Inside new police training centre - with its own bar, cafe and apartment
- Credit: Contributed
When Norfolk Police took over its new training complex in Hethersett it wanted to ensure the historic buildings weren’t “stripped of their soul.”
So the county force set about respecting the legacy of the past, whilst aiming to provide a modern seat of learning for the present and future.
The police took over ownership of the former Old Hall School on the B1172 after its closure in 2018.
Operational head of learning and development chief inspector Keith Philpot said police set about developing a training site for the future, whilst keeping the educational legacy of the past.
“We realised that the number of police recruits would increase over a three year period and existing facilities at our Wymondham headquarters weren’t adequate,” he said.
Chief Insp Philpot started looking for suitable premises, hoping to find a school environment that could be adapted.
Old Hall School came on the market and the police moved quickly negotiating and paying for the site using Private Finance Initiative money associated with the headquarters.
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“As soon as I saw the complex I thought, this is it, this is what we need. I knew it would give us the opportunity to produce a campus style environment similar to that at universities,” Chief Insp Philpot added.
The local community instantly warmed to having a police training centre on their doorstep.
“I think there was concern that the site would be broken up and sold as different units and it would lose its identity, but we have secured the retention of the site as a whole and I think that is a big achievement,” Chief Insp Philpot said.
There was plenty of work to knock the buildings into shape and adapt them into 16 classrooms and a conference room with numerous working hubs, a fitness centre in the former school gymnasium and other areas.
There is also an area set aside to simulate training environments such as a bar, an apartment and a café where scenarios can be acted out for new recruits.
The world of policing is changing with future recruits being trained to degree level.
“The degree qualification will recognise the breadth and depth of policing and the complex issues of policing in our modern world,” chief inspector Philpot said.
One of the first actions was to contact and work with a strong former pupils’ network in order to recognise and celebrate the site’s heritage which goes back at Hethersett to 1938.
This led to books being sent to 42 schools and the setting up of three complete school libraries. Bedding was donated to a company which turned it into scrubs for the NHS.
Pupils' colourful artwork and artefacts were incorporated and a classroom was named after former principal Victoria Redington with a special plaque and history of her connection with the school so trainees can learn about the legacy.
“The complex has given us a first class environment in which to train police officers. To raise the standards of policing we need the right atmosphere and in Hethersett we have it,” Chief Insp Philpot said.
The work on the new training complex is far from finished. There are more conference rooms and classrooms to come and the possibility of a custody suite for training and even a nursery.
The force is also considering how it can get closer to the local community by hiring out rooms and facilities.
Chief Insp Philpot is keen to see a welfare centre for all the emergency services and public sector to provide staff with support when needed.
He said: “If somebody had told me in 2019 that we would be where we are now, I would have bitten their hands off. I feel really privileged to be part of this.
"I have been driven by a passion to get something that I will know will make a difference and for me it is a dream come true. The last thing I wanted was for the site to be stripped of its soul."