Former Deputy Chief Constable shares his passion for supporting local charities

21st October 2020

Charles Clark encountered several life-or-death situations and gained plenty of accolades during his time in the Essex police force.

The events were defining moments in his memorable career and Charles, who rose through the ranks to become the county’s Deputy Chief Constable, also embarked on life-changing work in the community.

“So many experiences during my police service have left an indelible impression on me,” says Charles.

“My involvement with the voluntary sector, particularly with Essex Community Foundation, has also been one of the most profound experiences of my life.”

As a young constable in Clacton 1972 Charles was the target of an attempted murder when he tried to arrest a teenager who was armed with a 22-calibre rifle. Six years later, as an acting inspector, he was taken hostage in Harlow by a gunman who was drunk and on drugs but managed to escape unharmed.

In 1984, on his first day in command as a chief inspector, he had to cope with the tragedy of a colleague, Bill Bishop, being shot dead in an armed robbery at Walton-on-the-Naze post office.

Charles was recognised for his bravery and showed that he had compassion, as well as a clear vision, of how the police force could progress and improve.

These strengths came to the fore when he became a founding trustee and later chairman of the independent charitable trust, Essex Community Foundation (ECF).

Charles is now a much-valued vice-president of ECF. He and his wife Sue, who live in Tolleshunt D’Arcy near Maldon, were among the first to set up a family fund managed by ECF to help support community and voluntary groups in Essex. The couple, who met at Maldon Grammar School when they were both 16, were married in 1969.

“Sue was one of the cleverest girls in the school and I was good at sport,” said Charles. “I wanted to be a professional footballer and had a couple of trials with clubs. Then I had plans to be a sports teacher, until I went for a beer with a friend who was a police cadet and seemed to be having a wonderful life, playing lots of sport and doing things in the community.

“I decided to apply to the Essex force and got the job. I was actually interviewed by the Chief Constable at the time and I think he was impressed that I had bought my own smart suit from my earnings from a holiday job, even though he suggested that my parents had paid for it. I was the first in my family to join the police force. I came from a working-class background and my dad was a lorry driver.”

As his career progressed Charles became more and more aware of issues affecting young people.

“I came across kids who were bright as buttons but had no chances in life because of where they came from and the way they had been brought up,” he said.

Charles went on to take a leading role in the youth justice system, helping to develop policies and strategy for the police service and working closely with the government. Sue was for many years a counsellor of young people and a trustee of Maldon Home-Start which enabled her to see how many children and families needed additional support.

It was when he was Assistant Chief Constable of Essex that Charles met the founder of ECF, the late Ian Marks and the organisation’s first chief executive, Laura Warren.

“Ian had the vision of setting up one of the first community foundations in the country and was approaching people he thought could help,” said Charles. “He talked about organisations sharing ideas and working in partnership in a strategic way. This was music to my ears, as I had realised, in my work with the police service, how important this approach was.

“I knew that the voluntary sector, which was massively parochial at the time, needed to be much more strategic. Ian set a fantastic £3 million match funding challenge to launch ECF and I became a founding trustee. I was able to combine my involvement in ECF with my role as Deputy Chief Constable, as partnership working was one of my objectives.”

During his time as chairman of ECF Charles was a passionate advocate of trustees taking a leading role in fund development and working with the ECF staff was responsible for a number of significant donations being made to ECF. One of Charles’ greatest achievements was his idea for ECF to work with Essex Police to set up the Proceeds of Crime Matched Funding Scheme. The initiative means that ECF is able to match on a 2:1 basis, donations from individuals or companies with money from seized criminal assets and the sale of stolen property recovered by the police. As the donations are invested into endowed funds managed by ECF, each year they give financial support to voluntary organisations and charities whose work is contributing to community safety in Essex.

“There were a few raised eyebrows at first when the scheme was put forward, but those with doubts became convinced that it was a good idea,” said Charles. “The concept is unique to Essex, but I would hope that in time, other police forces around the UK might work with their local community foundation in a similar way.”

After serving as a trustee and chairman of ECF, Charles became involved with community foundations across the UK, becoming a board member of UK Community Foundations and travelling across the country to help promote and develop their work.

As a vice-president of ECF, an OBE, a Queen’s Police Medal recipient and a deputy lieutenant of Essex, Charles, now retired from the Essex police force, is a much-respected figure.

Over the coming years Charles and Sue will introduce their two daughters and their families to ECF to ensure the Clark Family Fund continues to support young people for years to come.

He maintains his passion for the transformational work that community foundations can carry out in encouraging philanthropy and supporting the vital work of community and voluntary groups.

“I still talk to people as often as I can about giving money locally and how rewarding this can be. There is still a lot of scope for ECF for the future and, particularly at this time, its work is needed now more than ever,” he said.