I’ve been to church today with the family. It was a lovely service and there was a baptism too so the church was packed. The choir sang a new anthem they had been practicing, all our friends were there and communion was taken. It was a lovely start to the day.
Our church is old. Not old as in 40-50 years. Not even old as in 200yrs or so. The church building itself dates back to 1320 but there has been a church in this location since 755 AD. Well over 1000 years of worship.
By it’s very age the church is pre-reformation. There are many artefacts and items of history within the church of some considerable age. One of the bells in the tower is also pre-reformation. It’s an incredible place.
Some time ago whilst still churchwarden I was there on a Sunday morning. I was the last one to leave. My family had all gone to the coffee shop and I was to follow them. I just had to finish counting the collection, ensure the safe was locked up and leave. As I walked through the nave to the west door a chap came in on his own. I said hello. He was looking to speak to the vicar. I told him that he was too late. We were in an interregnum and the visiting vicar had left some time ago. He looked disappointed and so I asked if I could help with anything. What followed was a 10 minute conversation on him contemplating his return to faith. I can remember thinking at the time ‘I’m not prepared or qualified for this conversation’. Whilst he spoke I can remember nodding and making the appropriate noises whilst constantly praying ‘Lord.. put the right words in my mouth and help me out here’.
During the conversation he told me he was living nearby on a narrowboat and asked when the church was open. We are lucky, at present, to be able to have our church open every day during daylight hours for people to just come in and visit. Long may this continue. He told me he was struggling with his faith and had been hurt in the past. I had no idea what to say to him so I talked about the church. I talked about finding space and some peace. Peace that allows you to think clearly and just be.
Our church is built out of huge chunks of sandstone. For the size of the village it’s enormous. Whilst the village is generally quiet and there are no main roads near the church there is an additional layer of quiet when you go into the church alone. You can still hear the birds singing outside but there is a peace about the place that I cannot find words to describe. I spoke to this man about the peace. ‘There’s nearly 700 years of prayers soaked into these walls’ I said. ‘Just stop right now and listen. All you can hear is the pendulum for the clock on the tower. Nothing else. Allow that peace to just embrace you. It’s fantastic’. We stood and just listened for what was probably only 30 seconds. Then he turned to face me and said ‘Thank you. I see what you mean. It’s amazing isn’t it’.
We parted shortly after and I headed off to the coffee shop. I’ve not seen him since. Maybe I scared him off! The point though is that it is a truly amazing building. It’s grade 1 listed and, unlike two cathedrals I’ve been in recently that felt like museums, I can, in my church, feel like I’m close to God. I was married there and all my children have been baptised there. It has a place in my heart.
Having said all that it’s cavernous, has an antiquated heating system, is drafty, needs constant care and attention and is a huge drain on church resources. We keep it going because we can and long may that continue. However, if it were to fall down in a pile of rubble overnight I wouldn’t get too upset. Why not? Because it’s a money pit? No.. because when it comes down to basic facts.. it is nothing more than a building. The church isn’t the bricks and mortar that create the building that we gather in to worship. The church is the people. The people make the church. The people create the friendship, the welcome, the presence that allows us to worship together and learn from one another. Whilst I would miss the building I would not be sentimental about it. In the cold light of day we can do everything we do now in this historic church in a community centre, a cinema, a village hall or a modern church building. The building is lovely but it’s the people that are far more important. They make the place what it is.
When the Home Secretary announced the plan to sell the police college at Bramshill there was an outcry on Twitter from some senior police officers. One of the most popular phrases was ‘There goes the family silver’. It is clearly held in much affection and there were many who felt that selling off Bramshill was a dreadful idea. Yet whilst Snr officers were getting upset I don’t recall any tweets from the Constable to Inspector rank in the same vein. Yesterday the matter arose again when a senior officer posted that he was visiting for the last time.
I have never once been to Bramshill. Yesterday I tweeted a question asking officers if they had ever been when Insp rank or below. It’s currently hovering at around 60% who have never been. Even then some officers admit going but only because the local home office training establishment was overflowing. One officer said, “Only on Federation business relating to College. Before that didn’t even know where it is. Perceived as Senior Cop Club” and another said “As a D Sgt to design a course & was politely told I was eating in the wrong section as lower ranks ‘ate over there with them”.
This is the perception I too have of the place. I see it, rightly or wrongly, as a venue for Snr officers to attend leadership courses, and national/international conferences. It is not generally a place for the rank and file. The canteen comment is really quite interesting. My force HQ has one canteen and you can sit next to a car mechanic or the Chief Con. Yet when I first joined the police the training school had a huge refectory and there was a smaller more exclusive area set aside with tablecloths and cutlery laid out for Snr officers and trainers.
