Derby - A Safer City

The phrase 'night-time economy' is used to describe a range of activities, such as going on a night out with friends or for an evening meal with your family. However, there can be issues regarding safety in this environment - the rise in spiking incidents being one of them. Here we explore what's happening in Derby to combat these issues and ensure the public is safe.  

Derby's Purple Flag status and the organisations working together to maintain it

Derby has a thriving night life with a range of bars and nightclubs, and the city has had Purple Flag status since 2013. This accreditation recognises excellent management of the city centre at night in terms of safety, entertainment and value for money, and reassessment takes place every year.

“The Purple Flag status is granted through regular assessments each year from the Association of Town and City Management, which allows us and our partners to acknowledge the great work that is being done to ensure that people visiting and working in the Derby city centre night-time economy are safe,” says Matthew Eyre, Cabinet Member for Community Development, Place and Tourism at Derby City Council. “It also allows us to identify initiatives and areas where additional activity can be delivered to enhance safety and the night-time economy experience.”

Many organisations work tirelessly to help vulnerable people in the night-time economy and combat issues such as spiking.

These groups, which include the Street Pastors, the charity Safe and Sound, Derbyshire Police, Derby City Council, the University of Derby and its Union of Students, often work together, alongside many of the city’s venues, to strengthen their provision.

Drone shot overlooking the city of Derby at night

The Union’s President, Owen Marques, works closely with Russell Lewis, Head of Student Engagement at the University and creator of the Student and Security Group, set up in 2021 to focus on the safety of the University’s circa 28,000 students, many who spend time enjoying what the city has to offer. Both Owen and Russell were invited to be involved in securing the Purple Flag reaccreditation as a result of the success of the group and the measures they’d put in place to keep people safe.

The Student and Security Group has formed a close relationship with Derby City Council, which means they can work closely together on the city’s safety provision and sound out different ideas.

“I meet with a member of the council on a monthly basis to share real time information and talk about projects,” explains Russell.

“Myself and a Union of Students rep were shown behind-the-scenes footage recently of the night-time security that’s run by the council, so we got to see how widespread the provision was and how good the CCTV coverage is. They were looking to improve on that, and we were able to offer advice on where other cameras could be best placed for students around the city.

“We are also working on a big project with them where a star rating based on safety provisions would be provided to each venue in the city that holds a licence to sell alcohol. This will give an indication to people in the city of which venues are deemed to be the safest, and our group can then communicate the results of this project to students.”

Unsurprisingly, Derbyshire Police has a significant role to play in all of this. Commenting on the initiatives that they implement in the city to help maintain it each year, Sergeant Jamie Millard from the Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: Derby is a safe place to live, work and visit. That is not to say that crime does not occur and as a force, as well as with partners, we are committed to driving down crime in the city.

“We have many initiatives to keep people safe in the night-time economy, such as the established Pubwatch scheme. Should a person be banned from city pubs, they will be added to the Pubwatch list meaning they can no longer drink in the city centre. Radio communication between different premises helps to further enforce this and to highlight problems or individuals that may require extra attention to other pubs and bars.

“We also have access to the city council's CCTV, which we use to help identify potential issues and deploy resources where they are required. On top of this, as many nights end with a trip in a taxi, we work closely with taxi marshals to ensure all vehicles are properly licensed and working correctly.”

Helping vulnerable people at night

The Derby Street Pastors group was set up by Derby City Mission in 2009 following the death of two young men in the city. The Street Pastors are a group of volunteers from local churches who provide a visible and reassuring presence around the city at night.

The volunteers undergo around 30-40 hours of training in mental health, first aid, drugs, alcohol, and communications, to ensure they can deliver effective services for the public. Following this, they patrol the streets in large groups, keeping an eye open for ways to help.

“Every Friday and Saturday night, we will go out on shift at around 10pm and then we are normally out until about 4am,” says Mike Rollinson, who is part of the management team for Derby Street Pastors. “We are connected to CCTV operators, Derbyshire Police and door staff by radio, which means that if they spot someone who looks vulnerable or unsafe, they can contact us and ask our team to check on them.

“We also walk around the city and keep our eyes open for anyone who looks like they may need help. For instance, we may see a female who has been drinking heavily and is on her own wandering the street who could be receiving unwanted attention. At this point, we can walk with them and make sure they get to a taxi rank and home safely.”

Eight members of the street pastors grouped together in uniform in Derby city centre
A group of Street Pastors out in the city centre

Derby charity Safe and Sound focuses on protecting and support young people and families whose lives are affected by child exploitation. As well as one to one and group support, the charity also provides outreach services in local communities across the city and in South Derbyshire.

Safe and Sound were recently heavily involved in the ‘Safe Derby’ campaign in partnership with Derby City Council and Community Action Derby to tackle and raise awareness of violence against women and girls in public places.

