Safe spaces play a vital role in night-time economy

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Time to talk: Portman Group chief executive John Timothy saysd he wants to kickstart a "national conversation" on safe spaces
Time to talk: Portman Group chief executive John Timothy saysd he wants to kickstart a "national conversation" on safe spaces

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According to a new report by MAKE Associates, safe spaces play a key role in alleviating pressure on police resources and local accident and emergency departments and could return over £100m per year to the NHS.

The research, commissioned by the Portman Group, revealed that while the vast majority of people enjoy their nights out, a very small number – less than 1% - risk becoming vulnerable or engaging in anti-social behaviour through alcohol misuse.

MAKE estimates that investment in safe spaces can help offset public sector costs in coping with this small group by as much as £9.31 for every £1 spent – although the findings stress that safe spaces aren’t being used to their full potential and more than 150 new schemes should be introduced as a result. The money saved could top £100m per year, which could be returned to the NHS or redeployed to other services.

Safe spaces are defined in the report as “partnership schemes that operate to make the night-time economy safer. Typically, safe spaces provide a combination of medical assessment, supervised recovery and discharge.”

Portman Group chief executive John Timothy welcomed the report’s findings. He commented: “I want this report to mark the beginning of a national conversation about safe spaces. It demonstrates the benefit safe spaces are already having, while shining a light on the untapped potential for rolling out these schemes more widely. The vast majority of us drink responsibly and enjoy the great range of hospitality and entertainment our night life has to offer.

“This sector is worth around £66bn a year to the economy and supports 1.3m jobs, but it remains the case that a small minority of people are drinking too much and causing problems to the communities around them. This report shows that by working in partnership with other stakeholders, we can tackle problems where they occur without impacting responsible drinkers while also relieving pressure on the public purse. I want to encourage anyone interested in setting up a safe space to get in touch with the Portman Group and use our new toolkit to start a conversation in your town.”  

The report featured four in-depth case studies of the night time economy in Hereford, Exeter, Chelmsford and Clapham – with an accompanying toolkit also published and made available to stakeholders interested in setting up their own scheme.

MAKE Associates founder Ali Turnham added: "It is clear that these important schemes are at the cutting edge of managing the night-time economy. They help reduce hospital admissions, ambulance call outs and cut police officer time spent with the vulnerable, allowing them to focus on what they do best. There are also clear benefits to residents, street pastors and angels, town centre businesses and, most of all, to the vulnerable individuals who are helped every week by the dedicated and highly trained safe space staff we interviewed. 

“The toolkit, which accompanies the report, will help new safe spaces set up their schemes more quickly and avoid pitfalls. Having identified well over 150 towns and cities that could still benefit from a scheme, the safe space ‘movement’ has huge potential to grow, to aid those in need, reduce pressure on the NHS, prevent crime and to create safer and more attractive towns and cities across the UK."

MAKE found that 45 schemes are currently operating in the UK – helping between four and 20 people on a typical weekend night out. More than half of these schemes operate from vehicles such as single decker buses with a small number based in licensed premises.

The full report can be read here​.

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