Anyway. During the debate yesterday the closure was described as a ‘travesty’. The question which came up months ago arose again ‘would the government sell Sandhurst or Dartmouth?‘ I pointed out that they were all simply buildings but the counter argument was ‘they embody the spirit of the organisation. Bramshill is the same for police. We need that’. But do we? Do we ‘need’ it.. or is there just a cadre of officers who ‘want’ it.
The police have been users of Bramshill since the 1950’s. We have just over 60 years of input into this building. A building that is a Jacobean Mansion in 300 acres and over 400yrs old. We are just a small part of the buildings history. We cannot claim it is an heirloom. I pointed out yesterday that many police stations that are important, historic and been with the police much longer than Bramshill have been closed. I said without a quibble and through ACPO. It has been pointed out to me since that sell offs are via PCC’s, MOPAC and the previous Police Authorities. It was also, quite rightly said that no police station ever closed without a quibble. I accept my error. I also agree about the quibble factor. I can remember many unhappy statements and press articles about local police station closures but generally from the public. I can’t recall a comment from a Snr officer saying it was a travesty and flogging the family silver. What has been said is that ‘times change’, the building is ‘old and expensive to run’, we have ‘outgrown it’ and the new PFI clone police station “offers an exciting opportunity to bring 21st century policing to this community”.
Ask yourself a question. Is Bramshill old and expensive to run? It’s a Jacobean Mansion. Take a look at the images in this article. Fantastic looking building. Wonderful grounds. No modern double glazing. Huge rooms with high ceilings. Heating such rooms costs an arm and a leg. Whether you’ve been there or not you know it’s not going to come cheap. It’s grade 1 listed so any changes will come with all the rigmorole of the planning application process and at considerable cost. If you can believe the Daily Mail they carry an article that says an ornamental bridge was recently repaired at a cost of £750,000. All the same arguments for closing police stations that have been with us for over 100 years are applicable to Bramshill.
I have no doubt that many officers, mostly Snr, have enjoyed some great courses, conferences and events at Bramshill. I’m sure they hold the place in some affection because of the their time there, the friends they made, the trainers that inspired them and the careers they have grown around it but do the bricks and mortar, the building itself, retain the ‘spirit’ of the organisation?
Forces are all going through a period of change. The cuts are biting deep, jobs have been lost and there is still, in many ways, an axe hanging over the jobs of some. The process of change has been relentless though. Austerity is a merciless mistress and Snr Officers have had to find savings in every area. It is, without doubt, a very depressing time for police. Morale is rock bottom. I’ve never known it so bad. Where would we be though if Snr officers publicly stated ‘We are all doomed’. Negativity from the top would only make the negativity at the bottom worse. They have to say that times are hard and there will be some tough decisions but we will continue to deliver the service we are proud of. What I find rather hard is accepting this stance (because we have no choice) and then seeing upset comments about the loss of Bramshill as though it is something different.
I accept many will have fond memories but times move on. My original police station has been demolished. My second police station has been demolished. The neighbouring one that had a history as long as the arm of the law was demolished. The training school in my current force is now apartments. My home office training site has been demolished and houses are being built on it. I hold fond memories of them all but I’m not sentimental about them. They are just buildings after all.
The police service is full of exemplary people with amazing skills and knowledge. Twitter is opening up some Snr Officers to rank and file officers in ways that could not have been envisaged before. Only yesterday I spoke about Bramshill, via Twitter, with 2 DCC’s, 1 CC and a very Snr Officer in the Met. How amazing is that? On a Saturday!! As much as the police using Twitter is showing our human side, Snr Officers are showing their willingness to engage in discussions too, particularly with the lower ranking officers. I love that about Twitter. Yet Twitter is just a platform that facilitates those debates. It is the people that actually make them. Bramshill is a building. It is the people that have made it what it is. Wherever the work that goes on at Bramshill now moves to it will continue because the same people and skills will be doing it.
Bramshill is bricks and mortar. Hold fond memories of your time there by all means but we cannot afford to be sentimental about it. Snr Officers cannot show dismay and upset over the loss of Bramshill when losing it is no different to them as losing a local nick is to the officers and staff that work within and from it.
The finest traditions of the service lie in the hearts and minds of the officers and staff in the service. Where we learn is not important. It’s what we do with the learning that is.