Prior to the opening of “The Zone”, officers and staff at Colchester police station were unable to grab even a few minutes peace at break times during long shifts. The cuts to their budget had resulted in a serious lack of investment in a proper rest area.
Morale was suffering and officers and staff were expected to make do with outdated furniture intended to serve as a communal space.
“I realised that there was an urgent need to create a separate rest area for officers and staff that was fit for purpose” Inspector Gary Chapman commented:
“As it was, all we had was a tatty, grey and unwelcoming space with worn out furniture that dated right back to 1989 when the station was first built – hardly somewhere you would choose to go and relax, particularly if you had already worked eight hours and weren’t sure when you would finish”.
“A proper rest area makes officers more productive in the long run and gives them an opportunity to actually take some time out from emotionally demanding duties”.
It was decided that a new room should be created. A place that was unique, vibrant and welcoming. Somewhere that did NOT look like a police station.
This led to the idea of the first ever “Health and Wellbeing Zone” being set up within Essex Police, a place that not only gave officers a proper communal space for refreshments, but which also actively promoted a healthy lifestyle and displayed information about external health and wellbeing services.
“I wanted to do something different” Chapman says. “This would not be a half-baked plan, but something that actually helped the officers in the long-run. However, I knew that for it to worthwhile I would need a substantial budget”.
Police Care UK was approached in 2016 while the project was still in its scoping phase and the grant enabled work to begin. The Zone was equipped with brightly coloured tables and chairs, unique artwork and an air hockey table specifically selected to include those with mobility issues.
In order to make the room even more unique, the accompanying artwork was designed by pupils at a local additional provision school.
The Health and Wellbeing Zone opened in February 2017 and, in the two years since, has proved extremely popular with those working at the station and beyond.
“More officers and staff are now taking proper breaks, socializing a lot more and generally showing a far more positive morale” says Chapman.
“We have had officers come in from other locations to use the facilities and the room is frequently the venue for wider training sessions”.
The emphasis on wellbeing services available is perhaps the biggest legacy of the project. Visitors can access details relating to mental health support thanks to a notice board and the station’s own Occupational Health department promotes the Zone’s use.
On the back of the project, several other initiatives have been facilitated – one being the first “Feel Well, Live Well” programme to run locally at the station, which was again supported by Police Care UK and runs over a four-week period.
The Zone is maintained by Colchester Police Stations own Health and Wellbeing Working Group, and a Wellbeing Zone suggestion scheme allows people to share their thoughts on the area.
“It’s had a real, noticeable impact on people” concludes Chapman.
“Staff and officers are now able to take some time out, recharge and seek internal support in a way that they could not before”.