Posted: Fri, 28 May 2021 14:21

Chief Constable Simon Cole on supporting staff’s physical and mental wellbeing through the pandemic

Leicestershire Police have made individual calls to thousands of its employees to check on their wellbeing as the anniversary of the first lockdown approached.

The process has been part of a wider wellbeing strategy which has, for some years, been central to the force as it contends with the unique set of pressures which come with the job. As well as physical health, the plan considers mental and financial wellbeing as well as emotional health and resilience. The approach recently became a pledge as Leicestershire Police joined 78 other businesses and organisations in the region in signing up to the Active Together Wellbeing at Work pledge.

The scheme helps local employers to prioritise the wellness of their workforce as we navigate out of the pandemic. It also promotes the benefit gained by employers in return.

For more than a decade, Leicestershire Police has been focussed on measures to support staff physical wellbeing. That has continued through the disruption of the pandemic.

Each strand of the strategy is chaired by a senior officer. Detective Superintendent Michelle Keen oversees physical wellbeing. As well as physical activity, the brief covers diet and nutrition, sleep, alcohol and the force's gyms. "Daily life is increasingly busy and demanding, perhaps never more so than during this past year with the added Covid challenges," the officer said. "This may have affected each of us in different ways, and we all need to take time to stop, take a breath and look at what is available to us, to help support our own wellbeing through physical activity and keeping healthy."

Weekly sessions offering activities including circuit training, yoga and pilates which had been conducted through the force's sports and leisure section have now been moved online. Meanwhile, the cycling club, which has around 60 members and which previously was limited in numbers on group rides because of conflicting shift patterns, is now attracting dozens of virtual riders. Staff members on bike trainers in back rooms and garages around the region are meeting online to cycle up virtual mountains on Zwift.

Chief Constable Simon Cole welcomed the Wellbeing at Work accreditation as a public-facing symbol of years of work done behind the scenes.

"If you go out in a police car you first check the tires, the siren, the oil, the lights to make sure they are all working. It is recorded in a book," he said.

"I talk about checking yourself and your mate too. People are all part of the toolkit as well and this stuff matters."

"We've tried to make wellbeing something which is meaningful and is not just an item in a corporate agenda," the chief constable added. "It is about how to do more and to make it mean something."

Serving police officers must complete annual fitness tests. The force has found that officers have developed systems to support each other in their preparation and training. Meanwhile, systems are in place to support all staff with management of financial pressures as well as physical and mental health.

For example, major incidents involve debriefs to support with the wellbeing of those involved. However, the nature of the job means that day-to-day work is both stressful and demanding - and that has been accelerated by the pressures of the pandemic. Yet staff must find their own ways of returning to their personal situations and families in lockdown when finishing shifts.

"Having a release for that is really important because work can feel quite intense," added the chief constable.

With around 4,000 full-time and part-time employees, the force recognises that not everybody is going to engage with physical and mental wellbeing in the same way. The sport and leisure club has more than 1,700 members and there are 1,000 signed up for its gyms. But the nature of police work also means that there are going to be other particular demands of wellbeing support.

This might include staff members who are on recuperation plans following physical injuries through to those who engage in sponsored walks to raise money for charity. Therefore, there is a range of activity which encourages participation by making activity relevant to individuals. The force has allocated Wellbeing Champions - of which the chief constable is himself one - to support others in their activity. The force also employs a fitness and wellbeing coordinator.

Meanwhile, the force's annual Elf Run was moved online before Christmas. Rather than happening around the streets of Enderby and Narborough, more than 370 staff members instead completed the 5k course virtually. It raised thousands of pounds for the Emma Shaw Foundation, the Rothley-based charity which was set up in memory of the former Leicestershire Police employee and which helps people with triple negative breast cancer.

It all means that, as well as the three force staff members who play for the British police rugby team and the sergeant who raised £40,000 through an extreme sport challenge, there are more gentle activities and projects happening too. Many employees are working together on completing the Couch to 5K, while there were 161 new additions to the 'cycle to work' scheme last year.

"We try to give people options," added the chief constable. "For some people that is going to be going for a walk and for other people it is going to be extreme sports challenges.

"We do a job that is both peculiar and particular pressures. We work funny hours and don't always eat as well as we might. The wellbeing work considers how we eat as well - for example, Market Harborough has a healthy eating tuck shop!"

John Byrne, director of Loughborough-based LRS, agreed on the benefit of people getting active in their own way. LRS has been using its Active Together project throughout the pandemic to encourage residents as they find alternative ways of staying physically active.

"We are very pleased that Leicestershire Police have taken the Wellbeing at Work pledge and that the force is so clear that physical activity isn't just about competitive sport," he said.

"There are now 78 organisations which have taken the pledge. They employ more than 23,000 people around the region and that is helping Active Together move towards its goal of getting everyone in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland to be physically active."

"It's a privilege to have the opportunity of working with a group of people from across the organisation, who are also committed to making things better for the benefit of others," added Detective Superintendent Keen. "The Pledge is testament to this commitment".

The Wellbeing at Work pledge is open to all local workplaces. Go to www.lrsport.org/wellbeingatwork for more information.

Chief Constable Simon Cole describes how physical activity benefits him:

For the last five years, Leicestershire Police chief constable Simon Cole has been a board member of Leicester-Shire and Rutland Sport.

He took on the role after being approached because of his interest in sport and workplace wellbeing - but also because his organisation is one of the largest employers in the region.

"Sport and exercise is a massive part of my life," he said.

"It is a clear break from work when I am coaching rugby because it is hard to be worrying about work when you are teaching rucking and mauling.

"The same applies when I am on my bicycle - it reduces stress and helps keep me fit as well.'

Bicycle rides had become a familiar theme on the Chief Constable's social media accounts as he posted pictures from his rides around the county. The routes now often start and end close to home.

"This time last year I bought a second-hand bike trainer because I was finding that I couldn't find a way of committing to time to get out on planned rides," said Simon.

"It proved to be very lucky because I have used it massively during lockdown. The police cycling club is now meeting online twice a week and cycling together on Zwift. It's something to aim for."

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