AS he dispenses crime prevention advice in a Walcot living room, Doug Batchelor’s job seems far removed from his past role guarding prime ministers and foreign dignitaries.

The Bobby Van operator downed firearms many years ago and now provides free support for residents in Swindon and North Wiltshire from his distinctive mobile workshop.

While the role might not have the national significance of his job in the Metropolitan Police, where he spent 10 years as a PC, he is enjoying directly helping victims and people at risk of crime.

“The whole job from start to finish is very rewarding, especially going out to victims of burglaries,” Doug said. “To be honest, it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Once I’ve done the work I’ve had several people turn around and say, ‘I can sleep sounder because of what you’ve done’.

“It’s a nice thing to have.”

Run by a charitable trust, the Bobby Vans help vulnerable and disadvantaged people stay safe and secure through two mobile operators who fit new locks, chains and smoke alarms and provide crime prevention advice.

Demand is growing for the mobile workshops, with visits rising from 384 in 2015 to 418 last year.

Doug covers north Wiltshire, with the bulk of his work in Swindon, and he draws on experience attending thousands of burglaries from his previous service as a PC.

He says: “We are a registered charity providing security checks for anybody over the age of 60, and over the age of 18 with a disability. We work closely with people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable or suffering from domestic abuse or illness. The important thing is you don’t have to be a victim of crime to receive a visit and while we get a lot of referrals, you can self-refer.

“People see the van and our uniform and think we are part of the police when in fact we are a registered charity providing free security checks. The donations we receive are critical.”

Most of the call-outs involve victims of crime who are referred to the Bobby Van by the police, neighbours and other agencies and organisations such as Age UK.

The householders Doug visits are often surprised to learn that his despite his van and uniform he is no longer a police officer, though he works closely with the local force.

In fact, the former firearms specialist is the point man for a wide range of support, including fitting smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and ‘signposting’ people to other services.

His former police role involved guarding Downing Street as a Diplomatic Protection Group officer, but visiting elderly and vulnerable people in their homes is no less rewarding.

“With the Bobby Van you are not going out to arrest somebody but to help them and make sure they don’t become a target in the future.” Doug says. “Because I’m a carpenter by trade I can replace the locks for free and I can fit smoke alarms in minutes. Even when there is not much more that can be done at a property we can give out advice and stickers which act as a deterrent.”

Changing times mean the Bobby Van now carries food parcels provided by the Trussell Trust and the operators can give out leaflets about how to stay safe online, with follow up visits available.

On Monday, however, Doug’s calls include burglary victims in Walcott and Stratton.

At both houses the crime prevention expert fits sturdy new locks and door chains following a quick look around the properties. He also gives the householders practical advice including on ‘doorstep security’, UV marking and how to keep cash and valuables safe.

Doug also gives the householders an up-to-date picture of the criminals and rogue traders seeking to target the unsuspecting.

They include men posing as water board officials claiming they need access to a house to deal with a leak and bogus police officers saying stolen property has been thrown into a garden.

“With the rogue traders they will offer to drive the victim to the shops or the cash machine if there is no cash in the house,” Doug said. “Unfortunately there are people trusting enough to open their door to a stranger and even show them hospitality and give them help if they ask for it. The distraction burglars are despicable people who are looking to take advantage of that in any way they can.”

Doug’s second call of the day is at Stephen Dance’s home in Stratton St Margaret, where the pensioner had £400 stolen after his front door was kicked open in a burglary.

The Bobby Van operator replaces the locks on both the outer and inner front doors, fits a new padlock on a side gate and installs a smoke alarm. Mr Dance, an RAF veteran, is thankful for the visit after first hearing about the service at one of the community talks that Doug gives locally.

“I used to do these things myself, but as you get older you can’t do so much,” Mr Dance said.

“I’m very grateful."

So far this year, the two Bobby Van operators have already undertaken 199 calls, adding to the many thousands of visits since the service was established in 1998.

Doug’s work on Monday receives heartfelt thanks at both homes as he leaves two more households the tools to stay safe and secure for many years to come.

For more information visit or call 01380 861155.