Norfolk policeman found calling in youth work, and was made an MBE in New Year Honours
09:25 20 January 2014
When Michael Blakey took on the role of schools liaison officer for the police in the area more than 20 years ago, he envisaged it lasting about a year.
But he has been working with youngsters, many of them among the most challenging at their schools, ever since.
His philosophy is that young people have massive potential and it just needs tapping.
He has taken youth expeditions around the world and on sailing trips to build up teamwork skills and confidence.
And his decades of hard work finally paid off with recognition of the highest kind when he was made an MBE in the New Year Honours this year.
He said: “I’m still flabbergasted about it. It was a complete surprise. It’s a real privilege and honour and pays tribute to all those organisations that have supported me, and all the young people that have taken part in the expeditions and programmes.”
Born in Burnley, his family moved to Norfolk when he was five.
He attended Stalham primary and then secondary schools, and was still only 14 when he left school.
He joined the RAF when he was aged 17 and was based at Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and then in Germany for two-and-a-half years, completing his stint at RAF Coltishall.
Joining the police at 21, he was stationed at King’s Lynn before moving to Norwich. He did two summers on the river patrol from Horning, before becoming a traffic officer.
He said: “At the start of the 1980s Lord Scarman suggested the police should be more involved with the community, and there was a move to put some programmes into place.
“A police schools campaign turned into the Splash – Schools & Police Liaison Activities for School Holidays – scheme.
“At around this time I also got involved with the Air Cadets and started adventure training and got involved in summer camps.
“It showed me a different way of dealing with young people’s problems at a grass roots level.
“These were youngsters who otherwise might have got themselves into trouble, particularly in the summer holidays.”
After a career break from the police and the completion of a master of education degree at the UEA, he returned to the constabulary where he was appointed schools liaison officer for the Norwich police division.
“It was something I thought I would do for a short time, but I found it was really interesting.
“At the start it was about talking to large groups of young people about the dangers of crime. It was quite old-fashioned, finger wagging, really.
“I then got involved in drug education strategy across the county.
“I got drawn into working with more challenging kids at schools – kids who were not school-shaped, did not fit into mainstream education.
“I used to take them climbing and canoeing.”
He was then asked to be police representative for Norfolk on the Prince’s Trust committee.
One Prince’s Trust project was aimed at teenagers in GCSE year – it was an alternative programme to keep them engaged in school.
“I ran the pilot programme at Heartsease school, then worked with the youth service who set up 16 programmes across Norfolk. I ran four of those programmes over successive years.
“I then became a trainer for the regional Prince’s Trust and sat on the national advisory group for programmes.
“I was then seconded to the Youth Offending Team in Yarmouth, and became school liaison and crime reduction officer for north Norfolk, based at Fakenham.”
During this time he was offered the chance to take groups of youngsters out with the sail training charity, The Norfolk Boat.
“We sailed out of Ipswich across to Holland. The youngsters were quite challenging, but the results were unbelievable. It gave youngsters a sense of achievement.
“It was hard work and required a lot of effort.
“I carried that on through my police career and still do it now.
“I take air cadet groups each year, and I have also become a trustee of Norfolk Boat.”
He retired from the police force in 2005 but was asked to continue working for the Prince’s Trust.
“I became a trainer across the UK for the next eight years, until about a year ago I took the opportunity to work overseas on some short-term contract work.”
He started in the air cadets as squadron officer in North Walsham, became adjutant at Norwich squadron, then wing adventure training officer taking groups to centres in North Wales and the Lake District.
He has also been deputy officer commanding the centre in North Wales, staff officer at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire, and is now responsible for overseas expeditions, with the title expeditions adviser to the air cadet organisation.
He’s also involved with the Young Explorers’ Trust, which provides advice to any group going on overseas expeditions, and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
While he’s taking another group of air cadets from London to South Africa next year, he added: “I’m also now looking to focus again on the local area. I’m offering to go into schools and set up sailing expeditions in association with Norfolk Boat.”