“As part of the campaign, we created the Safe Places initiative as a way of tackling violence against women and young girls,” says Tracy Harrison, CEO of Safe and Sound. “We approached key organisations and venues in the city and asked them to become a ‘safe place’, and the organisations that signed up have a purple hand sticker in their window."

This means that anyone who feels uncomfortable or overwhelmed can enter these venues and staff will let them use a phone or allow them sit and gather their thoughts.

“It is vital that anybody, but particularly women and girls, know that they can go somewhere safe in the city and feel like they are being supported. Moving forwards, we aim to have at least one safe place on every street in the city centre," adds Tracy.

Tracy Harrison smiling confidently

It’s a way of trying to create that feeling for people that they can go somewhere safe in the city and feel like they are being supported, and we aim to have at least one safe place on every street in the city centre.

Tracy Harrison
CEO of Safe and Sound Charity

The University’s Student and Security Group has a similar initiative that it uses to keep students around the city safe.

“One of the first initiatives that we delivered was to enable any student that felt threatened or vulnerable on a night out to be allowed to stay in a hall of residence, even if they weren’t a tenant there,” explains Russell.

“It might be that a certain hall is closer to them than the destination they are travelling to, and they could then go there for that safety aspect. This was relatively easy to implement but makes a huge difference, so it was definitely an early win for our group.”

Street view next to the student accommodation 'Princess Alice Court'
All student halls are accessible to students if they feel unsafe when roaming the streets

If there isn’t a safe venue nearby, Derbyshire Police advises using the Hollie Guard app.

“If you feel unsafe, you can shake your phone and the app will send out an alert to a group of contacts to warn them that you may be in danger,” explains Sergeant Millard. "It can track a person’s location and start recording audio and visual footage of what is happening around you and if you shake it more than once, a flashing light and a high-pitched beeping sound will be activated to draw attention to what is happening."

Tackling spiking in the city

Among the most high-profile safety concerns in recent years is spiking, which is when someone adds alcohol or drugs to someone’s drink without their knowledge.

Spiking can cause the victim to experience symptoms of mental confusion, light-headedness, visual problems and speech difficulties, which puts them in a vulnerable position, particularly if they are alone. Recently, people even began reporting cases of being spiked by injection, and this led to the ‘Girls Night In’ campaign in 2021

A hand leaning over about to put an unknown substance into a drink, with two females stood behind talking
Drink spiking can happen to anyone, and drinks should never be left unattended in a bar or nightclub

The Union of Students has a close relationship with Stonegate venues in the city such as Fever and Popworld, a chain of pubs and nightclubs.

“We have been in talks with them about spiking and other issues and they have very much welcomed that conversation,” says Owen.

“These venues now have welfare officers on student nights, who are like security, but they focus directly on the wellbeing of students and act as someone that students can approach to talk to. They also offer ‘spikies’ and drink safe covers behind the bar, which you can put over your drink to cover it from unwanted substances.

“Another thing that is great is their robust security before people enter a venue, as they use metal detectors and make sure they empty their pockets, which is especially important due to an increase in the cases of injection spiking.”

Head shot of Owen Marques, President of the Union of Students

Venues now have welfare officers on student nights, who are like security but they focus directly on the wellbeing of students and act as someone that students can approach to talk to. They also offer 'spikies' and drink safe covers behind the bar.

Owen Marques
President of the Union of Students at the University of Derby

The Street Pastors also help deal with victims who may have been spiked and work with the police to ensure their safety.

“In terms of dealing with a potential spiking victim, it can be very difficult to know if they have actually been spiked, so we will start by treating a person as though they are intoxicated,” says Mike. “We will care for them and reassure them that they are safe and will focus on a way to get them home, but we will take the step to contact the police or an ambulance if necessary.”

The Street Pastors team also give out drink toppers to the public to try and be proactive, adopting a similar approach to the Stonegate venues in the city.

Future plans

Although the Student and Security Group has made great progress in keeping students safe, its ultimate goal is for there to no longer be a requirement for the group’s existence, as Russell Lewis explains: “When everything is ready, and we have enough resources out there and good enough transport links for students in places where we know problems are occurring, it would hopefully get to a point where the group isn’t necessary as a result of the changes that have been implemented."

For Safe and Sound, Tracy is focused on the expansion of its services to support and protect more young people, families and the wider communities across the county, and the charity continues to have a close working relationship with the University through research and work placements.

She said: “Child exploitation is a real and present danger for any young person – regardless of their age, sex, family background or culture - and we have seen a huge increase in referrals for young people and families alike. There is also growing demand for us to hold sessions in our local communities to raise awareness of this issue which includes grooming, sexual exploitation, County Lines, modern slavery and radicalisation.”

Whether or not you spend time sampling the city’s nightlife, it’s reassuring to know that there are organisations and individuals out there who care about people's welfare and safety and are working hard to make the streets of Derby a safer and more enjoyable place for everyone.

Written by Kyle Lynch