With just four weeks left until Chief Inspector Keren Pope retires, Cambridgeshire Police Federation has caught up with the mum-of-three this International Women’s Day, to find out how she has managed to juggle motherhood with climbing the career ladder while overcoming a cancer diagnosis.
Rewind to 1995, the now 49-year-old had left the Royal Air Force and decided to join the police. Having spent the first three years with Nottinghamshire Police, she then relocated to Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
From joining the response team to policing traffic, the first 13 years of Keren’s time in the Force were spent multi-tasking between motherhood and work on the frontline, having not only passed her sergeant’s exams in 2006 but welcomed three children into the world by 2008.
“Having three children, and my oldest having severe learning difficulties, meant I was constantly juggling life as a parent and police officer,” explained Keren, who was promoted to part-time sergeant in 2007.
“It was difficult – and while I loved my job, there was definitely a sense of injustice as to how women were treated back then. I had to really fight for flexible working hours because it was almost unheard of. At one point, I was the only female on the traffic team – and while there had been women before me, I believe I was the only one with children.
“I actually knew of colleagues who left the Force after having children, because the job wouldn’t work around their new family.
“I look back now and honestly wonder how I did it. I remember coming in from a shift at 3am and getting up at 7am to do the school run. I think I put it down to having a well-organised calendar.
“Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband, who took care of bedtime, dinners and bathtime, when I worked shifts. Of course, being a working mum-of-three did come at a sacrifice, and that was me and my husband spending quality time just the two of us.”
In 2009, Keren returned from maternity leave as a neighbourhood sergeant, alongside graduating with a degree in management and change at the Open University in 2012.
Keren continued: “I like to think that I’ve shown women – and anyone for that matter – that if you work hard, you can get to where you want to be.
“You should never expect your dream job to come overnight, you need to work for it. I worked lates and weekends, I worked really hard.”
In 2015, Keren was given the devastating news that she had breast cancer, and it had spread to her lymph nodes.
Just a year later, and after a double mastectomy, along with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Keren was back on her feet and taking part in national event, Moonwalk, which raises money for breast cancer charity ‘Walk the Walk’.
“My goal was to take part in the Moonwalk and I did it – and I helped raise more than £10,000,” recalled Keren, who explained how the diagnosis completely changed her attitude to life.
“My entire breast was full of this awful disease and I remember feeling like I had this horrible gremlin on my shoulder telling me that I shouldn’t enjoy life too much, because it could take my life away from me at any moment.
“Having cancer really made me re-evaluate everything. My focus became my family – and although it always has been, you sometimes lose sight of things when you’re trying to do well at work. But now, home is home – and work is work.
“It’s little things like I used to hate having my photo being taken and I realised that if I was no longer here, my children would have no photos with me – so now, I make sure I have plenty of photos with the kids.
“It made me realise that there is so much more to life than money.”
Keren said that despite the diagnosis being a ‘horrendous time’, it also opened up a number of doors for her.
“Because of what I’d experienced and because I didn’t have my lymph nodes, I was no longer able to be operational, which led me into a role I probably wouldn’t have done before,” said Keren, who returned to work in a temporary inspector role, working on the OSARA problem-solving model.
During this time, Keren helped to secure essential funding for training, which helped ensure consistent problem-solving policies were being followed across the Force, with sharing between the agencies involved.
“I feel very proud of the problem-solving work I did, especially because it’s still being used by the Force today,” continued Keren, who completed the chief inspector promotion process in 2021.
Now working as the regional prevent lead in counter-terrorism, Keren engages with young people who are vulnerable to being radicalised.
“I’m lucky that I’ve enjoyed my job so much,” said Keren, as she looks forward to retiring next month.
“But I’m now looking forward to trying a new career – and one in the private sector. There’s a big, exciting world out there and I’m ready to explore it.”
Keren’s first adventure will be this summer, making memories with her family, as they travel the west coast of America for five weeks.
She ended: “What advice would I give to new recruits? Always be honest and hold the values of policing in your heart at all times, as you maximise any opportunity thrown your way.
“And remember, life is too short to be whinging and moaning. Make the most of your time on this planet.”