Bouncers take courses in niceness

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The Independent Online
TO ANYONE who has queued in the freezing cold to enter a nightclub on a Saturday night, the shaven-headed gentleman wearing an air of menace and an outsized dinner suit is a bouncer. But in the age of client-oriented service provision, he (or she) is now a "door supervisor" - and is about to earn academic recognition.

A National Vocational Qualification, the work-based alternative to a GCSE, is being drawn up for bouncers. It will train them in first aid, their legal powers, safety, and "people skills" - courtesy and non-threatening body language.

The introduction of the new qualification has been warmly welcomed by police and is expected to herald the end of the stereotypical nightclub doorman, as portrayed by comedians Hale and Pace, whose "two Rons" are little more than gorillas in suits.

The move is part of a sharp change in attitudes surrounding the security industry, with training courses being offered to a wide range of crime- prevention employees, including car-park attendants, football stadium nightwatchmen and office CCTV operators. The industry is trying hard to regulate itself, ahead of the expected introduction of legislation by the Government next year.

One of the first places to introduce the NVQ will be Middlesbrough College, based in a town that has more than 100 nightclubs and public entertainment venues requiring bouncers.

"If you want the sort of customer who's going to wreck the place and not spend much money, then you are going to use the old-fashioned bouncer, who looks as if he's ready for a fight," said Ed Chicken, assistant director of public protection for Middlesbrough council.

"Businesses have come to realise it makes much more financial sense to train their staff properly and treat their customers properly."

Many councils around the country already have local training schemes for doormen, and make it a condition of the job that they participate. "We were one of the first areas to have our own scheme and an NVQ will harmonise the courses that are operating locally around the country and guarantee that clubbers will get the same standards of service wherever they go," said Mr Chicken. "The problems associated with bouncers are largely historical. Door supervisors have an image problem, rather than a real problem."

Cleveland Police's community safety officer, Elaine McDonald, said: "The potential for conflict will always be there. A physical presence may still be necessary, but an intimidating one isn't. We're a more educated public now and we have a greater expectation of how we should be treated when we go to these places."

But Pete Davidson, owner of Gulliver's nightclub in Grimsby, north-east Lincolnshire, said the NVQ scheme could be counter-productive. "There is a danger that you could get outside companies organising nightclub doormen across a town. Disreputable ones can end up like a local Mafia, controlling everything from entrance to pushing drugs.

"The local system we have in Grimsby works fine. If I have a bad apple and sack him, the other clubs will know about him through the council's register."

The Security Industry Training Organisation (Sito), which provides a wide range of courses, supports the scheme. Sito already offers nine NVQs to people working in the security industry, and five further NVQs are being drawn up.

"The ethos of training is more widely accepted," said a Sito spokeswoman. "Profit margins are quite low for security companies, but people obviously expect a high level of service. If you want a security guard who provides good service then it's important that they get good training.

"The industry has suffered from a bad press in the past. If you don't have standards then bad practices can creep in."

Does this all mean that bouncers will only have to be big on tact and management skills, rather than big in bulk? Mr Chicken said the idea of a seven-stone weakling manning the gates was not far-fetched. "I've spoken to at least one nightclub owner who is adamant that size shouldn't play any part at all. It's all down to how the person conducts himself."