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‘It’s like being the fourth emergency service’ - what it’s like to work on the doors in Norwich

A doorman outside a Norwich bar.
 Photo: James Bass

A doorman outside a Norwich bar. Photo: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2007

It’s arguably one of Norwich’s most challenging roles, with difficult and abusive situations a regular occurrence. But the men and women on the ground say it can be incredibly rewarding. Lauren Cope spoke to the people working on the city’s doors.

Prince of Wales Road at night. Picture: Denise BradleyPrince of Wales Road at night. Picture: Denise Bradley

Steve Barber has worked as a doorman for the vast majority of his career.

Starting out at 18, he has been in various roles for 37 years, and started in his own business in the industry, Norwich Security Specialists, 25 years ago.

As well as employing dozens of doormen and women around Norwich, he can still be found at events and venues around the city.

He said: “I’ve been doing it for so long that I do obviously enjoy it, but it can be really hard.

“Our biggest problem is people changing with alcohol - it can be really nasty sometimes. You stop someone going coming in because they are too young and they don’t like it and become aggressive.”

He said he has, at times, considered a change in career, with increasing abuse off-putting - but that the positives kept him on the doors.

“I do love the camaraderie,” he said, “and there are a lot of lovely people out there who know you’re just doing a job.

Steve Barber, of Norwich Security Specialists. Photo: Steve BarberSteve Barber, of Norwich Security Specialists. Photo: Steve Barber

“You get to know so many people and become well-known. There’s definitely some good parts.”

He admitted the role could be frightening, and that one of his employees suffered abuse every weekend.

“There is some kind of physical reaction every weekend,” he said. “I can’t think of a weekend where nobody has had a problem, whether that’s verbal or physical abuse.

“Getting home safely each night is the best part because it can be scary sometimes, especially when you get people having a go.

“You just don’t know what anyone is carrying, and there doesn’t seem to be any respect anymore. People just want to argue.”

Mr Barber said the role often went beyond admitting people into venues, with doormen and women often asked for advice, directions and even emergency help.

Earlier this year, one of Mr Barber’s employees was one of the first on scene after David Hastings was murdered on Rose Lane.

Prince of Wales Road at night. Picture: Denise BradleyPrince of Wales Road at night. Picture: Denise Bradley

It was a sentiment echoed by fellow doorman Rick Harvey, 42, who has worked on the doors for nine years, at clubs and sports events around the city.

He said he and his colleagues were often the “fourth emergency service”, on busy nights, responding to incidents and calling 999.

“You do get a real sense of achievement from it, and in the city it’s like being the fourth emergency service sometimes,” he said.

“We see everything that goes on at the weekend, some things that are really horrible, like watching 19-year-old girls getting so drunk and trying to get home on their own. That’s when we’ll try to intervene - the way we see it is we are looking after someone else’s family member, someone’s daughter.”

He added: “The best bit is definitely sure that making sure everyone goes home safe, and that everyone feels safe in your venue. If something kicks off in a club one of the most important people there is the doorman, but sometimes that’s taken for granted.

“We do take some abuse because a lot of people don’t like being told no when they’re trying to get in the club. I’m sure in the day they’re really nice people, but when alcohol gets into their system it becomes like a Jekyll and Hyde situation.”

In 2015, police said crime had fallen in Norwich’s clubland after the introduction of high-tech scanners which stored the names, ages, addresses and photographs of those entering venues in a temporary database.

At the time, Andy Clarke, then head doorman at nightclub Mercy, which has since closed, said the results had been noticed immediately.

Mr Harvey said some of the most challenging parts were seeing the impact on drugs, something Mr Barber agreed was becoming more of an issue, and in particular people who had collapsed.

“We do often call 999, or the SOS bus, to make sure people get the help they need,” Mr Harvey said.

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