The first 25 years of Shrewsbury and Oswestry Crucial Crew
A History by the President, Alan T. Howls
In 1986, the very first Junior Citizens Scheme was set up by the Metropolitan Police together with other agencies in London at Greenwich. Their mission statement was “to provide free education to children and young persons on a wide range of health and safety issues”. Events were staged throughout the Metropolitan Police area targeting children in year six at school (ages 10 or 11). During their half-day visit to the events all children experienced a carousel of activities of up to ten different safety scenarios lasting only 10 minutes. All learning sessions were designed to be interactive; the children being taught a variety of life skills which focused upon how to keep themselves safe whilst potentially helping others who may be in difficulty or distress.
Based on the controlled learning experiences provided, children were encouraged to make decisions which they may face during a real-life emergency. Following their attendance, each child received a free workbook to allow the learning experience to continue back at school or at home.
In 1993 ‘Crime Concern’, a Home Office funded organisation, looked at the Junior Citizens scheme and decided that this scheme should be extended to all provincial police forces. They held a competition among a large number of children for a new name and a logo for the scheme. The name chosen was ‘Crucial Crew’ – crucial because the event was going to give crucial messages and crew because it was devised as a team exercise. It was also agreed that the event should be aimed at year six children because for the majority of the children this would be their last year in primary school before leaving to attend a secondary school. Research had shown that 90% of parents accompanied their children to Primary School whereas at secondary school this number was completely reversed, only 10% of parents accompanied their children. So, in the two months of their summer holiday between schools the children had a steep learning curve.
During this time, I was the Inspector in charge of the Community Relations Department of the Shropshire Division of West Mercia Constabulary. The Department consisted of myself, two sergeants and ten constables. We dealt with crime prevention, schools, youth and all other community matters. As a department, we had become known not only throughout our own Police Force area but also nationally for our imitative work with young children and schools.
Unfortunately, Shropshire cannot boast being the first police area to adopt ‘Crucial Crew’ and that privilege went to Herefordshire. They held their event at RAF Credenhill several miles to the west of Hereford City in May of 1994 and I, together with Police Constables Kevin O’Dwyer and Chris Parsons from my department, travelled to Credenhill and spent a day at the event. It was my introduction to ‘Crucial Crew’ and what I witnessed there inspired me to make certain we brought this important initiative to Shropshire.
I immediately set to making enquiries with Crime Concern and discussing with my team how we could best organise a Crucial Crew event in our area. We all decided that this was a most fitting initiative to undertake in 1995 to supplement our already heavy commitment to the current West Mercia Constabulary schools’ involvement programme.
Our first decision was what area the event should cover and due to the fact that a number of local authorities would have to be contacted to stage some of the scenarios, it was decided that the catchment area would be all schools within Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council and Oswestry District Council areas.
The concept was explained by me to both the Shrewsbury and Oswestry Crime Prevention Panels in October 1994 and was greeted with great enthusiasm by all concerned. Following consultation with the Local Education Authority, a Management Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Mr. Aubrey Kirkham, consisting of representatives from both the Shrewsbury and Oswestry Crime Prevention panels, West Mercia Constabulary and the Shropshire Education Authority.
Members of the Shrewsbury Police and Community Consultative Group and a number of School Governors also expressed whole-hearted support for the scheme and saw it as a positive step towards fulfilling their statutory obligations under the Education (No. 2) Act, 1986, viz: to foster good relationships between the school and the Police.
The second item to be thought about was where the event could take place. As we had seen Hereford use a RAF establishment, I started to think of Service establishments in our area. I was lucky enough to contact Nesscliff Army Training Camp and to speak to the Camp Commandant, Major ‘Chalky’ White. He made his camp readily available for our use and offered us the first two weeks in June. On the weekend between the two weeks the Army Camp was used for a reunion of ‘Old Contemptables’ from the Light Infantry. In the first week of June the Camp staff set up for the reunion and on the second week they cleared everything away. This meant there were never any Army Units using the camp for the first two weeks in June and we could utilise the Camp between the Monday and Friday of each week.
The Army Training Camp was ideal for our scenarios as we could use the cinema or gym for briefing the children. We also had use of both the Officers’ Mess and Junior Officers’ Mess, together with numerous classrooms. We had already decided that year six would be our target children and June was the ideal time, just before breaking up for the summer holiday and before changing to a secondary school.
