On the front line

Working mums trained in 'security' are showing aggressive bouncers the door
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The Independent Online

It's a rainy Tuesday morning in a quiet backstreet near Piccadilly Circus. Six women are sitting around a table, drinking cappuccinos and looking out over the rooftops of London. They're discussing how they would react if they saw two gay men having a domestic argument in a nightclub. It seems an unlikely conversation but is exactly the sort of situation these women worry about. Although they may look like executives, they are actually bouncers.

It's a rainy Tuesday morning in a quiet backstreet near Piccadilly Circus. Six women are sitting around a table, drinking cappuccinos and looking out over the rooftops of London. They're discussing how they would react if they saw two gay men having a domestic argument in a nightclub. It seems an unlikely conversation but is exactly the sort of situation these women worry about. Although they may look like executives, they are actually bouncers.

The women are taking part in a four-day "door supervision" training course which covers subjects such as conflict management, body language and health and safety. Bev Donald, 43, and her sister Hazel Haynes, 50, represent the entire security team for Bar Code, a gay club in Soho. Also attending is Candice Brown, 38, and her "crew": Ebony Love, 38, Baby Gee, 47, and Candice's cousin, Velvet Brown, 47. "The four of us always work together. We've had jobs in straight clubs, but at the moment we're working at a gay pub in south London," says Candice. Doesn't she worry about being attacked by male punters stronger than her? "Your mouth is your best defence in this job, not karate or being strong." Ebony agrees: "You just have to calm people down. The guys in our pub know we're mothers and it makes them less aggressive. Actually, it's a good job for working mums since the hours are really convenient."

All have paid £150 and if they pass the exams at the end of the course they will be granted a BTEC door supervision qualification. From 11 April, all door supervisors will be required by law to hold a licence - so if the women want to hold on to their jobs, they need to pass. After that, if they are found working without a licence, they could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, and the club could face closure.

Prior to the new legislation, there has never been any regulation of private security, despite the fact that half a million people work in the industry across England and Wales. Robert Buxton from the Security Industry Authority (SIA) believes this move is long overdue. "Aggressive bouncers constantly make the headlines. We're trying to stop this kind of thing happening. In five years time I'm sure we will look back and be shocked that a licence wasn't introduced earlier."

The SIA also hopes that licensing will lead to greater collaboration between the private security firms and the police - something they believe is essential. "For example, in Manchester, there are 100,000 people out every Friday and Saturday night," Buxton explains, "so with just 35 to 40 police on duty, we hope that the force will learn to rely on the support of the 1,000 door supervisors working in the city."

So far, 11 per cent of licences have been granted to women, a figure which the SIA expects to rise. Buxton believes that along with the licensing, more female supervisors are the key to improving the industry's reputation. "Women tend to be very good in the areas of conflict management and communication." On the course, all the women echo this opinion. "Female supervisors are better on the door. We have more intuition and can spot who's going to be trouble," says Bev. The course trainer, Paul Packer, who runs the security company South West Leisure Services, agrees and says he employs a 5ft 2in ballet dancer at one of his clubs. "Women are better at diffusing situations. Basically, bouncers are glorified babysitters. We're dealing with big children and need to show them the error of their ways," he says.

Paul is full of acronyms to help the ladies remember how to behave on the job. In tricky situations he recommends: SAFER - S (step back), A (assess the threat), F (find help), E (evaluate your options), R (respond, don't react to emotions). "But what about when you're faced with some bloke who's 6ft 5in and you're scared?" asks Candice. Paul recommends humour. "It's very hard to be aggressive towards someone who's smiling. Laugh, say, 'You're a big bloke aren't you?' Anything to diffuse the tension."

After a two-hour lecture, Paul decides it's time for a spot of role play. I get the part of a stroppy girlfriend who wants a bottle of champagne for her birthday. John Richards, Paul's general manager, plays my boyfriend. In our scenario, once the bottle is open he decides £50 is extortionate, refuses to pay, and things turn ugly when he grabs the bottle opener and flicks out the knife. Candice shows no fear (although it's unlikely she'll get stabbed on a training course) and starts to calm the situation with gestures and words. Paul's impressed, but suggests that Candice should have moved the chair beside John as it could have been a potential weapon. He also advises approaching assailants from the side, rather than face on, where it would be harder to stab her. Peculiarly, the course doesn't cover how to disarm people, but the women are full of suggestions anyway: Baby Gee says she would "Kick him where it hurts", while Bev suggests you, "Crack him over the arm with your Maglite so he drops the knife".

Next up is a lesson in personal space. According to Paul, a supervisor should always be able to see the punter's shoes in their peripheral vision when talking to them. If not, they're too close, and close enough to be punched in the face.

Over lunch, Bev tells me that when she started out in 1985, she was the first female door supervisor in London. A fellow bus driver asked her to help at the Babylon nightclub (now the celebrity hangout Heaven). "Women were carrying knives and drugs into the club in their handbags and the male supervisors couldn't search them," says Bev. She soon put a stop to that. "At the beginning everyone hated it, but I tried to kill them with kindness."

Now on a typical working night, Bev and Hazel turn up at their club at 7pm and leave around 1.45am. The bar can hold 400 people and they usually check 1,000 bags a night. Bev says: "It's much easier working in gay clubs. In straight bars men drink as fast as they can before last orders. In gay bars the guys have a couple of drinks, but they're more interested in dancing and posing." Trouble tends to happen on the street outside the club, which is lined with strip bars, rather than inside. "The police like us being there, we are their eyes and ears." The downside? "We can't ever use the toilet - there's always men in the ladies and I don't like that. I'm bursting by the time I get home."

The pair have "womaned" the door at Bar Code for eight years and are old hands are diffusing difficult situations. "Not so long ago a guy in our club was about to stab someone with a broken bottle," Bev says. "I just told him to think about prison, his partner, and asked him whether it was worth it. The guys ended up shaking hands." But she admits that, as women, they do face problems. "A couple of weeks ago a guy fell unconscious in a toilet cubicle. He was a big bloke and we had to carry him up the stairs to wait for the ambulance. It wasn't easy." They admit that they do get scared at times. "Two months ago we were trying to evict a guy when he grabbed me round the throat and punched me in the face," says Bev. "The police took him to court and I got £75 compensation."

Break over, Paul pulls out his special case of weapons, it contains Stanley knives, flick knives, combat knives and penknives. The group discuss how the most unlikely objects can be used as a weapons, and Bev recounts the time she saw a guy pull a bar from a fire-exit door to use in a fight.

At the end of the day, everyone fills out their worksheets detailing what they've learnt. "We covered legal issues like drinking-up time, which I was unsure of," says Candice. "Every bouncer should take time out to think about how they act at work and whether they can improve on it. Today has given me more confidence. It's been great to hear the other women's stories and learn from them as well."

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