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Walksafe at Leeds – and the Tour de France

Work to make teenage newcomers to university campuses safe – and feel safe – has come a long way since the Professional Security in December 2000 featured Walksafe, the joint University of Leeds and West Yorkshire Police (WYP) operation.

Then the university’s head of security was George Blanchflower, the former senior WYP officer, who’s since retired altogether. Last year’s WYP operational order spoke of the ‘traditional, well-worked operations such as Operation Walksafe’. When Professional Security put on its front cover a picture of the autumn 2000 Walksafe, of a police officer and security officer side by side doing a joint patrol, that was noteworthy. Now, it’s not unusual. In 2013, the community safety partnership Safer Leeds made available a CCTV vehicle, police sought public reassurance of students ‘through highly visible patrols’ and – something undreamt of at the millennium – used social media to give live or daily updates.

Busy summer
On an early September weekday lunchtime, it was balmy enough for the front door of 175 Woodhouse Lane to be open to the street. Behind the counter at the security office, a white-shirted security officer was on duty. Walking by were mainly young people. Woodhouse Lane, one of the main roads out of Leeds, is a boundary of Leeds University, and indeed of its neighbour Leeds Metropolitan University. Though term was not starting until the end of the month, the street and the campus were far from quiet. Many students, particularly from abroad, may prefer – or at least find it cheaper – to stay in Leeds all summer rather than fly home. Gone are the days of campuses being quiet all summer; Leeds like last summer, when Professional Security reported the official opening of the security office, had plenty of building work going on. Campuses do not stop growing. The sites host conferences; many campuses in 2012 were bases for Olympic teams before they competed in London; and Leeds had arguably the pick of the 2014 events, when the Tour de France began there in July. Leeds University hosted four teams the week before: Belkin, Bretagne-Seche, Garmin-Sharp and Giant-Shimano. They stayed at the university-owned Weetwood Hall conference centre and four-star hotel. The university security services provided security for training rides – which provoked popular interest as indeed did the Tour stages in the county – and press conferences afterwards. The university head of security Alan Cain recalled that on the evening of July 3 – the first stafe of the Tour was on Saturday, July 5 – the 198 riders went on 22 coaches to The Edge, the university’s sports club, the start of a procession to the Tour opening ceremony at Leeds Arena, a route lined by thousands. Alan Cain recalled: “It was a fitting finale to Security Services’ involvement with what is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows on earth.” Only the Olympics and football World Cup are on a par with the Tour, in terms of interest and its geographical spread, and the Tour makes security more complicated because the cyclists are moving. Hence the university security staff liaised with West Yorkshire Police – who in their turn had to liaise with other forces for enough motorcycles to accompany the riders – and the French gendarmes who guard the peloton.

Size of a small town
Like other campuses, Leeds is the size of a small town: it has 28,000 full-time students, which includes near 7,000 international students, many from China. Near 13,000 are first years; that is, ‘freshers’ who may have to learn the ropes of being away from home, and who indeed may be new to the UK, let alone Leeds. Of the 31,000 students in all (including part-timers), 1700 have dependents and 2300 have declared a disability. As at shopping centres and railway stations, a security officer may well be the first point of contact after a traffic accident or heart attack on campus. Hence several defibrillators based around campus. If a report reaches the security office of a heart attack, two defibrillators will be dispatched – and whichever reaches the scene first is used. Something else not dreamt of in 2000.

Pictured: left to right with ‘official cars’ of the Tour de France, Chris Blackton, Axis Security officer, PC Matt Guy, West Yorkshire Police HELO (Higher Education Liaison Officer) and Alan Cain, Head of Security Services at Leeds University. Photo by Anthony Glossop, courtesy of Alan Cain.


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