Over the next three months I utilised all my contacts in other agencies and we eventually formed an Agency Committee and together with the Management Team, these two committees oversaw the first event.
The Committees agreed that the first event would take place between Monday, 5th June 1995 and Friday, 16th June 1995, limited to 1,000 children and that there would be 14 different scenarios in operation. This meant that there would be 100 children per day who would be split into fourteen groups consisting of approximately ten. Each group would be allocated a different set to start with. All the sets would operate concurrently and at fifteen-minute intervals the groups would move onto the next set in their sequence until each group had completed all of the sets. Every effort would be made to have a mixture of sexes and children from different schools in each group.
At each scenario the youngsters would be presented with a number of tasks or problems and then assessed on their responses. Each scenario would be staffed by members of the relevant agency and if the youngster was unclear on how to respond or made a mistake, ‘expert advice’ would be immediately available to direct the most appropriate and sensible course of action.
The Agencies involved and the 14 scenarios were made up as follows:
(a) West Mercia Constabulary:
Set 1 – depicting a street crime (e.g. theft from a motor vehicle) and subsequent identification of offender.
Set 2 – based on a ‘Stranger Danger’ scene.
Set 3 – addressing question of road safety.
Set 4 – addressing the problem of drug abuse.
(b) British Red Cross.
(First Aid and dealing with an unconscious person).
(c) Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.
(Fire safety and demonstration in smoke tent).
(d) Railtrack Midlands.
(A reconstruction of objects placed on a railway line and advice on how to report it).
(e) Shropshire Homes.
(Dangers to be encountered on a building site).
(f) Shropshire Health and Safety Enforcement Liaison Group.
(Recognition of danger and warning signs).
(g) Shropshire County Council Road Safety Section.
(Table-top road safety exercise).
(h)Shropshire Trading Standards.
(Safety in the home and identification of illegal or dangerous purchases).
(i) Shropshire Community N.H.S. Trust.
(Advice from School Nurses on the dangers of smoking, incorporating a playlet).
(j) National Farmers’ Union.
(Showed many of the safety rules to follow when visiting farms).
(k) Midlands Electricity Board.
(Dangers of overhead cables and sub-stations).
The setting up and staffing of each scenario was to be the responsibility of each of the organisations concerned. A team of about 25 volunteers would be required to ‘chaperone’ the children on site, deal with administration duties and to assist with catering arrangements every day.
Finding these volunteers was taken on jointly by Mr. John Neeve of Oswestry Rotary and Sergeant Terry Pearson of my department and they proved to be very professional and successful. Volunteers were found mainly from members of Rotary Clubs, the Lions, members of the Crime Prevention Panels, students and other groups. Over 100 volunteers agreed to give up their own time to spend at least one day at the event; many saying they would give up much more. The organisation of the volunteers into their different schedules proved to be extremely time-consuming but again proved very successful.
Letters were sent out to the 48 schools within our catchment area and we soon had the 1000 children registered to attend on the ten days. Transport was arranged through the Transport Section of Shropshire County Council and the schools were allocated days on which to attend by our department. We endeavoured to group schools from similar locations on the same day to cut down on transport costs. So, there was a great deal of liaison between us and the Transport Section.
On the morning of Sunday, 4th June 1995, the Community Relations Department, together with several other volunteers, arrived at Nesscliff Army Training Camp to prepare for the first Crucial Crew event which was due to start the following day. Each scenario was marked with a number, windows were blacked out for the Stanger Danger, an electrician arrived to set up the disco for the Drug Abuse scenario and a switchboard and telephone kiosk were positioned for the witnessing of a theft scenario. By mid-afternoon all was ready.
By 8.30am on the Monday morning most of my Department had arrived, chaperone volunteers were arriving, agency personnel were setting out their rooms, farmers were placing their pens and bales of hay for the Farm Safety and the Fire Service were erecting the smoke tent.
At 9.30am the children were starting to arrive on the coaches and the chaperone volunteers were being briefed as to their duties by PC Kevin O’Dwyer. One volunteer was allocated to each of the fourteen groups of children and each volunteer had a large letter from A to N. When the children got off the coaches with the accompanying teachers they were directed to the cinema on the Camp for their briefing. As they entered, they were given a small card with a letter from A to N.
