even pick them up and drag them over here myself if I had to, to be honest.”
And from the point of view of someone who’s toying with becoming a leader?
Alex – Come and try it. See if you like it. Apply. Everyone has something they can give. It doesn’t matter what job you do; you don’t have to have ever done anything with the police before. The more experience we have, the better opportunities we’re gonna be able to provide for the cadets to do. Wherever you come from, you’ll bring something that we can look to use for the volunteering to give back to the community. More the merrier.
Steve – I incorrectly assumed that it would be mostly police officers, but actually there are civilians as well who are involved.
Alex – Yes, we probably have more civilian leaders than we do police leaders. They really are vital, because they’re the ones that can regularly come every week; they’re the regular faces that are always here, whereas our shift workers, you know… I mean my shift pattern’s not too bad, I miss probably one in five weeks.
“The civilians that come in are absolutely vital, and they bring with them that extra leadership that perhaps is slightly different from what we can offer.”
We’ve got a lady that comes help out who does loads of work in schools already, she does gardening clubs, she does so much volunteering, it’s unbelievable, and she’s really good and quite a good motivation for us to keep doing it sometimes when we think we’re tired and ‘should we be doing this?’; she’s always here, always reliable, and really offers a lot to the cadets.
We’ve got a young lad who’s just started; he currently works at one of the paint-ball places locally and he’s joined up, ’cause he’s looking to potentially become a special or a police officer at some point in the future, so he’s become a leader to get and give something back, but also to get a taster of if this is kind of what he wants to do. So, yeah, quite a few of us. …But we always need more.
You can find out more about volunteering within Thames Valley Police, including the cadet programme, from their website HERE
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