Waterford is a safe city at night.
Maureen Fitzsimons, City Centre Liaison Officer at Waterford City & County Council wants you to know that.
After all, Waterford City centre can proudly boast Purple Flag status indicating that it enjoys a good quality evening & night-time economy where people can have a safe night out in a pleasant environment.
But Purple Flag is not just about alcohol or anti-social behaviour at night – it’s holistic in that it caters for all ages, where activities include family entertainment, arts & culture, shopping, dining, pubs and nightclubs.
“The Purple Flag can be used to promote the city as a destination, too,” points out Maureen.
The local council would be a key stakeholder in Purple Flag accreditation, co-ordinating, funding and otherwise supporting this scheme.
“The primary objective in the City Centre Management Plan is to ensure that the night-time economy is looked after, to ensure it’s sustainable, diverse and safe,” she explains, “We also help ensure local multi-agency co-operation in looking at the management of the night-time economy, an important driver in our tourism and leisure economy.”
One of those who operates in Waterford’s night-time economy through Oskars & Revolution bars is Jim ‘Flash’ Gordon. He was there at the beginnings of the City Safe initiative in 2012 (which preceded the arrival of Purple Flag) which has proven very effective in improving the quality of Waterford’s nightlife.
“We’ve reduced anti-social behaviour by over 50% in the city centre between 2012 and 2018 according to Garda figures,” says Jim.
That was then
Back in 2012 Waterford witnessed a lot of anti-social behaviour in the strip where all the clubs and pubs tended to be on one long street. But this arrangement also localised anti-social behaviour and made such behaviour clearly visible. Thus the pubs and clubs also saw that being on one street meant that they could counter this better too, Jim explains.
Waterford City Safe was set up to enable security in different venues to communicate with each other about troublemakers. It had potential then but it’s a far cry from what’s being done today.
Working with local Councillor Eddie Mulligan the participants realised that the Gardai were short-staffed and so Eddie Mulligan approached the Garda Commissioner to argue for more Gardai for this deprived area.
This is now
Councillor Eddie Mulligan got his extra allocation and today the city’s night-time economy works with four extra Gardai on the beat on busy nights with the full co-operation of the street’s hospitality providers.
“With such visibility, there’s much less chance of trouble,” says Jim.
Those involved in Purple Flag, for example, reached out to different sectors of the night-time economy and that led to discussions on how this economy could be improved.
Ross Cahill works as a Security Manager with the Causeway Group which owns different hotels and bars in Waterford such Mason’s, Sinnotts, the Factory, the Woodsman and the Lounge (opened just before Christmas).
An ex-London Metropolitan policeman, he’s a keen advocate for the scheme.
“A cornerstone of this is ensuring that Waterford City is safe of a night-time,” says Ross, “Discussions revolved around how we could make it safer and we came up with the phrase ‘City Safe’ as seemingly appropriate.”
They’ve already run the ‘Ask For Angela’ campaign via Waterford Technical College which made use of it on student nights and weekends.
“We were the first to introduce the ‘Ask Angela’ campaign too,” says Jim Gordon, “We originally saw it in the UK and sought to copy it and it has worked extremely well.”
The ‘Ask For Angela’ campaign began in England in 2016 and is used by bars and other venues to keep people safe from sexual assault by means of a codeword “Angela” – ask for her at the bar – to alert bar staff when a customer feels in danger of assault or finds herself in a similarly uncomfortable situation.
The phrase alerts bar staff to something being amiss and they can then safely defuse the situation.
There’s also an ‘awareness’ project among the city’s security staff who wear red jackets with ‘Waterford City Safe’ on the back.
In the past Waterford has had a couple of incidents where security staff have seen girls being hassled and the staff have brought them into the bar and got them a taxi home.
And for those lacking the funds to get home at the end of the night, there’s the SafeHome scheme.
This helps students get home safely in the event that they don’t have the funds for a taxi.
In order to avail of the scheme a student makes contact with Waterford’s Rapid Cabs office (or calls into the walk-in office located in the centre of the Purple Flag Zone) and requests a taxi home on the SafeHome scheme. At the end of the journey the student gives the taxi driver their WIT Student card. The next day (or at any time afterwards) the student calls into the Rapid Cabs taxi office and pays the fare when they have available funds and the student card is returned. In 2019 the scheme was used 116 times.
‘Barred From One, Barred From All’
Now Waterford has launched ‘Barred From One, Barred From All’, another step in the campaign to be a community of late-night venues that communicate any anti-social problems and find the solutions as a group to late-night anti-social behaviour.
This latest incarnation of the late night bars and nightclubs CitySafe initiative ensures that if someone seriously assaults security or bar staff then that person gets barred from all premises within the city.
“What became apparent was that we were potentially dealing with the same people causing the same trouble in all the different venues,” remembers Causeway’s Ross Cahill, “And so these persistent troublemakers are targeted in that they must take ownership of their anti-social behaviour. Their actions have consequences which will see them getting barred from all venues in Waterford city.
“This is a wider project to bring customers into a safe environment and bring them into the city centre,” he says, “So we’re tackling those 2% that persistently cause trouble.”
Working in conjunction with so many bodies employed in the night-time economy means that as a publican or nightclub owner, one can get up-to-date information, says Jim Gordon.
“We’re also better informed on how we can work together and make the pub community more successful.
“Working as a community is the best way to tackle any problems as we can foresee them before they arise and can exchange information as a result.
“After all” he concludes, “it’s better to work with the Gardai rather than be in fear of them raiding a premises.”
How Purple Flag works
In seeking Purple Flag status a local council or a business group might apply to the Association of Town and City Management who send out assessors to inspect the scene.
“We’re assessed on 36 different criteria ranging from safety & wellbeing, movement & access around the Purple Flag area in question, to Key Performance Indicators etc,” explains Waterford City Council’s Maureen Fitzsimons, “The final pillar we’re assessed on is policy and partnerships in terms of strategy and how the project is set up.
“The assessors look at the physical infrastructure of the area as well as the supports around that.
“We have residents involved too through the Public Participation Network, Waterford Institute of Technology Students Union, youth groups and the Gardai etc all around the table and all looking at how Waterford City functions after 5pm.
“Each year you must show how you’re working to drive standards up in cleansing, litter management etc and the venues themselves must provide the right variety of entertainment, food and atmosphere.”
The Purple Flag accreditation scheme has been fairly well-established in the UK and in 26 or 27 locations here since 2013 and it’s now pushing into other regions outside Europe such as New Zealand.