At 9.45am I gave my first briefing to the children telling them a little of what to expect and the important reasons for them being there. They were told that they would enjoy the day and they would have fun learning. They then went out to find their group chaperone holding up the same large letter that they had on their card. Following the children leaving with their group to their first scenario, the teachers returned to the cinema for a short briefing by me
The scenarios commenced at 10.00 am with the last due to finish at 2.00 pm There was a refreshment break of half an hour between 12.00 pm and 12.30 pm Although this was only a short break for those involved in the scenarios and for the volunteers, it was thought an ideal time, by the teachers, for the children.
Although the children had to bring a packed lunch it was thought by the Management Team that the volunteers and agency staff should have a meal prepared for them. During the morning, one of my Community Relations Officers, WPC Anne Gwilliams and Mrs Barbara Smith from the Oswestry Police Club, prepared over 60 meals consisting of cold meats, salad and hot potatoes. Dessert was a yoghurt donated by Minsterley Creameries and organised by PC Chris Parsons. By the end of the two weeks Anne and Barbara had prepared over 600 meals, trying to vary the contents, but this was difficult as they had little cooking facilities. It was quite a feat.
A debriefing took place at 2.15 pm so that important points could be clarified and re-emphasised, at the end of which the children were given a T-shirt and material from each of the participating organisations before returning to their schools by coach.
The T-shirts had been supplied by the firm Sporting Prints from Wolverhampton which had been found by PC Kevin O’Dwyer.
The T-shirts had the Crucial Crew logo and Shrewsbury and Oswestry Crucial Crew on the front and cost us £2.00 each. We still have the same supplier some 25 years on and the cost is only a few pence more!
We also obtained a workbook for each child attending the event from a firm in Stockport. The workbook was specially designed to reinforce the messages that had been given at a Crucial Crew event in a graphic and pictorial format. Each book cost the sum of £6.00 but this sum was raised by the firm itself in sponsorship. In my briefing, teachers were encouraged to use these books in class during the couple of weeks left before the end of term.
A certificate signed by the Chief Constable was also presented to each child completing the Crucial Crew event.
On the first Wednesday of the event we held a dignitaries’ day when all heads of the agencies involved were invited to attend the event to see what was taking place and to have lunch with us. Major ‘Chalky’ White made the Officers’ Mess available to us. This was laid out for lunch with the Camp’s finest silverware and a typical excellent curry or chilli con carne meal had been prepared.
The reunion of ‘Old Contemptables’ from the Light Infantry took place over the middle weekend which meant that displays had to be removed from some of the rooms which would be used by the ex-servicemen, but this was not a problem. One thing that amused us was when we returned on the second Monday morning, we found a number of one-pound coins in the dummy telephone kiosk where, no doubt, in their drunken state they had tried to phone home without any success!
The rest of the week went off without a hitch and we said goodbye to the last children of the 1995 event at about 2.20 pm on the Friday. We all then had to start dismantling the huts and rooms and put the Camp back the same as we had found it two weeks earlier. Major White had given us a room to store all our equipment and we finally left the Camp at about 4.45 pm.
It must be stated that the Military, from the General in charge of Western Command down to Major White and his staff, were extremely supportive and nothing was too much trouble. I was told back in 1994 that the cost of hiring the whole of the Camp – which we were doing – cost each Army Unit £10,000 a week to hire. However, the £20,000 cost for us was completely waived and we had the Camp totally free of charge for the two-week period. The Military must be regarded as our biggest sponsor. When the Camp was privatised in the early 2000s, we were worried that the cost of hiring the Camp may be just too much for us to continue using it. However, when the General signed the Camp over to the company Landmarc it was stipulated that Crucial Crew would continue to use it free of charge. We do thank that particular General very much indeed.
I will now outline some of the personnel that were involved in that first Crucial Crew event.
Chairman of Shrewsbury and Oswestry Crucial Crew, Mr. Aubrey Kirkham from the Oswestry Crime Prevention Panel and Oswestry Rotary.
Myself as the liaison between all the Agencies involved, preparing of reports, agendas and minutes and general ‘dogsbody’ organising the event.
Treasurer Mr Bernard Townson, Treasurer of Shrewsbury Crime Prevention Panel helping with briefing of children and organising the letter cards for the children and volunteers.
