Our policing teams work with a variety of organisations and voluntary groups to help people and keep them safe from harm.
And our officers are always keen to build new relationships when they can.
So, when our Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington met Abberton Rural Training Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Stone, of course he wanted to visit and find out how the educational charity supports its students to gain new skills and, in many cases, turn their lives around.
Mr Harrington met volunteers, staff and students at Chelmsford-based ART’s Wormingford centre near Colchester, where courses focus on horticulture and carpentry, with hospitality and catering just taking off, too.
They discussed how Essex Police and ART can work together and how our officers can signpost people to ART centres - people who would benefit not only from the courses but from the practical and therapeutic support and mentoring the volunteers, tutors and students provide.
Sometimes, that can be as simple as making a phone call or providing a cup of tea and a piece of cake and a listening ear.
“This can make the difference between someone turning up, learning new skills and gaining confidence. “It is so important for us, as police officers, to make local connections like this because they can provide an informal safeguarding function. “Our community policing teams can signpost vulnerable people to organisations like ART which can help them get back on their feet, provide them with friendships and support. “Often, vulnerable people don’t need formal support, such as that provided by Social Care, but they might benefit from the increased confidence and self-esteem that gaining new skills gives them, whether that’s life skills or employment skills or simply learning for learning’s sake.” Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington
Just like the Essex Police Special Constabulary, ART was recognised with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service last summer – it’s the equivalent of an MBE in the voluntary sector. It was also named Best Rural Charity at the national Rural Business Awards and won a Triumph Over Adversity Award, too.
Jacqui says ART provides its students with an opportunity to learn rural skills and other connected skills in a positive environment, whether they just want to learn something new or are experiencing isolation or other disadvantages.
“We reach out to a variety of different groups and people who need our help and want to progress in life, from victims of domestic abuse, or people with drug and alcohol issues or mental health problems to young people who are not in education, employment or training. “People also come to us through the Probation Service and other linked organisations, we’ve got wounded and injured service personnel and veterans, people who are homeless – all sorts of people who are facing all sorts of barriers. “And we’ve also got people with PhDs who’ve had a mental health breakdown and just want to learn in a different environment. Our oldest student is 83 and our youngest, in one of our summer holiday groups, was five.” Jacqui Stone
At its centres across Essex, people can take courses in woodland, countryside and environment management, green wood crafts, textiles, reuse and recycling and rural skills.
And, Jacqui says, people don’t have to take a qualification, they can just learn at their own speed and ability. But the staff and tutors will do their best to encourage students to achieve their best.
“We had one man in his 50s who said he’d never be able to pass his course. We encouraged him and helped him to fill in a daily diary, alongside the other students, took some pictures of his work, built his portfolio up and got it accredited. When we presented his certificate he was overwhelmed because it’s the first qualification he’s ever got. “We have qualified counsellors, an advocate and a qualified social worker to help us to break down barriers. If you are living under a railway arch, which one of our students was, you are not going to be able to concentrate properly on learning. So, we can help students who need support to keep their positive path going.” Jacqui Stone
Tutor and careers practitioner Beverly Baker is able to work with survivors of domestic abuse in Next Chapter’s Colchester refuge, thanks to funding from the Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.
She says ART’s courses enable the women to identify skills they didn’t know they had as well as learning new ones.
“Some of them might not have left the house for a while, or there may be other issues, such as substance abuse and drinking. “They need something to do, something different. They’re not all interested in gardening and horticulture but, through this, we find out what they are interested in and we can teach them about transferrable skills – some of them have never worked and think they can’t do anything. We teach them about CV writing, job searching and leadership. “Then, possibly for the first time in their lives, they actually believe in themselves. They are such inspiring people. “Some of them are really keen to gain a qualification because, very often in their lives, they have been made to feel so worthless, they haven’t got anything. “I am very proud of working for ART and seeing the difference we make!” Beverly Baker
Advocate and mentor Amanda Armstrong follows up referrals and expressions of interest.
“I talk to the person who might be interested in the course and that’s where my counselling skills come in. They might have been referred from social isolation, have anxiety or other mental health problems and I can use that phone call to chat. “They usually open up about their concerns and I can provide reassurance to say you don’t have to have prior qualifications, you are self-governing, you can do everything at your own speed and you can take time out when you want.” Amanda Armstrong
Amanda visits every ART site to check in with the students and find out whether they need further support.
“That’s when we see the progression, from someone who arrives and doesn’t want to talk to anybody and wants to go home after 20 minutes to someone who can’t wait to come next time and tell you all about it and has started to chat to a few people – that’s lovely. “What makes a difference is that we have counselling on site, so people don’t have to wait for it. Even on the first morning, if they have a bit of a wobble, they can ring and we can ask how can we help.” Amanda Armstrong
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