Lead chaplain retires after “greatest nine years of working life”
Main article content
Reverend Tom Evans (just Tom to officers and staff) is a bit of a legend in Dyfed-Powys Police, he has given his time freely and passionately to serve as the lead force chaplain for the past nine years – supporting officers and staff at the worst times of their lives and in the most challenging circumstances, but also cheering them on and celebrating with them at the best of times.
He’s been there for it all, and everyone knew that he was available 24/7, 365 days a year – astonishing dedication considering it was a volunteer role. In 2019, he clocked up a 1,000 hours volunteering, and this was pretty typical for him annually.
He’s had a few desperate late night calls in this time, and stayed up talking until the early hours when the person on the other end of the phone needed it, and also taken calls whilst he and his wife Marilyn were holidaying abroad. But that’s the essence of Tom, nothing is ever too much trouble for him, and he genuinely and deeply cares about each and every person in the organisation.
He can be credited with ensuring that the multi faith Chaplaincy is now a part of the fabric of the organisation. He leads a team of 19 remarkable chaplains, which includes an Imam, volunteering throughout the force area – and he is quick to point out that it is the collective effort of them all that has guaranteed their ongoing success.
Commenting on his decision to retire, he said: “All things considered, I think it’s the appropriate time to leave, however sad I am to do so. At my age I think it is common sense. I retired from full time employment in 2008 – after an interesting and rewarding career. I was in the ministry first, moved onto world development matters with Christian Aid, then moved to media where I became a radio producer and presenter of programmes focusing on religion, and finally worked as a University lecturer.
"But volunteering as a Police chaplain has been a tremendous experience – one I wouldn’t have missed for the world, it’s been an absolute privilege. And I can honestly say it’s been the greatest nine years of my working life. The camaraderie and friendships I found when I joined the family community that is Dyfed-Powys Police will stay with me forever – I’ve met extraordinary people who have changed my life.”
The role has changed a lot over the nine years, and the chaplains are very much an important part of the operational response of the force. But he had to work hard at the beginning to gain the trust of officers and staff, who may have been a little cynical and wary of taking him into their confidence.
He always resisted having an office, as he felt it was important for him to be in the company of and around officers and staff so that they could get to know him, and have plenty of opportunities to start informal conversations on the ground. Part of his (and the team’s) success is the fact that he’s always provided a non-judgemental, listening ear to all, whether they have faith or no faith, and speaks to everyone in a language they can understand.
Tom has enjoyed the varied nature of the role, and it has been far broader than just supporting staff in their day to day working life. He has been asked to conduct funeral services for staff and their loved ones, he’s married a few couples, blessed wedding rings, visited staff in hospital, done home visits, sat and provided comfort to some who were gravely ill and anything in between. He’s been in the thick of people’s highs and lows – be they work related or in their personal lives. Retired staff have also been known to reach out to him.
He has also supported officers and staff through some of the most tragic cases the force has had to deal with – notably the abduction and murder of April Jones (where he stayed up in the Machynlleth area for two weeks) and the fire at a farmhouse in Llangammarch Wells where a father and his five children lost their lives. His work on both earned him a Chief Constable Commendation and a Certificate of Appreciation respectively. He also won the accolade of Volunteer of the Year in the force awards in 2017.
And although he was moved and humbled by these awards, he’s clear that it’s the people he’s helped through their sorrow and challenges that mean the most to him, and knowing he’s made a difference to them is recognition enough.
Tom is seen as a hero to many teams and individuals – and this was particularly true of the Disaster Victim Identification Team deployed to the tragic Llangammarch Wells fire.
PC 154 Thomas Draycott was part of the team, and said: “Tom is just one of those special people who puts people instantly at ease. You can feel his genuine interest in people and you as a person whenever or wherever you speak to him. He made numerous visits to our DVI team working on the protracted Llangammarch Wells fire recovery and it was clear that his visits.
"With the weeks of long hours away from home, very difficult working conditions, and the extreme weather conditions, Tom’s positivity and warmth meant the world and he quickly became a bit of a hero within the team. Each of his visits gave the team a much needed lift. Even simple things like his amazing ability to remember everyone’s name adds to his personal touch. He will be sorely missed.”
