‘Some nights it’s a breeze, other nights it’s horrendous’: Keeping Romford’s night time economy safe
PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 September 2017 | UPDATED: 09:22 13 September 2017
A Recorder reporter was out on the streets of Romford town centre last Friday night to learn more about the unsung heroes keeping revellers safe.
I’ve been going on nights out in Romford since I was 18. From scraps on the dancefloor to drunks screaming how much they love each other in the streets, I’ve seen my fair share of alcohol-fuelled incidents in the town centre.
So when I was invited to see how the police and other organisations work to keep everyone on the right side of the law on a Friday night in Fiction, I couldn’t wait to find out more.
The town attracts thousands of revellers every Friday and Saturday night, and so, in connection with Havering Council’s #FeelSafeFriday campaign, I was invited to join police officers and street pastors to find out just what it’s like to try and manage the town centre.
Within minutes of meeting the two officers I’m to be accompanying for the night, they have confiscated a number of beer bottles from passing partiers who may or may not have been aware of Romford’s strict public drinking ban - just one of the ways Havering Council is attempting to make Feel Safe Fridays a reality.
Pc Pete Stannard has been policing the town centre for the last three years, and thinks the police are more on top of the night time economy than they have ever been.
He tells me: “How hard it can be can vary, some nights it can be a breeze and then other nights it is absolutely horrendous, but we’ve never had so many tools at our disposal as we do now.
“Section 35 orders, which allow us to disperse people, are a blinding piece of kit.
“They give us the chance to send people home who might be a little worse for drink, and then thankfully when they wake up in the morning, totally back to normal, they haven’t got a criminal record.”
Other tools now being used in the town centre include PubWatch, which sees troublemakers banned from not one but all town centre venues, and Scannet, a foolproof system for verifying customers’ IDs before they enter a bar or nightclub.
I also join the Romford Street Pastors, a group made up of trained volunteers from local churches, who patrol from 10pm to 4am on Friday or Saturday nights and have been doing so for the past 10 years.
Lynn Hunt, 58, is a former police officer who found religion later on in life, and as I join her group of pastors it quickly becomes clear that she is perfectly at home on South Street on midnight.
Within an hour of meeting her, I’ve seen her give out three hugs to complete strangers, always with a massive smile on her face.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she tells me after consoling two young men who, having left their IDs at home, are heading home early.
“Those two were clearly upset about not being let in, and we’ve managed to make sure they go home smiling.
“Sometimes it’s about helping drunk people in the street, other times it’s giving people a lift.
“No two people are ever the same, that’s what I love about doing this.”
Lynn has been a street pastor for a decade now, since they were first introduced – so how much has she seen the town’s nightlife changed?
“It has changed a lot, I think for the better.
“You see less fights now, but there’s still plenty of things for us to do. Sometimes we’re able to deal with situations where people might not react well to police officers, and along with the other authorities we’ve really helped to make things a bit safer here.”
Stopping to greet bouncers up and down the road, she knows each by name and shares a joke with many of them, before asking about any trouble they might have had so far.
Outside The Goose, we get a brief lesson in how to spot fake IDs, some of which have already been confiscated on the door tonight.
“These are really good, £30 quid each, and they almost had me,” the doorman explains, before revealing the little detail that had given the fake licences away – a lack of raised lettering.
The street pastors’ work is also appreciated by Havering Council.
Cllr Osman Dervish, cabinet member for community safety, praised the work of the town centre team: “Keeping our residents safe is a priority and it’s essential that we work with the Police to do so.
“We have a vibrant night-time economy but need to ensure it is also as safe as possible.
“People who work as Street Pastors and as part of the Street Triage team, do such an amazing job and I commend all that they do. Thank you all for helping to keep our night-time economy safe.”
By 1am I feel like I’ve learnt a thing or two about just how much thought and work goes in to keeping Romford safe on a Friday night, and my respect for the town centre’s street pastor team is through the roof.
As I wave goodbye to the police officers and street pastors who have been kind enough to let me tag along tonight, I can’t help but be impressed.
I’m heading home at 1am, some nights these selfless men and women can be on the streets until 5.