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Retention: new network supporting student spike in South Yorkshire

Inspector Ross Greenwood and PCDA student Sophie Wallace talk to Police Oracle about the importance of having a designated place where new officers can access support.

It's widely accepted that the Uplift programme has skewed the age profile of policing. The need for new officers, honoured through the Home Office pledge to add an additional 20,000 to the ranks, has made it so that a third of all those in England and Wales now have under five years' experience.

Not only does this landscape change the operational landscape, but it also places a responsibility on forces to appropriately support an increasingly large group who arguably need it most.

In recognition of this, South Yorkshire Police (SYP) has formed a new Student Support Hub which offers students a designated place where they can access bespoke help.

Its chair is PCDA student Sophie Wallace, a response officer who is due to complete her studies next February. 

She and Inspector Ross Greenwood, Chair of the Equality Hub that's responsible for coordinating the force's 12 staff networks, spoke to Police Oracle about the importance of a resource they each have high hopes for.

The need for a student hub is both individual and collective. On a personal level, PC Wallace says there have been times during her studies where she “could’ve done with a little bit of support from somebody” but wasn’t sure where to go. This hub changes that.

In terms of the collective, SYP has responded to the shifting demographics seen across UK policing.

According to figures provided by Insp Greenwood, South Yorkshire’s student population has grown from 11% to 21% in the four years between 2019 and 2023.

“In real numbers, that’s 257 to 647 [students]…it’s been a lot of work, and a lot of change, very fast,” he said.

Given the changing landscape, it would be fair to assume that the idea was first pitched by a student.

Not so. Insp Greenwood says it was actually a police staff member who flagged that “a lot of students coming were through the door” and suggested they would benefit from extra support. 

It quickly became clear they would. “Once we got the idea we put it to a number of students, to see if the appetite was there to run with a network idea. The overwhelming reply was ‘yes please’.”

While the hub is still very much in its infancy, it already has a clear structure.

PC Wallace said: “It’s run by students, for students. At the minute it’s myself; I’ve got two vice chairs which are also students, and then we’ve got a representative for each intake into the police…the different entry routes.”

Insp Greenwood added: “What we’ve built into the student network is a permanent panel of support, so aside from all the students who are running it, we’ve also got a permanent panel of reps from things like training, recruitment, media, federation…so they will permanently be there as people come and go.”

The first port of call is finding out what students want to see from the hub. “They’re our target audience, we want to act in their favour,” says PC Wallace.

A questionnaire sent out at the end of September should shed some light, though as a student herself PC Wallace has a fair idea of the issues likely to emerge.

“The stress of it all is probably going to be one of the biggest things, to be honest. It’s something I brought up when I first started. People understand the uni side of things is stressful, people understand that the police side of things is stressful. But when you combine the two it’s only us that understand what we’re going through.”

She says the recruitment drive will ramp up once the questionnaires are returned. “Ideally I’d love to have everybody in, but I know that being part of a network is not for every student.”

Insp Greenwood explains that the long-term plan is for the hub to follow “a similar pattern to our other networks with quarterly meetings and regular events".

When asked how the issues raised in those meetings will reach the desks of decision makers, he highlighted that the hub’s sponsor is Head of Training Tanya Wright, who he describes as “a really good contact to be able to escalate things through”.

Alternatively, Insp Greenwood says issues could be brought to the table at quarterly meetings of the Equality Hub, of which chief constable Lauren Poultney is the sponsor.

While still in a period of trying “to get the basics right”, the pair have lofty ambitions for what the hub could become.

One ambition is to also cater for police staff who are students; another is to have PC Wallace attend recruitment events with the aim of enlisting prospective members at the earliest opportunity.

Insp Greenwood says the hub also has the opportunity to support people from the Police Now entry route, who often make the “daunting” decision to relocate for the job. It can also play its part in preventing departures; intervene and offer students help “before they choose to leave”.

Beyond improving things internally, he believes having this hub – and staff networks in general – offers another benefit that’s perhaps harder to quantify.

“By understanding specific groups and getting to know people who work for us already, and widening our horizons, we then become – in theory - better at dealing with the public and communities.”

The Chair is clear on what she wants. “I said when I very first got the position, I want to look back in a year’s time and see that it’s made a difference to students. I’d love to be able to go speak to students and say, ‘what has the network done for you?’, and for them to be able to sit and have a conversation about how we’ve helped people...”

This individual testimony is really important, and so is having a student hub that’s truly heard by the powers that be. Insp Greenwood would “like to see it become a really integral part of what we do”.  

”Twenty percent of our workforce – just over – are students. That’s a lot of people who are the future of the organisation, so it’s important we listen; and act when we need to."

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