Mr John Neeve, dentist from Oswestry, Oswestry Rotary and Oswestry Crime Prevention panel who for the initial years organised all the volunteers attending the event.
The Rev’d David North, the vicar of Whittington Church and from Oswestry Borderland Rotary, a volunteer, who gave up his two weeks’ annual leave to help at our event. He later took over from the Midlands Electricity Board in the running of the Electricity Safety scenario. He became quite renown for his dramatic presentations!
Councillor Eileen Sandford, Conservation Councillor for Harlescott in Shrewsbury, a volunteer, a remarkable, generous and somewhat formidable lady who gave up her time to help the children. She was always involved as the ‘stranger’ in the Stranger Danger scenario.
Mr Roy Kempster, Farmer, Shrewsbury Rotary and member of the Management Committee. He was very supportive and attended our event over many years.
Major John Hebditch, an ex-SAS military man from Oswestry Rotary, a Volunteer, who made a very refined and gentleman ‘Stranger’!
Mrs Barbara Smith, who was heavily involved in the running of Oswestry Police Club, a volunteer, who helped prepare the food for the staff and Agency members at the event.
Mr. John Adlard, tobacconist, of Shrewsbury Rotary, who was a member of the Management Team and general volunteer. He was heavily involved in Judo and was with me in helping to run the Shropshire Mini-Olympics, where I managed to persuade him to join the Management Team.
Police Constable Pat Moseley, Traffic Department, West Mercia Constabulary who ran Set 3 (Police) – Road Safety. The scenario was dealing with coming across an injured cyclist following a Road Traffic Accident.
Lastly, I mention those from my department who were heavily involved with the organisation and running of our Crucial Crew Event.
Police Sergeant Terry Pearson, responsible for liaising with the Schools and the Transport Section of the County Council.
Police Constable Kevin O’Dwyer, Secretary of the Management Committee and responsible for briefing of the Volunteers.
Woman Police Constable Anne Gwilliams, Management Committee responsible for catering and preparing the meals for the staff and agency members.
Police Constable Philip Drapier, Management Committee, responsible for the location and mapping of the Scenarios and the running of Set 2 (Police) – ‘Stranger Danger’.
Police Constable Mansel Davies, Management Committee and responsible for the running of Set 4 (Police) – the drug awareness scenario in the Disco.
Police Constable John Feast, responsible for the Shropshire Homes set -Dangers to be encountered on a building site.
Police Constables Mike Peters and Tony Jones, responsible for the running of Set 3 (Police) – the witnessing of a theft and dialling 999 which was answered on a specially installed switchboard in the Briefing Room.
The event itself was not the end work on the first Crucial Crew. One big problem with obtaining sponsorship, especially when starting a new initiative, is that all the sponsors insist on full evaluations to show that their money was best utilised.
We decided to have an evaluation which had five elements and the results were as follows:
1. An evaluation and questionnaire completed by all organisations participating in the event.
All the agencies and organisations involved have been complimentary concerning the running of the event and all wished to be involved in future events. All thought that the preparation time was sufficient, that they had received adequate information and that they had sufficient time to assemble their sets. Access to the site, the size of site and the size of their individual plots were all acceptable. The 15 minutes allowed for each scenario was just enough time to incorporate everything they wished to deliver. There were suggestions concerning the size, composition and balance of the individual groups of children and these were acted upon.
2. An evaluation and questionnaire completed by teachers attending the event.
The teachers’ evaluation form was designed by Mrs Frances Phelps, Head of Personal, Health and Social Education within the Shropshire Education Authority. Evaluations of all the scenarios were divided among the teachers attending the event each day. Therefore, every scenario was evaluated on a day-to-day basis and feedback given to the organisers of each set at the end of the day. No serious faults were found in any of the scenarios. Every one of the teachers thought that the event was excellent and a very valuable experience for the children. Most of the comments said that the children had thoroughly enjoyed themselves and had learned a great deal from it. All the children were extremely enthusiastic, declaring it the best day out they’d had in school.
3. Pupil Evaluation Forms – Pre and Post Event Questionnaire.
Certain schools had been selected to complete both a pre and post event questionnaire on a variety of the scenarios they would encounter during the event. The Post Event Questionnaire, on virtually every question, showed a marked improvement in the percentage of correct answers.
