Policing Past Community Present is a new project working with and developing the Historic Collections of Devon & Cornwall Police in a way that will create a clear social mission for policing heritage. Intellectually, the project aims to challenge the stereo-typical image of museums of crime and punishment and show that, interpreted with sensitivity and imagination, the public’s fascination with crime can be positively harnessed to explore key social issues such as safety, citizenship, protest, human rights, respect, bullying and victim support, as well as more traditional curriculum-based subjects. Practically the project aims to identify a new, functional and exciting space for the collection which can be used and accessed by multiple agencies and organisations working in the fields of community safety, engagement with young people and crime reduction.
The Historic Collections have remained in store for many years, and for the last eight years have been housed in Okehampton Police Station. The reasons it has been closed to the public for so long are complex, but all who have access to it agree it is a unique and irreplaceable collection which includes an extensive library, a photograph archive, documents and records going back to the 1850s, uniforms, equipment, works of art, crime files, seized weapons and evidence, samples from knife amnesties, ephemera, posters and much more.
In addition to running my own museum consultancy, acting as an Arts Council England mentor for small museums, sitting on the committee of the Crime and Punishment Collections Network, and now through the award of AHRC doctoral research funding, I am researching the relationship between the police and their material history, I have also worked as part-time Curator for the collection for 10 years. So I know the collection well and remain passionate that it must be kept together and preserved, firstly because it remains a complete record and organisational memory of the police force it serves, and secondly because it is a fascinating cross-section of social history viewed through the eyes of those who have upheld the law on the peninsula. However, I am the first to recognise that it is also a challenging collection to use and to interpret, and the extraordinary stories it holds need to be teased out with sensitivity and imagination. As such in 2013 I began to develop the project which is now called Policing past Community Present.
The project is in the first of two stages and this stage is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through a Start-Up grant of £9,900. The grant has been boosted by a generous private donation from a retired police officer and our budget currently stands at just under £17,000.
Stage One will lay down the foundations for a new heritage organisation, allowing the collection to become more sustainable and independent. The current owners of the Historic Collections – Devon and Cornwall Police – will transfer it into a charitable trust; a board of trustees will be appointed and a Service Level Agreement drafted which will lay out the future relationship between the new charity and the police. To facilitate this, a Steering Group has been formed which consists of myself, the Deputy Chief Constable, representatives from the Friends of the Collection and other representatives from the police. Stage One funding has allowed the appointment of a firm of specialist lawyers, Stone King, and also supports a new part-time role for myself as Project Consultant and Manager. In addition, and dear to my heart, we have been able to provide two work-placement opportunities for young people, and they have also been offered a place on our new board of trustees.
Stage Two will begin in February 2014. It is important that the new organisation is sustainable with the ability to generate income for the future care, display and interpretation of the collection and the ability to provide educational and community heritage services to both its founding organisation and to the local community. So, this stage will involve further funding applications and explore possible sites for a new community heritage centre. At present we would very much like to stay in Okehampton – we have built up a small dedicated team of volunteers from the local community and we would like to contribute to the town’s economy and services, as well as work in partnership with the other local heritage organisations.
I am writing this blog, not only to introduce the project to local communities, but because I also recognise that our specialism is heritage and we shouldn’t attempt to venture into, or encroach on the highly specialist fields of safety, crime reduction and working with young or vulnerable people. As such, the project’s vision is very much around providing a neutral and imaginative space, with heritage acting as the catalyst and intermediary – a space which specialists can use. So an important part of Stage One is to engage with our local communities and potential future supporters, advisors, trustees and partners and to seek your opinions and feed-back.
Finally, all I ask now is that you indicate any interest you have in the project by using the contact form below to get in touch.
Thank you for taking the time to read this,
Angela Sutton-Vane | Curator, Historic Collections of Devon & Cornwall Police