Annual Reading Pubwatch commends venues and continues the focus on safety of women

26/9/23: Story and images courtesy of  RDG.TODAY

Reporter Jake Clothier

Reading Pubwatch held its annual conference, where stakeholders in Reading’s night-time economy provide updates on the industry, standards, and initiatives.

It features contributions from venue owners, representatives from Reading Borough Council, Thames Valley Police, and Reading’s Business Improvement District, and guest speakers.

The Purple Turtle’s Stuart McNaughton hosted the event in Sub 89/Popworld, with the venue’s general manager, Jerry Wilkinson, who chairs Reading Pubwatch alongside secretary Bill Donne.

This year’s annual conference focused on caring for vulnerable guests and customers in the industry, including those with accessibility requirements, and the safety of women while interacting with venues.

Speaking at the event, Mr Wilkinson said: “Reading Pubwatch has set the tandard in making Reading a safer and more enjoyable night out for customers.

“It also gives members information and advice on licensing matters from those at the heart of its ever-changing landscape, as well as welcome new operators into the town.”

Bill Donne awarded two of Reading’s venues with their Best Bar None certificates following their accreditation to the scheme in January.

Along with the mayor of Reading, Cllr Tony Page, he gave the awards to The World Turned Upside Down and Back of Beyond, who were unable to make the awards ceremony earlier this year.

Accreditation with the voluntary Best Bar None scheme denotes high standards in operating policy, training, and staff and customer safety.

The event then welcomed Cllr Karen Rowland, lead member for environmental services and community safety, who said: “Our night-time economy is something we are all justifiably proud of, and makes Reading Reading.

“It draws in patrons of all ages from miles around, which really contributes to our local economy, and I think we all realise that times have not been the easiest.

“But it’s that ability [venues] have to be responsible and to reinvent which keeps it exciting and safe, and which gets that recovery well underway.”

Speaking on accessibility and safety, she said: “The past year saw the National Policing framework give special attention to violence against women and girls, and they requested it became a national policing priority.

“That is a goal shared by the council, Thames Valley Police, the joint work with Reading’s Community Safety Partnership, the Police and Crime Commissioner, and in the council’s new licensing policy.”

She explained that the council is “constantly renewing” these policies to keep them “refreshed” and said that it has a special focus on violence against women and girls.

She also explained that policy regarding prevention and reporting of sexual harassment and misconduct “remains prevalent.”

She also touched on an investment of more than £400,000 from the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Berkshire, Jason Hogg, for the Reading Safe Space.

The Hub will be set up in Reading Minster Church and support the work of the Street Pastors and First Stop, who provide safety and first aid support within the night-time economy.

Guest speaker Michael Kill, CEO of the industry advocacy body Night Time Industries Association, then gave a number of updates from the group’s work.

He explained that the group was meeting with governmental departments to discuss energy costs, which have now become “the second biggest cost” to night-time venues, and that proposals to bring venue savings on bills to closer parity with retail venues were still being discussed.

He also noted that the body was continuing to work on reducing licensing and planning wait times as well as increasing licensing and industry education for police officers, as well as further moves by the government to increase “diligence” in ensuring security services and door staff for taxation.

A representative from Thames Valley Police explained that initiatives to further improve safety for customers were being put in place, including the implementation of more plain clothes officers, internal distribution of information on offenders, and more on-foot patrols by officers during later hours had been proposed.

He also explained that the force would liaise with venues and stakeholders as well as industry experts to explore how new initiatives could be funded and how journeys to and from venues for residents could be made safer.

National Pubwatch chair Steve Baker was welcomed to present the Star Awards, which recognise people’s hard work and support in regional Pubwatch schemes.

His first award went to Declan Smyth, who spent 10 years as a Pubwatch member through his management of a venue, and his since worked as a licensing officer with Thames Valley Police.

The second went to First Stop, which provides medical support in Reading’s town centre, first via its double-decker bus, and latterly within Reading Minster Church until it moves to the Safe Hub in October.

Since 2013, First Stop has treated more than 2,000 people, and continues to work with a number of other organisations to provide support and alleviate strain on NHS services such as ambulances and the Royal Berkshire Hospital A&E department.

Guest speaker Sarah Walker gave a talk explaining her work with the Women’s Night Safety Charter which has come into effect in parts of London, featuring bi-annual summits, the provision of “safe haven” spots where customers experiencing difficulty can get help in getting home.

The scheme provides a number of support and information resources for signatory venues, and even those who are not signatories as of November.

After Bill Donne explained how much of the Best Bar None scheme worked for prospective applicants, Cllr Tony Page returned for closing remarks and to thank the speakers.

He said: “This afternoon has shown the strength of the partnerships and relationships we have in Reading.

“The cross-section of speakers from the police, licensing, NTIA, and Sarah Walker shows an impressive range of support and validation for the work you all do.

“The one thing that’s marked Reading out is the determination by the council, local policing, and leading people in the trade to make sure we worked in close collaboration.

“That relationship has only been built on over the years, and I want to highlight the importance of that commitment overall, but also the way in which it was delivered.”

He continued: “Pubwatch has been an important and successful element of that, with exchange of information and commitment to improving the town centre, which has been enormous.

“Reading took Purple Flag Accreditation again this year after a glowing report which mentioned a good partnership working throughout the assessment.

“They praised the safe streets and work of the street pastors, as well as a number of our initiatives.

“I would like to thank Bill Donne for all his work, and PubWatch which makes Reading even safer and more attractive place.”

NPW Editors Comment: The National Pubwatch Star Awards are sponsored by Hit Training

Left to right: Declan Smyth, Jeremy Scorer (Hit Training) Beryl Thompson (First Stop) & Steve Baker OBE Chair NPW