4. Comments from Volunteers.
Many of the volunteer chaperones made detailed comments in relation to individual groups that they were responsible for and these in many cases were forwarded to the schools involved. They also offered suggestions on how some of the scenarios could be improved and these were taken on board by the Management Committee.
5. Observations and Comments by Pupils and Teachers.
Many of the children who were involved in the event wrote letters of appreciation, most highly decorated with pictures of the different scenarios. Some schools had produced books, which the Management Committee found very rewarding, making all their efforts worthwhile. All the children said how much they enjoyed the event, identifying it as the best thing that they had ever done at school.
One such letter, taken at random, read, “I really enjoyed all the activities. My favourite was the ‘rave’; it was really life-like. I made lots of new friends from other schools, which made the activities even better to do. It was brilliant and one of the best things I’ve done at school”.
A letter received from the Head of Oswestry Lower School read, “I felt that I must write to you today regarding a visit by two of my forms to the ‘Crucial Crew’ experience yesterday. The children had a superb day out with an unprecedented feedback from them this morning. Please would you pass on my thanks to all those concerned in this excellent venture. As word is spreading through the school of this tremendous experience, I would ask that, if possible, you would ensure that we are on your contact list for the next session that you run.”
Over the next couple of years although the format remained exactly the same, the numbers of children increased due to the demographic upturn in numbers in general and the popularity of the event. 1996 saw 1200, 1997 – 1400 and by 1998 we had reached 1450 and this number was decided as the most we could possibly deal with. This maximum number then caused somewhat of a problem with the Management Team because it meant that we had to turn away schools who wished to come but their applications had come in after the maximum number had been reached. We then found that schools were attending the Police Station to hand in their replies to beat the first-class post.
I outline two letters that I sent in 1999. The first is an extract of the letter sent to schools to invite them to take part in the event:
“…………Demand is again likely to exceed capacity and applications will be dealt with on a ‘first-come-first-served’ basis. Replies to invitation letters are only accepted by post to the appointed person, Inspector Howls. No other method of communication will qualify for inclusion in ‘Crucial Crew’………”
The second is an extract of the letter sent to unsuccessful schools that were not able to attend:
“……….As I stated in my letter I anticipated that the demand would be likely to exceed capacity and that applications would be dealt with on a strictly ‘first-come-first-served’ basis. This has proved the case and I have to inform you that, unfortunately, your school has been unsuccessful in obtaining a place. We have been able to cater for 1,452 children from 45 schools, with 10 further schools being unsuccessful (representing 320 children). We have stretched the number of children that can be catered for to its absolute limit and there is no way we can accommodate any more without destroying the whole event. The Management Committee is attempting to come up with a solution to the problem for future events, but the outcome does not seem promising. The only thing that I can promise is that for the 2000 event your school will be a priority with your application forms being sent out a week earlier to the other schools………..”
For those children unfortunate enough not to gain a place at our event a
workbook was provided from surplus stock.
In the millennium year of 2000, we started to prepare for our sixth event in June. Schools had been contacted, applications dealt with and daily schedules of schools prepared. Then the ‘Foot and Mouth’ epidemic struck which affected our area. Strict travel and movement restrictions were put in place and as our base of operations was in the heart of this area, the Management Committee had no alternative but to cancel this year’s event.
In 2001 with the ‘Foot and Mouth’ epidemic over the Management Committee reconvened and by this time we had adopted a tried and tested format of meetings.
Meetings took place at Nesscliff Army Training Camp at 10.00a.m, usually on the first Tuesday in the months of February, March, April and May each year to plan and make the necessary arrangements. These included:
Confirming the venue
Setting the dates
Liaising with Shrewsbury and Oswestry schools
Discussing and agreeing scenarios with specialists
Obtaining volunteer adult chaperones
Arranging CRB check.
Completing risk assessments
Setting up, managing and dismantling facilities at the venue
Liaison with sponsors (obtaining sponsorship)
Liaison with the Ministry of Defence hosts
Provision of memorabilia (T-shirts, workbooks, leaflets etc)
Car and coach parking including entry and exit procedures
Event management, to include:
Briefings the children and teachers on arrival
Briefing specialist providers and meeting their needs
Instructing the chaperones
Timetable and timekeeping
Other than the February date, which was for the Management Committee only, all the other meetings of the Management Committee were followed at 11.00 am by a meeting of all the agencies to be involved the that year’s event.
