A new initiative to help officers comfort children in distressing situations is being launched by Cheshire Police.
Pandas4Pandas will see officers give specially designed Teddy bears to children when they are in need of emotional support and reassurance.
One of the black and white panda bears will be in every police car in Cheshire and the Special Constabulary Sergeant behind the initiative, which will be launched at the Lord Ferrers Awards in London on Tuesday 16 October, believes that they will be an invaluable tool for officers working on the front line.
Special Sergeant Sarah Johns, who is a teacher at a high school in Northwich, said: “Teddy bears break down barriers in difficult situations. I know from my own experiences of using them when on duty with Cheshire Police that they are highly effective in keeping children calm and stopping them from feeling afraid of the police.
“I’ve used them in cases when a child has run out of the room because they don’t want to talk to a police officer and when attending domestic violence incidents.
“Teddies help to dispel children’s fears and make them feel comfortable in communicating with the police, which is of vital importance in certain cases.”
The idea of Teddy bears being added to Cheshire Police officers’ itinerary stems from the Manchester Arena terror attack in May 2017.
Watching officers on TV comfort young survivors of the Ariana Grande concert bombing that killed 23 people and injured around 120 others, Special Sergeant Johns wondered if there was any way of assisting officers and the children they are trying to help in such circumstances.
She had the same thought when attending a report of a domestic violence incident in Northwich a few weeks later in which a young child was present.
Special Sergeant Johns, 38, said: “This child was extremely upset and all I could do was use my communication skills to make her laugh and play with my torch.
“I wished that I had something for this three-year-old girl who was out of her comfort zone and I bet the officers who dealt with the vulnerable young survivors of the Manchester Arena terror attack felt the same.
“As well as being part of Cheshire’s Special Constabulary I am also a teacher. A lot of children at the school where I worked at the time went to the Ariana Grande concert and they were traumatised by what happened that night.
“The Manchester bombing and the domestic violence incident I attended soon after it sparked the idea of using Teddy bears to help comfort children in distressing situations.
“I spoke to my Inspector Lewy Lewtas about it and he said that if I can find people who will make the bears and they are safe for children then he is all in favour of it.
“We piloted the initiative in Northwich and I am delighted to say that it is now being rolled out across the force.”
Special Sergeant Johns joined forces with Louise Hough, the manager of Crafty Stitches on Witton Street in Northwich town centre, to get the initiative off the ground.
Louise agreed to run the initiative for Crafty Stitches customers to knit the bears and with the concept catching on at an exponential rate they are now also being made by several knitting groups, including a local Women’s Institute, at no cost to Cheshire Police.
Special Sergeant Johns added: “The Pandas4Pandas initiative would not have been possible without the help of Louise at Crafty Stitches. She runs the Chicks That Knit group on Tuesday nights with her mum Joan and they have made about 200 bears for the Northwich Local Policing Unit.
“They are so kind and generous and I can’t thank them enough for all their help. Louise has even patented the Panda4Pandas design for me.
“The Teddies are panda bears going in marked police cars across Cheshire. Many people refer to the vehicles as panda cars – hence the Pandas4Pandas name.
“With the bears being black and white they appeal to boys and girls. They have yellow high-visibility jackets on with the Cheshire Constabulary logo on the back of them.
“Other constabularies can adapt them and put their own logos on the back.
“In fact I’d like all the emergency services to embrace the concept and have their own version of the bears on hand when dealing with distressed children.
“If the ambulance or fire and rescue services want the bears too we can have a uniform patent designed for them.”
Speaking on behalf of Crafty Stitches and the knitting group she runs, Louise said: “We love to help the community as much as we can and the free work we do for the Pandas4Pandas initiative is our way of showing our support to the police for all that they do for the general public.
“The initiative also shows families in their time of need that someone is thinking about them and provides a little bit of comfort and hope.”
Special Sergeant Johns, who is expecting her second child in March, was formally commended at last year’s Lord Ferrers Awards, where she was the runner-up in the Special Constable of the Year category.
So it is fitting that her Pandas4Pandas initiative will be officially launched at this year’s awards.
Cheshire Police will have a stand at the event in London to showcase the new initiative.
Acting Chief Constable Janette McCormick said: “We have had fantastic feedback having piloted Pandas4Pandas in Northwich and we are delighted to now be rolling the initiative out across Cheshire. We feel sure that it will be a great success.
“I would like to thank Special Sergeant Johns, the people at Crafty Stitches and all the knitting groups involved for all their hard work in making this inspired idea to help officers comfort children in distressing situations come to fruition.
“It is an example of the force working in partnership with local business and local people to improve the service we provide to the general public.”
Celvyn Jones, Special Constabulary Chief Officer, added: “I am immensely proud of Special Sergeant Johns and the Pandas4Pandas initiative as it highlights the role the Special Constabulary plays in the communities of Cheshire and how the police, local business and other voluntary sectors can come together to make a positive impact.”
Now in its landmark 25th year, the Lord Ferrers Awards highlight the vital role volunteers play in supporting UK police forces.
MP Nick Hurd, Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, said: “The Pandas4Pandas initiative is a moving example of the can-do spirit of volunteers in policing – using their initiative to provide comfort and reassurance to children at a difficult time.
“Celebrating this spirit is what the Lord Ferrers Awards is all about, and I commend all the volunteers at Cheshire Police for this project.”