For many years I have watched councils and police forces around the world close premises the minute that something goes wrong, admittedly those events tend to be major like a stabbing, shooting, a mass brawl, underage drinking or serious over crowding. If they don’t suspend or revoke their license, premises are often brought in to a hearing and told how they should behave from now on. This is by no means the fault of Councils or Police forces they are just using the only tools immediately available to them to deal with the issues that face them in the most expedient way.
However, once a licensed premises finds themselves on this track, it’s often a path of no return. They will keep failing to meet the often challenging demands placed upon them, often because they don’t have the skills, time or money to implement the demands and inevitably they end up closing or changing hands.
This brings with it, new problems
- An empty premise is a haven for other crimes, such as squatting and vandalism, and it brings down the whole economic viability of the street.
- A valuable economic asset is lost, people on zero hour contracts lose essential jobs (often young people since 75% of those working in the NTE are aged 18 to 25 years). They lose their financial stability and often turn to the state for help.
- It adds to the growing list of lost cultural and night time economy venues that are essential for a healthy city both for residents and tourists.
- A new owner comes in, and the cycle perpetuates, as they too will probably experience people problems of some type, and often an inexperienced manager will come in and make the same mistakes as before.
- The problem people who created the issues to start with still need somewhere to go and then start going to a new bar or night club which then suffers the same fate as the venue before it because inevitably this new chosen venue will not be equipped to deal with the people issues that it now unexpectedly faces.
So what are the alternative options? I have been thinking about the alternative options and different ways we could overcome this for about 6 years. Having trained as a Mediator I have seen the benefits of Mediation in workplaces, communities and families and a really think that Mediation in the Night Time Economy (NTE) could break this cycle or at least add another tool before a full review because it gets to the root of the issues and helps to create workable solutions to those issues.
Why would Mediation work?
- Mediation at its heart is about bringing two or more parties together to reach a mutually acceptable solution to a problem. The mutual aspect is really important here. Often when ideas or solutions are forced, the person who is doing the forcing is totally bought in, they think it’s a great idea, it’s their idea after all! What they fail to get is true buy in from the other party, therefore it’s always going to fail. Mediation would work better because both parties come together and create workable solutions. They both buy into the solutions and therefore it’s a win-win situation from the start.
- Mediation allows both parties to explore the issues in a safe non-biased place, which creates an equal platform. Having sat in licensing hearings they never feel like an equal platform, where parties can both openly ask for help. I was once asked for help by a bar experiencing issues with individuals who belonged to a gang, the gang had claimed this bar as their place. At the same time, I learned that the police were intending to revoke the premises licence of this bar because of gang related issues. I asked the bar if they had approached the police for help, they said they were too scared to in case it gave the police fuel to close them down, and instead, they wanted my help to creatively deal with the issues (drugs, weapons, vulnerable girls, and violence). I asked the police if they had entered discussions with the bar to see if they could support them and help them learn how to deal with the issues that they were facing. The answer was a resounding “NO” followed by “we’ve just told them to sort it out or we’ll close them down”. This situation is exactly where mediation could work. By creating an equal playing field where both parties can come together outside of the court or legal system to find a low-cost solution to the problem. A mediator could have worked with both police and the venue to find mutually acceptable solutions to the issues. Instead, the bar was eventually closed before I ever got to work with them and the gang started going to another bar. The new bar had never had any issues before, but was totally unequipped to deal with its new clientele, and also started suffering the same issues and eventually was also closed.
- Mediation would help police forces, councils and licensed premises identify common issues and create workable solutions that could then be rolled out. In the case of the bar above we could have developed training for the bar and door staff that could easily have been rolled out to other premises, we could have created better policies, we could have created a way of sharing information on gang members and a variety of other strategies that would have dealt with the root of the people problems and upskilled the staff.
- Mediation would leave a positive legacy. This bar closed with the loss of 30 jobs and the opportunity was missed to create a better trained licensed trade workforce. If the 30 staff members had been trained they could have taken that knowledge with them, and we could have rolled out the training to other premises in the city. However, they left to go to other premises just as poorly trained in dealing with major issues as when they arrived, which perpetuates the problems.
- Mediation is not intervention by an agency, although an agency might refer, meditation is totally independent of courts, solicitors, and other agencies, so both parties are free to talk and try ideas with no comeback. It’s is not an assessment and no report is written other than a formal agreement which both parties sign and therefore neither party should feel fearful of coming to the table to seek help or to work on a solution and agree on a mutually acceptable way to resolve the situation.
What are the benefits of Mediation?
- A freed up court system and fast turn around for dealing with issues
- Reduced costs for Police, Councils and Licensed Premises
- The creation of workable solutions to the root cause that both parties buy into which will create a win-win situation
- A teaching opportunity for the licensed trade to empower staff to deal more effectively with issues
- Better equipped, thriving ENTE with fewer closed premises
- Identification of common issues affecting the ENTE so all other licensed premises can benefit from this knowledge
- Zero tolerance creative approach to the people who create the problems rather than the premises affected by their action bearing the brunt of their actions.
What do you think? Do you think mediation could work in the ENTE? What other benefits or pitfalls could you see?
If you would like to try mediation please get in contact with jo@nighttimeeconomy or call 07734 255807 for an informal discussion.