The meetings discussed the following:
The subject of the Agencies scenario and objective
Location of scenarios on site
Equipment requirements for the rooms.
Mementoes, leaflets and documents for the ‘Goody Bags’
Finance and sponsorship
Personnel and contact numbers
Content of workbooks
In 2002 personnel were changing. I had taken over as Chairman, Eric Smith of Radio Shropshire, David Griffiths from HSBC and PC Derek Hughes-Beddoes of the Ministry of Defence Police had come onto the Management Committee. Maelor Owen and his wife Jan, and John Davies, who later became heavily involved with the management of the event, had started as volunteers.
By the year 2003 we were working well as a team and there were few problems. Anne Gwilliams (now Howls) took over as Secretary from Kevin O’Dwyer. The event scenarios remained virtually the same with little change in agencies and the maximum number of children for the event was kept at a maximum of 1450. Setting up of scenarios and taking them down at the end of events had dramatically reduced in time as everyone knew exactly what they were doing.
At the Management Committee Meeting in May of 2003 I had to inform the Committee that Access Partnerships were not able to fund the workbooks that year without full sponsorship from our Committee. At £6.00 per book it meant that £8,700 would have to be found by us, almost equalling the current cost of the whole event. The Committee took the only available option and that was to cancel the workbooks and run the event without them. It was also decided to look for an alternative supplier.
That year one of our volunteer stalwarts, Councillor Eileen Sandford, had become Mayor of Shrewsbury and she was able to achieve excellent publicity for our event and she had included a full chapter of her autobiography on our Crucial Crew event. One big problem that faced the Management team was finance. Our event was no longer classed as a new initiative so initial funding for our event was drying up and sponsorship was becoming more and more problematic. We were being told that due to it being a permanent fixture in the calendar, the event should be taken over by the Education Department of the County Council.
By the start of the event in 2003 of the promised £4,500 in sponsorship that year we had only seen £500 which was presented from the Mark Masons of Staffordshire and Shropshire just prior to the meeting. Although this was extremely gratefully received it was nowhere enough near to cover the £10,000 it cost to stage the event. We had to dig deeply into our reserves and the Management team knew it would be difficult to fund the following year’s event without some considerable outside financial help.
We had three major problems in 2004. The first was that Transco did not turn up to the event at all, which meant that we ran 13 scenarios instead of the projected 14. However, there were some that felt that 13 scenarios were better, allowing a longer break at lunch time. Secondly, was the lack of help from police personnel. When the event started nine years previously the number of police officers involved was 14. This had been successively eroded over the years until that year we only had one, PC Simon Clarke.
The lack of police help meant that a number of excellent police scenarios had over the years faded by the wayside. It also left the Building Safety scenario without an instructor. This vacancy was filled by our volunteers and all credit to John Neeve for his persuasive ability in getting anyone to perform this task. Unfortunately, the sponsor of this scenario attended on the first day and, understandably, was less than happy about the professionalism of the safety messages taught at this initial stage. It took much persuasive ability by the Chairman to get the sponsors back on track.
Lastly, we again were unable to attract any sponsorship and, therefore, had to virtually drain all our reserves. The Management Committee knew that they did not have enough money to fund the following year’s event, so all were asked to be proactive in seeking new sponsorship. To that end the Chairman, Secretary and others gave numerous talks to different organisations on the subject of our Crucial Crew event.
Over that autumn, winter and spring, the whole of the Management Committee worked tirelessly to look for new sponsorship and I must thank them all for the hours of work that they put in, giving of their own free time, to ensure the success of our events. We now had enough money in the bank to continue with the 2005 event and also a little in reserve.
The whole two weeks, in June 2005 went very smoothly indeed with no major problems at all. All the promised scenarios were set up well on time for the start on the first Monday and we continued with 13 sets for the whole of the two weeks. Each was run very professionally indeed, and it was very pleasing to see the very close co-operation of two building companies, Shropshire Homes and Frank Galliers, joining forces to run the Building Site scenario. This avoided the problems we had faced the previous year. We lost one of the Coast Guard scenarios from the previous year but gained a First Aid scenario from the Red Cross.
