Security & red tape put Harrogate community events under pressure

Gary Simmonds, the main organiser of Happygate Festival. (1706121AM2)
Gary Simmonds, the main organiser of Happygate Festival. (1706121AM2)

Organisers of community events in Harrogate say they are feeling the strain of increased security demands, bureaucracy and red tape in the aftermath of recent terror attacks in the UK.

None of the organisers the Harrogate Advertiser contacted in any way queried the need to safeguard visitors at public events.

Jane Blayney, centre, with volunteers from Friends of Valley Gardens.

Jane Blayney, centre, with volunteers from Friends of Valley Gardens.

Even the team behind next week’s Great Yorkshire Show have carried out a full review of their security arrangements, coming up with strict new measures which have been approved by North Yorkshire Police.

But volunteers behind smaller but worthy events designed to raise money for local charities as well as entertain are saying they are struggling to cope with the extra demands the authorities are making in the light of the horror of attacks such as Manchester.

Gary Simmonds, the chief organiser of free community arts and music festival, Happygate, which will take place in the Valley Gardens on Sunday, July 23, said the growing burden went well beyond simply conducting a risk assessment.

Gary Simmonds said: “In the wake off all the terrible events recently, the bomb in Manchester, the van and knife attacks in London, it seems to have left the police and the council feeling very twitchy about public events.

“What if a van drives in and starts running everyone over? What are you going to do? What are your plans? How will you implement them?

“Who is responsible for deciding to implement your plan? Who do they report to?

“Which exits will you use? How will the stewards know which way to send people? Will you record this in an incident book? And so on.

“We are not a major corporation with assets, offices and staff. We are just a few good citizens that want to put on a free event for the people of Harrogate so that we can raise some funds for some extremely deserving local charities.”

Gary said that not only would the increased costs of running Happygate, potentially endanger charity fundraising, it might also put the very existence of such events at risk.

He said: “If all such events are going to be treated in the same way as large profit-making corporation’s events then there is the very real danger that these kind of events will cease to exist.”

The amount of sheer paperwork now required in advance was massive, the Happygate organiser claimed.

He said: “Last year I had to fill out a seven-page questionaire and two pages of a risk assessment. This year I have been given or sent over 175 pages of information, not including any email corresondence, to digest and act upon.

“The police and the council need everything explaining to them in so much detail that is ridiculous, but explaining it to them is not enough, they want everything written down to the tiniest detail.

“This year Happygate must have six x SIA (Security Industry Authority) badged security staff, last year we had none and no trouble at all. This year we must have some sort of fence around the bar area, we didn’t last year. “

But a North Yorkshire police spokesman said increased security arrangements were an absolute necessity and even charity events had to play their role in that.

The spokesman said: “”Ultimately, while fully acknowledging the charitable nature of events and voluntary efforts involved, the obligation to mitigate the risks associated with these factors falls upon the event organiser.”

In relation to Happygate, the spokesman said police had been liaising with organisers to ensure all their obligations were met.

The spokesman said: “The police and other partner agencies which make up the Safety Advisory Group (SAG), have worked very closely with the organiser of the Happygate festival with the aim to address significant gaps that the group identified in relation to safety and security planning.

“The current national threat picture around suspect packages, people, vehicles and behaviour were not fully taken into consideration in the initial plans.

“The SAG will continue to work closely with the Happygate festival and other organisers for events across the county in the future.”

Colette Lain, the main organiser of The Big Picnic, which takes place this Sunday in the Valley Gardens to raise funds for the Harrogate and District Foundation Hospital, said organising community events had become more “onerous.”

She said: “Terror attacks are obviously on the mind of everyone organising and attending big events.

The Big Picnic is now in its 10th year and we have always taken security seriously.

“The local police have been extremely helpful in giving guidance. The council have put in place additional requirements, which is understandable.”

Colette also said that the amount of paperwork required to put on The Big Picnic had risen significantly.

She said: “Organising large events has become more onerous recently, especially with the increased complexity of paperwork that is aimed at more complex commercial events and charging for litter in an open space.

“However we are determined to carry on enjoying such events which bring the community together.”

Even the volunteers of Friends of the Valley Gardens, who recently held their hugely-popular annual 40s Day of wartime nostalgia in the Valley Gardens, have noticed how things have changed.

But they were keen to stress they feel they have a “moral duty” to do as much as possible on security.

FOVG chair Jane Blayney said: “We were telephoned on the Saturday night by the police stating that they had heard we were running a major event.

“Following constructive discussion we had to make sure that the barriers to the Back Lane and Green Park Entrance were in place from 10.30am to 5pm, the official duration of the event.

“The police van was going to be in attendance and they said they would increase the police presence which they did.

“We had no problem with complying in view of present terrorists’ incidents across the country.

“In fact, I felt we had a moral responsibility to protect people and had the comfort of feeling we had done our best to do that.”

The North Yorkshire police spokesman is advising anyone planning an event to check the business-focused, counter-terrorism awareness initiative, Operation Griffin, which is freely available on the GOV.UK website.

The North Yorkshire police spokesman said: “The key point from any organiser’s perspective is to engage with the SAG during the very early stages of planning.”

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