Billy Cunningham sees dream become reality
When Billy Cunningham announced to his family and friends that he wanted to be a police officer it’s fair to say some eyebrows were raised.
Coming from a Traveller background, it wasn’t necessarily a typical career choice.
But his mother was very supportive, and Billy was keen to bring about change and be a trailblazer for other Traveller children to consider policing as a career.
Billy, who became a volunteer police cadet (VPC) in May 2019, aged 14, and began training to become a police officer last month, said: “In general, there aren’t many police officers from Gypsy Traveller backgrounds, which made it feel daunting for me to join, but also motivated me to be the change and to show that you can have a career in policing despite the stigma.
“I want to create change, not only for my community but for everyone, from all walks of life, and show young Gypsy Travellers that we can have a career in policing and to not be afraid of what everyone else thinks.
When I told my mum I wanted to be a police officer she was fully supportive and even paid more than £50 in one week transporting me to and from Cadet events. She always knew that becoming an officer was my next big goal and when I got in she was just as excited and proud as I was.
I wasn't that nervous if I'm honest, I knew this was what I wanted to do and I've always known I was destined for a different lifestyle.
I have honestly lost contact with a few family members but the initial reaction from some was shock to say the least!”
Billy has been an active member of the cadets and became one of the first High Sheriff Cadets appointed by Caroline Bewes DL in 2021.
The role of High Sheriff Cadet was introduced to provide assured and professional support for the High Sheriff. The role is a great opportunity for young police cadets to become part of the county’s Shrieval team and play an important role in supporting the High Sheriff in public events and representing VPCs throughout the county.
Billy said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a volunteer police cadet. I gained new skills and huge amounts of policing knowledge that has helped me start my training as an officer.”
Billy is following the traditional pathway to becoming a police officer - the initial police learning and development programme (IPLDP). He is due to pass out in front of friends and family at police headquarters in Huntingdon this August.
He is also continuing his passion for the VPCs and is volunteering two evenings a week as a cadet leader for both the Wisbech and Peterborough units.
Billy is one of many of the UK's Gypsy, Roma and Travellers deciding to join the police.
A national organisation for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller police was set up in 2014 by a Cambridgeshire police officer and a Thames Valley police officer.
The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Police Association’s founding primary purpose is to support GRT Police Officers and Police Staff in the work environment.
With new additions like Billy, last month Cambridgeshire Constabulary became one of the first forces in the country to announce it had met its target under the national 20,000 officer recruitment drive.
A recent intake of officers on the constabulary’s degree-holders pathway pushed the headcount to 1756 officers, comfortably reaching the 1732 target.
Recruitment is still open, with several different pathways to becoming a police officer, say Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
They include the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA), which is aimed at people without a degree and is a three-year apprenticeship involving a combination of in class learning and on-the-job experience.
The Degree Holder Entry Programme (DHEP) is for those who already hold a degree, and the Initial Police Learning and Development Programme (IPLDP+), is the well-established traditional programme which takes two years to complete.
Visit the Cambridgeshire Constabulary website for more information about joining the police.
Cambridgeshire Constabulary press release with additional reporting by TT News
(Photo of Billy Cunningham © Cambridgeshire Constabulary)