In the autumn of 2005, our event confronted its greatest crisis. We faced a ‘schism’ with Oswestry Rotary Club informing us that they were going to run a Crucial Crew event for all the Oswestry schools and those schools just outside the county on its borders. There had been no discussion on the subject and the first we knew about it was when I had a letter from the organising committee Chairman. It is an understatement to say that I was extremely annoyed that no one from the ‘organisers’ of this additional event had the decency of presenting their proposals to our Management Committee and that we were told that it was to go ahead as a fait accompli.
The Annual General Meeting of Shrewsbury and Oswestry Crucial Crew in the September of that year was very difficult indeed with much heartache and bitterness from many who attended, and it was the worst situation I had faced as Chairman. Many things that were said were hurtful and it became clear that John Neeve who had been on our Management Team from the start and quite a few of our volunteers had been instigators of this new venture.
Early in 2006 it became obvious that the schools in the Oswestry area were confused as to the apparent duplication of ‘Crucial Crew’ events for their area and many thought that the September event was either our event or the only one that they could attend. Bernard Townson put together a very good letter which was sent to all the schools involved and clarified the position.
As it turned out, the whole two weeks of the 2006 event went very smoothly indeed and it is a great credit to all, the Management Team, the volunteers and the Agencies involved. We went back to 14 scenarios with us welcoming the organisation ‘Taking Part’ with their bullying scenario. We only lost a couple of the Oswestry Schools and with us raising the maximum number of children to 1500 we were able to cater for all the schools that applied to attend. This was the silver lining from debacle of the Oswestry Rotary venture. Phil Drapier and his wife Gwyneth took over organising the volunteers.
The events in 2007 went off without incident and ran as smoothly as ever with 14 scenarios. At the Annual General Meeting the same year we said goodbye to Phil Drapier who was our Site Co-ordinator and Gwyneth Drapier our Volunteer Co-ordinator, who had stepped into the breach two years previously when we lost John Neeve. The reason they left was that they were moving permanently to a new home overlooking the Pyrenees in France.
Also, at that AGM we were lucky enough to have a number of new Committee Members join our Management Team. This influx of new blood brought about renewed vigour and enthusiasm, which culminated in an excellent 2008 Crucial Crew Event at Nescliff in June.
The new members of the Management Team were:
Jan Owen taking over the very difficult task of organising all the volunteers for the event – sending out the preliminary letters, collating the replies, arranging the daily schedules and then on the days of the event to brief all the volunteers with their duties.
Maelor Owen, not only assisting Jan with the volunteers, but also taking on arranging accommodation for each of the scenarios, producing directional site maps and placing of events signs.
Pat Mabe, who took on the unenviable task of obtaining sponsorship for our events. With gritty determination and enthusiasm, she put out enquiries for grants, donations and sponsorship in every direction. Due to her efforts our financial position became more secure than it had been for many years. Geof Proffitt agreed to help her with fundraising.
Geof Proffitt, who took on the job that the Management Committee had hoped to do for several years but had never got to grips with and that was to obtain charity status. In fact, Geof worked tirelessly over the next nine months following his appointment getting all the documents neccesary for the Charity Commissioners, cutting through all the red tape and completeing endless and almost indecipherable forms. Due to his diligence he completed our application in remarkable time and on 27th June 2008, Shrewsbury and Oswestry Crucial Crew was granted charity status by the Charity Commission. The objects registered with the commission are as follows:
“To act as a resource for young people living in the Shrewsbury and Oswestry area of Shropshire by providing advice and assistance and organising programmes of physical, educational and other activities as a means of:
- advancing in life and helping young people by developing their skills, capacities and capabilities to enable them to participate in society as independent, mature and responsible individuals, and
- advancing their education.”
We were given the Registered No. of 1125144 and we were the first Crucial Crew to be given charity status. Following the successful grant of charity status, Geof Proffitt took up the reins of obtaining sponsorship from Pat Mabe. He quickly built on the foundation she had laid.
Due mainly to the reorganisation of the District and County Councils into the Unitary Authority of Shropshire Council, in 2009 we lost several of our scenarios but we did manage to revive one on Rail Safety. Many will remember the vivid messages that John Roker from Railtrack used to give. When Railtrack went, so did John Roker. Bill Rogerson from the British Transport Police took up the reins and his messages were just as impressive.
