Throughout my 30-year career policing in London, I have always been acutely aware of the need to build and sustain effective partnerships with every part of the community.
Whether this is visiting colleges, attending events, or simply being visible on the streets and encouraging people to engage, my colleagues and I work hard to ensure that we are approachable but also effective.
Partnerships must be a two-way process.
We cannot just go out and talk ‘at’ people. Instead, we need to provide the right spaces and forums to facilitate genuine conversations, which provide us with real insight into people’s perceptions, worries, concerns and suggestions. This means that young people and the police feel supported and safe.
FE providers and their students sit at the very heart of their communities. Colleges provide opportunities for people of all ages to achieve the qualifications they need to access employment, no matter what their background, life stage, or ambitions.
Such diverse and inclusive organisations are therefore integral to our engagement strategy, offering a societal cross-section of opinion and perspective.
To do our job effectively, we need to understand the constantly changing needs and challenges within our communities – and FE colleges are clearly a great place to start.
But how do we engage and collaborate in a way that will have tangible and impactful outcomes? An excellent, recent example of multi-organisational, cross-sector collaboration was a unique event for fifty 16-24-year-olds, which took place at Experience Haus design studio in London.
This was conceived by Experience Haus and Digital Skills Consulting, and sponsored by Amazon Web Services. The event also involved the City of London Police, working with the Metropolitan Police Service, other employers, and several charities.
The dual aim was to build trust and confidence between young people and the police to support positive future relationships, while also introducing them to careers in the digital & creative industry.
The young people involved came from FE colleges (Activate Learning’s Oxford, Reading and Banbury campuses and Barking & Dagenham College) and local London schools as well as London charities.
A design challenge was set, and the students worked with experienced Technology UX Designers on some creative concepts to support positive relationship building.
This set-up provided a safe environment for some valuable discussions, with issues and possible solutions being talked about constructively. These ranged from ways in which the police could let people know about their rights in a more friendly and supportive way, through to the way that police uniform is perceived by young people.
The format of the event also gave us a chance to explain the scope of our work and to ensure that the students attending saw us as humans, rather than just police officers.
The ‘partnership working’ made this event extremely impactful. By bringing together FE colleges and their students in a room with employers, charities, and the police and a representative from the Home Office, each partner achieved a slightly different aim while providing the young people with a hugely useful experience.
For the City of London Police and the Met, we were able to open up a positive dialogue with a key target audience and get some extremely useful feedback. The employers involved have skills gaps to fill and were able to demonstrate to the young people the many career opportunities on offer in this exciting sector.
For the young people themselves, we were able to de-mystify some of their stereotypes around the police and challenge some of the more negative perceptions. They also had access to some hugely talented, creative individuals, and the chance to network and speak with industry experts.
No organisation can achieve all their aims in isolation. While partnership working is not a new concept, we need to re-think how we can collaborate in a way that truly benefits our communities as well as our own organisations.
FE colleges are a rich resource for such collaboration, but for more of this good work to happen, we need to widen and strengthen partnerships into the private sector and beyond.
In the meantime, I know my colleagues in police forces across the country stand ready to engage with their local colleges to achieve similar outcomes for their communities. The most important lesson we’ve learned is that when we work together, everyone benefits – and especially young people.