Special Report on National Training Awards: Venue opens doors to the New Bouncer: In the pink . . . door staff aththe South's biggest night club have a fresh image says Lynne Curry

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The Independent Online
ONE OF THE door staff at The Venue, the biggest nightclub in the South, is said to hold the world record for 24-hour squats. Like most door staff, this puts him outside the category of men in whose face one could painlessly kick sand but, nevertheless, he still has to go to work in a bright pink jacket.

Seventeen bright pink jackets, most of them extra-large, are on duty on a Saturday night at The Venue, a leviathan club which regularly attracts its capacity 1,650 drinkers and dancers to Tower Park, a leisure complex on the edge of Poole in Dorset.

The chief jacket, whose day job is running a hotel, shoulders his way amiably through the crowds, his path barred occasionally by young women who want to wrap their arms round him and young men willing to pass the time of day over the throb of the music.

Dave Heckford, a former missionary in Kenya, a former Salvation Army social worker, currently a partner in a hotel in Bournemouth, and the most senior member of the security team, is an illustration of how Allied Leisure has sought to change the image of door staff.

The vibrant magenta jacket - to dispel the mean, moody and sinister connotations of the usual black tuxedos - was the first step in the creation of the New Bouncer. The second was the dropping of the word bouncer, whose only logical function had to be to eject unwelcome patrons with an appropriate degree of vigour.

These days they are more likely to be politely asked to leave The Venue, and then only after an attempt at civilised reasoning has failed.

Allied Leisure's National Training Award, however, comes from a formalised advancement on both the jacket and the reasoning. All the door staff at the company's five nightclubs in England, Scotland and Wales are obliged to take part in a four-day course, ending in an examination.

Police and fire officers and first- aid instructors take sessions to cover emergencies from an epileptic attack on the dance floor to a major fire outbreak. Door staff are told about licensing law, how to recognise drug-takers and pushers, how to make a citizen's arrest, how to handle difficult and violent customers, and how to defuse a potentially violent situation without resorting to the same tactics themselves. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust was consulted for dealing with different types of aggression and the Portman Group, which had recently reported on late-night drinking in the UK, was asked for advice on door policy. As if they needed telling, a video showed the doormen how they were stereotyped by the public: as arrogant, violent, capricious, unreasonable, intimidating, aggressive, racist and fluent in foul language.

Simon Potter, the manager, says that treating people calmly and with dignity defuses potential disturbances before they escalated, particularly if they involve young men. Women can be more difficult. 'Some of the worst fights we have to deal with involve women. Not because they're strong but because they scream, kick, scratch and everything else and aren't as willing to be told, 'Look mate, just calm down.'

'Ninety per cent of these incidents are domestic, often when the girlfriend goes off and dances with another bloke, or the other way round. Most of them can be dealt with immediately with common sense, but sometimes you need a few strong boys around, obviously.'

The Venue also makes its customers pass through an airport- style metal detector and conducts random searches for drugs. It works closely with the two police licensing officers in Bournemouth and Poole and has a direct line to the local drug squad.

A bank of security cameras videos all sections of the club. The door staff have radios inside the pink jackets, and the bar staff have panic buttons. The aim is to spot trouble or an emergency early and sort it out quietly and calmly. Mr Potter says: 'We have no right to open every night and expect 1,500 people to come through the doors. We have to get them in, keep them happy, serve them fast, and they have to feel safe. As an organisation I feel we have integrity and have exploded the myth about night clubs. We're a professional outfit and it is a mass market which has become legitimate.'

Allied, founded 11 years ago by its current chairman, Richard Carr, has grown from a hamburger bar in Boscombe to a leisure Goliath with a turnover of pounds 11m. It owns 15 ten-pin bowling centres, five nightclubs and six themed bars. The training course was primarily devised to eradicate the image of surly thugs whose only appearances in daylight were in court docks.

Its corollary, says Dave Heckford, was in making the security staff feel valued as contributors to and influences over the club's success. 'I respect Allied because their training makes you feel part of a team. The doormen like it and have a sense of unity that wasn't there before.'

Andy Harris, 26, a former coachbuilder who now earns his living on door security, says The Venue's staff enjoy their image. 'We're renowned for being untypical doormen. I can't say I'd wear the jacket to go out in but it breaks the ice. When people get to the door and see three or four blokes in pink jackets they think we can't be serious.'

(Photograph omitted)