For the first time in the event’s history we ran with 12 scenarios per day. Normally we have 14, but some years we have been down to 13. Although unlucky for some the figure 13 seems for us to be the right number. 14 makes the timings too tight and 12 makes the groups too big. At the Annual General Meeting that year Graham French, a retired Police Officer from Oswestry was elected as Vice-Chairman.
There was little to report on 2010 and 2011 as they were uneventful. This sounds rather dull but that was not the case with the two events. We had sailed our way through rough seas and calm waters, but the ship was still very sea-worthy and performing as well as it did on its maiden voyage. In fact, now better tuned and with experienced handlers, it was running smoother than ever. In 2011 we had two new additions to our team in the form of Responsible Dog Ownership by Shropshire Council’s Environmental Department and a lunchtime display on Waste Recycling by Veolia Environmental Services.
At the Annual General Meeting held at Nesscliff Army Training Camp on Tuesday 4th October 2011 Bernard Leeden and Phil Henshaw were elected to serve on the Management Committee.
We staged yet another very successful Crucial Crew event in 2012 – a week later than normal due to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and holidays. We were extremely lucky having regards to the terrible weather that we had had during this summer that we were only affected by the rain on just two days out of the ten.
The event went off without a hitch and everything seemed to go like clockwork. The smoothness of the operation must be put down to the dedication and commitment of all the team – management, volunteers and agencies alike – all contributing with their specialist skills. Coaches were on time; briefings had now become a fine art form and the children were well behaved. We had a number of visitors over the two weeks, representing organisations that have sponsored us, and without exception all were bowled over with enthusiasm with what we had achieved.
In 2013 our event was staged as usual with 13 scenarios. The Police enlarged their scenario on Internet Safety to include Anti-Social Behaviour and the scenario run by the Police and Shifty’s on Cannabis Awareness was taken outside in a tent. This proved very successful indeed and the enjoyable learning experience was not dampened even when the rain fell. For the first year Veolia Environmental Services took their scenario away from the lunchtime period to a full scenario. Shortly afterwards they also started making sponsored bags available to us in which to put goodies. We again had a number of visitors over the two weeks, including the High Sheriff.
In our events of 2014 and 2015 we soon settled into our well-oiled smooth routine and produced yet another two very successful and productive events. Although the number of schools attending for the two weeks remained the same as previous years at 44, the number of children actually attending in 2015 was down to its lowest figure of 1254 due to us being on somewhat of a downward demographic curve. This is quite a contrast from the heady days in the first few years when we had to limit the numbers at 1450 and turn away over 300. However, each and every one of those 1245 children had the benefit of receiving the best safety advice possible in 13 of the highest quality scenarios. Maybe the numbers were slightly down but the quality and content of the scenarios had improved year by year. This must be put down to the dedication and commitment of everyone involved. At the AGM in September 2014 Dave Carley joined the Management Team, who certainly livened the meetings up.
The scenarios were roughly the same but the smoke tent run by the Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service had transformed into a smoke house. Much larger and segregated into several rooms it greatly helped with the teaching of how smoke travels and the importance of an escape plan. It was quite a spectacle seeing five strong men attempting to defy the wind and erect the smoke house each morning!
At the AGM in 2018, Ian Finch, a retired Police Officer from Wem joined the Management Team and took on the role of Publicity Officer and the last to join the Team in 2018 was Mick McQuade, who had been and still is our volunteer running the Rail Safety scenario with ‘Sandy’ Harper.
The last four events bringing us up to date to 2019 ran as smoothly as ever – that well-oiled smooth routine clicking in as soon as the event starts. This can definitely be put down to the work of our Management Team and for the assistance we have received from the military and all the agencies involved. To them all and each and every one of our volunteers I thank them for giving their time for the safety of our children. The last event in this history in 2019 will certainly be remembered for being the wettest ever. It rained every day and on the second Tuesday the heavens literally opened and it just bucketed down. However, having given the debriefing after each day it was obvious from the children’s faces that they had enjoyed every moment.
Maybe there have been many changes, but what has not changed is the importance of delivering these messages, as important in 2019 as it was in 1994. We can all now relate many, many instances where our event has saved lives, serious injury or has alleviated a danger. To know that we have saved just one life makes everything worthwhile but to know that we have saved many is quite humbling.