Success for Norwich crackdown on chuggers

New laws brought in to protect shoppers from charity collectors in the centre of Norwich have already paid dividends, it was claimed today.

City council bosses said they had received just two complaints about street fund-raisers, commonly referred to as 'chuggers', since tighter controls were introduced five months ago.

The collectors ask members of the public to sign up to pay standing orders and direct debits to charities, and some shoppers have felt intimidated by the number of operators in streets such as Gentleman's Walk.

Before last autumn, there was no way of limiting their numbers because the practice does not involve any exchange of cash so they do not need a licence from Norwich City Council,

But in September the council entered into a site management agreement with the Public Fund-raising Regulatory Association (PFRA), which set out when and where street fund-raisers may operate in Norwich.

A spokesman for the city council said today that the agreement was working well with only two complaints made by shoppers since it was brought in.

Julian Foster, chairman of the Central Norwich Citizens' Forum (CNCF), said it had been 'hugely successful'.

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He said: 'People do feel very strongly about the problem of street fund-raisers or 'chuggers'.

'In fact, when we asked people about it before, I had about 300 emails and phone calls in response, with people saying what a big issue it was.'

Stefan Gurney, City Centre Partnership manager, said the two complaints received since September were both when charity fundraisers had been 'slightly over-zealous in their approach' to shoppers.

He added that, on both occasions, a description of the individuals concerned and details had been forwarded on to the relevant authorities to stop it happening again.

The news comes as it was revealed that Manchester council had banned street fundraisers from the city four days a week to reduce complaints from harassed commuters and shoppers.

Norwich City Council spokesman Amy Lyall said it had no plans at present to change the system in Norwich.

At present, fundraising is allowed on Gentleman's Walk and St Stephen's Street on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and on London Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

There is also a code of practice that restricts how close fund-raisers are allowed to get to pedestrians and also forbids activity near cash machines.

However, some stall owners at Norwich Market feel they are still affected by the presence of chuggers, as it diverts shoppers away from stalls when they try to avoid a conversation with the charity workers.

Ray Swinger, owner of The Bag Stalls, which faces directly onto Gentleman's Walk, said: 'It sometimes stops people coming in to the stall when they are trying to as they get diverted to try and avoid a chugger.

'I would say there have been more in the last two weeks than ever before, since the weather got better.

'If you come down here from 12 onwards then you will see loads of them standing about with their boards waving them in people's faces to try and get their attentions.

'People don't like being approached, especially if they are on their dinner break because they just haven't got time and they don't want to be bothered.'

That view is backed up by Mike Read and his son Brendan at Mike and Debs and Sons greengrocers, also facing on to Gentleman's Walk. Mr Read senior said: 'They've been down here every day for the last few weeks so I would say it has got worse if anything.'

His son added: 'We see people walking towards our stall and then they divert to avoid the chuggers. Yesterday morning we had four of them in a row standing in front of our stall so it's definitely got worse.'

Grace Tierney-Baker is a travelling charity collector, who operates in different cities around the country every day. She was representing British Red Cross on Gentleman's Walk yesterday and did not think that Norwich suffered from too many problems.

She said: 'There is the kind of atmosphere where we try to make the public feel at ease so that even if someone doesn't want to donate at the time, hopefully they will think later on when they are having their tea or something, 'they were nice, I think I'll go and donate to that charity now'.'

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