At the conclusion of the recovery at the scene, Tom was humbled to be asked by the weary officers to conduct a service of closure and memorial inside the ruins – a very moving service that he will never forget, and he recalls there wasn’t a dry eye there.
Chaplaincy has not only been nurtured by Tom within Dyfed-Powys Police, but he was also central in introducing it to the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust. As an emergency service, they’d seen the benefits the Chaplaincy brought to staff in the police, and wanted the same service to be available for the wellbeing of their staff. Following discussions, Tom offered to coordinate and facilitate this for the Trust to get them started, and by January 2020 a volunteer chaplain was in post. The timing was opportune, considering the incredible pressure that was to be placed on the emergency service and its staff a short time later because of the pandemic.
The development of the Chaplaincy and ensuring its longevity has been a priority for Tom, demonstrated by his determination to secure a Continuous Professional Development Programme in Chaplaincy Studies with the University of Wales Trinity St David. The programme gives all blue light chaplains UK wide an opportunity to study for a Post-Graduate Certificate, Diploma and ultimately a Masters Degree in Chaplaincy Studies.
Retired Chief Constable Mark Collins said: “We value all volunteers at Dyfed-Powys Police and can’t thank them enough for the support they provide us with. But I think I’m among many of my colleagues when I say Tom really stands out. He is part of a team that do outstanding work – and he has nurtured the Chaplaincy to the success it is today. He will be a hard act to follow, and his commitment to developing it and ensuring its future success is clearly demonstrated in his work on introducing the diploma in Chaplaincy studies.
“Our officers and staff see some truly harrowing and tragic events, and when people really need somebody to listen to them at times when they are really struggling, Tom has always been there, day or night. He has become a bit of a father figure for Dyfed-Powys Police and truly enriches the wellbeing of the force. He has put his heart and soul into the role. The workforce are always telling me he’s one of the nicest, most genuine and caring people they’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and the real difference he has made to their lives – inside and outside of work. We are all very sad to see him go.”
Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn added: “Tom Evans has been an exceptional volunteer for the Force over the last ten years or so. As chaplain, he has always been there for us through some challenging and difficult times; day and night. He has provided exceptional support and pastoral care to officers and staff and the wider policing community at times of difficulty and distress.
“I have been struck, but not at all surprised, at the huge amount of good wishes that have been sent to Tom since he announced his decision to retire. I want to add my own tribute to the way he has undertaken his duties and to note that he has gone well above and beyond what would have been expected.
“He will be very much missed by me and staff from my office and the extended policing family. I wish him a long, healthy and happy retirement.”
The Police Federation and Unison representatives also work closely with the Chaplains and recognise the significant role they can play in the welfare of officers and staff. Chair of the Dyfed-Powys Police Federation, Chief Inspector Gareth Jones said: “I have known Tom for several years, both during my time in Ceredigion and also since taking over as the Federation Chair. I have had the pleasure of knowing him professionally as well as personally and have always found him to be extremely approachable, caring and always willing to listen.
“I have witnessed first-hand the support he has provided to officers and staff who have experienced ill-health, bereavement or work and personal related issues. He leaves a massive void in the force chaplaincy and will be greatly missed across the force. I wish him and Marilyn all the very best for the future.”
Unison Branch Secretary Karen Phillips and Brach Chair Phil Williams have expressed their sincere gratitude to Tom for his unwavering support to their members in their times of need, and indeed the support he has given them personally in their roles to help their members.
Reflecting, Tom concluded: “Police officers and staff are a remarkable group of people. They experience traumatic and life changing events regularly. Some people get the impression that they are hard like anthracite. But I always tell people to look beyond the uniform, inside the uniform is a human being, full of emotions, like you or I. There have been times when officers have said to me that were it not for the support they received from the Chaplaincy, they would have left the police. And it is those extraordinary people, who’ve found the strength and commitment to carry on serving their communities, that have made my role as chaplain so rewarding.”