Former school to be transformed into ‘first class’ police training centre
PUBLISHED: 16:37 13 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:00 14 March 2020
Steve Adams/Brittany Woodman
A former boarding school is set for a new lease of life as a training centre for Norfolk’s next generation of police recruits.
Hethersett Old Hall School, which went into liquidation last year, has been purchased for £3.35m and will become the force's primary base for training new recruits and existing staff.
Training currently takes place at Norfolk Constabulary's headquarters in Wymondham but, with more than 600 officers expected to join in the next three years, existing facilities have been deemed insufficient to cope with the impending demand.
Known as The Learning Centre, the new training facility is scheduled to open in August following a period of development and refurbishment across the Grade II listed premises.
Simon Bailey, chief constable at Norfolk Constabulary, said a change in terms of training provision had been in the pipeline for some time.
'We have known for some time that, with the uplift in officers, we were going to have to look at training through a different lens and recognise we didn't have the capacity with our existing facilities to meet the demand.
'We looked at Old Hall School and its infrastructure and saw a fabulous opportunity to develop the estate into what I hope will become a centre of excellence for training.'
The Learning Centre has been funded through capital investment, including savings made through the renegotiation of contracts around the constabulary HQ.
There is therefore no additional expense to the taxpayer in purchasing the site, which will provide 5,579sqm of training space.
Among the facilities will be 29 classrooms, offices for police trainers and a gym, while there are plans to keep in use an existing nursery in order to support staff and the local community.
Given the site's rich history and setting within 15 acres, Mr Bailey has emphasised a desire for the centre to be more than just a training facility.
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'I want this to become integrated into the local community so local people feel like they have a stake in this,' he added.
'Our nursery would be beyond normal working hours and I want to develop a commitment to creating a sports and social club. We'll have to make sure the security is right, of course, but we want to see the facilities being used.
'I see this as a win-win, not only for the constabulary but for the community as well.'
Following the introduction of a new policing model in 2018, Norfolk has already seen an increase in recruitment with an additional 138 officers joining in that time.
This latest investment comes at a time when the force must accommodate the government's promise of 20,000 extra officers and prepare for the introduction of the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship, which will see recruits earn a degree on the job.
Norfolk police and crime commissioner, Lorne Green, who commissioned an estates review to make the purchase achievable, echoed his colleague's sentiments.
'The chief constable advised me we simply do not have the capacity to cope with the growing number of new recruits and, as a result, the current provision at police headquarters is inadequate,' said Mr Green.
'This new centre of excellence is close to the current police headquarters in the heart of Norfolk, and will help to deliver a modern and innovative service for the county.
'This is an opportunity to bring back to life a unique and historical building where future generations of our policing family will be educated where those have gone before.'
Meanwhile, the constabulary has also discussed working at The Learning Centre alongside partners including Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, with whom it already collaborates closely.
Margaret Dewsbury, cabinet member for communities and partnerships at Norfolk County Council, said: 'Our fire service is looking forward to discussing options to be part of future plans for the site, as we explore opportunities for joint working across our emergency services.'
Adrienne Quinlan, chairman of Hethersett Parish Council, has also welcomed the news, adding: 'It's good to hear the future of this iconic site has been secured and we hope that the constabulary's presence will further strengthen their relationship with the local community.'