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Hampshire Constabulary received a royal seal of approval today as part of celebrations to mark two decades of the home of the force control room.
The Earl of Wessex visited the Vickery Building, at the Southern Support & Training Headquarters in Netley, to mark the 20th anniversary of its official opening in 2001 by The Princess Royal.
For the first time, control rooms across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were merged into one forcewide team, taking 999 calls and managing the deployment of officers to emergency incidents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ever since.
The Earl of Wessex said: “It has been excellent seeing the teamwork and camaraderie here today. This is a side of policing that most people don’t get to see, and it is critical for officers to do their jobs on the front line, so I would like to thank you for all that you do, day in, day out.
“When you look back just on 20 years, it doesn’t seem that long – but the world has changed so much in that time.”
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, Police and Crime Commissioner Donna Jones and Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire Nigel Atkinson were on hand to welcome the prince, along with a guard of honour made up of student police officers.
Prince Edward was then taken on a tour of the building by temporary chief inspector Mark Barker, who manages the control room alongside chief inspector Anna Skelton, who was also present.
This tour included the main control room and the gold control room – used to host multi-agency responses to major incidents, such as the reported hijacking of the Nave Andromeda tanker off the Isle of Wight in October last year.
The Earl spoke to staff and was given a presentation about the building’s history before unveiling a plaque to mark the visit and cutting a cake at a reception attended by members of staff that have worked at the Vickery since 2001.
Temporary chief inspector Barker, who organised the visit, said: “As we reach 20 years of being based at the Vickery, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate every member of our team, past and present. The public does not often see us, but we are the voice of Hampshire Constabulary.
“Whether it is making sure someone in crisis gets the help they need or dispatching officers to a major incident, we make a difference to people’s lives every single day.
“I would also like to pay tribute to the other teams around the building that support our core function. Without them, we simply would not be able to provide a service.”
Before the Vickery was built, there were four smaller control rooms located in Winchester, Southampton, Portsmouth and Newport, which were then merged when the building was completed in 2000, ahead of its official opening the following year.
This allowed the force to better deal with the challenges of the day, such as the rise of emails.
Over the years, social media, the Internet, and the use of smartphones have all also increased demand to our control room.
To process this additional demand, Hampshire Constabulary also created a Contact Management Centre in Southampton which takes a significant number of calls into the force, which are then fed back in to the control room for officers to be deployed where appropriate.
As well as hosting the operational response to football matches, festivals, fires, storms and other major events and incidents, the Vickery has also played its part in history.
Notable operations the control room has hosted include the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth to Portsmouth for first time in 2017, and Operation Viscount in 2019.
This was the global commemoration to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which saw world leaders including the president of the United States and The Queen visit Portsmouth and was the largest policing response in the force’s history.
Among the 23 members of staff who have been based at the Vickery since it opened is controller Cheryl Turner, who joined the control room team in 1996.
She had just moved into the building in December 2000 when several people were killed after a light aircraft crashed into a business park in Yateley shortly after taking off from Blackbushe airport.
She recalled: “We knew we were facing something serious as our computer screens lit up in red because of the amount of 999 calls coming in from the public.
“Me and my colleague next to me didn’t move out of our seats after that point, it was just constant.
“It was easily the biggest incident we’d faced since we moved into the new building.”
She added: “I can’t quite believe I’ve been at the Vickery building for 20 years, but I still enjoy the job, knowing I’m doing something good for people.”
Reflecting on the visit, the Chief Constable said: “We were thrilled to be able to host HRH The Earl of Wessex at the Vickery Building today.
“His presence was a real morale boost for the team based there, who have risen incredibly to the challenges the pandemic has thrust upon us in the last two years and have been a vital part of the force for the last twenty years and beyond.”
Donna Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I was delighted to join HRH The Earl of Wessex to celebrate 20 years since HRH The Princess Royal opened Vickery, the purpose built facility which accommodates Hampshire Constabulary’s Police Control Room.
“The way people contact the Constabulary has changed greatly over the last 20 years. In that time we have seen the introduction of the 101 non-emergency number, and a new contact management system. The rise of the internet, social media and smartphones have also impacted on call volumes and the way the control room works.
“Working in the control room is more than just answering calls, the call handlers are often dealing with people who are in great distress whilst the controllers have to make quick decisions under immense pressure to deploy the right resources and keep the public and their colleagues safe. Having the right environment and technology to support our 999 and 101 call handlers is vital, as is the recognition for all that they do to ensure that people get the help they need.”