International Women's Day: investing in my community
Every day I’m investing in my community, there’s no other place I’d rather work.
I was working on the front desk of Cardiff Police Station 20 years ago when I first heard about the introduction of the Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) role. It was a brand new role in policing and when I read the job description, it felt like it had been written for me!
Being a PCSO is a very different role to that of an officer and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m passionate about influencing change and safeguarding those who are vulnerable, whether that’s through running surgeries to help women dealing with domestic abuse or working with young people to show them that they can trust in police.
I was delighted to start work and had the opportunity to make the role my own at the heart of the community I’d grown up in. The area I cover is high in the South Wales valleys and as well as being out on a limb, it is quite deprived with very little access to essential services.
I have always had an office and base at the local primary school which has proved invaluable in building trusted relationships with the communities I serve. I’m able to help people access the services they need and my role quickly extended beyond policing.
I started holding domestic abuse surgeries at the school so I could offer support and advice to local women. Many of these were individuals who either wouldn’t or couldn’t visit a police station and by holding the surgeries at the school their partners need never know they were speaking to me. Many of them weren’t ready to leave their partners for a long time but through the surgeries we built strong relationships so when the time came they knew they could trust me and that I’d help them find the services they needed.
I’ve now put myself forward to be a domestic abuse champion in my force and undertaken a lot of training so I can do everything possible to help women when they need it the most.
I also run a lot of inputs at the primary school because I want children to know they can trust in police from a young age. Many of my local community would think twice about reporting anything to the police and I really want to change that.
I want people to see that the police are a positive force, and that we can help them. I worked with a group of vulnerable girls from a young age, giving them advice and guidance about issues such as county lines drug dealing and domestic abuse. Many of them are now young mums and we keep in touch regularly so they always know they can come to me for support.
I also ran a group with boys on a Friday evening who were often involved in low level crime and antisocial behaviour. We organised martial arts sessions and various other activities so they had somewhere to go that they felt safe and could stay out of trouble. Years later I bumped into one of them who had joined the army and is now in a successful career. Someone investing the time in him had such a huge impact on his life, taking him away from a path which could have been very different.
A career highlight was an incident where our local community pavilion was broken into and completely trashed. The culprits were a group of young people who I knew well and they’d damaged a resource which was a lifeline for many people in the local areas. I got in touch with their parents and by 4pm the same day they had all come forward to claim responsibility for the damage. Working together with a lot of other people from the community, they began fundraising to pay for the restoration of the building and not only that, helped do all of the painting and decorating to put right what they had messed up.
Seeing everyone come together to achieve something for their community was absolutely incredible and I’ll never forget that. Many of those young men are now fathers themselves and they tell me they remember that incident as a turning point where they began to recognise how their behaviour impacted on others. They wanted to put right what they’d done and these are values they now instil in their own children.
There was also a Police Cadet who became the first person in her family to go to university. She joined the Cadets after her family had to relocate to the area following some difficult circumstances and she’d had a really tricky time growing up. She is a beautiful soul and watching her transform has been a true privilege.
My work can get quite all consuming so I have to make sure I keep a balance and look after myself. I’m a keen runner and also a very keen dog owner to my German Pointer who keeps me busy and active! Being out in the mountains whether running or walking is my absolute happy place.
My husband is also a police officer in a very different role so his perspective helps to keep me grounded when things get tough.
20 years on I’m still just as passionate about my role and there really is no other place I’d rather work.
A job in policing is a vocation, it’s about holding onto who you are and staying true to yourself.
And it’s about people’s lives, not numbers.
My advice for anyone thinking about joining policing is to do it, every day is so rewarding and knowing you’ve made a difference to someone’s life is like nothing else.
Police Community Support Officer Natasha Foster, South Wales Police