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It’s safe to say that COVID-19 has changed the way we now live, work and even shop. Social distancing measures have been in place for over a month, with most people (apart from our wonderful NHS staff and key workers) now only leaving their homes for exercise or essential food shopping. Even then, a 2-metre social distancing rule must be observed at all times. Supermarkets, smaller food shops and even takeaways, have adapted remarkably well to the unfolding situation. Indeed, it was a baptism of fire for food retailers and their employees, as panic buying and stockpiling increased retail footfall tenfold during the first few weeks of the pandemic.

With the public increasingly adapting to the ‘new norm’ in every aspect of their lives, most people have returned to doing a weekly ‘big’ shop with strict social distancing measures now in place. Supermarkets quickly implemented a controlled queuing system, limited the number of shoppers allowed in store and restricted the number of certain items one person can buy. Most supermarkets have also employed the use of directional barriers, added signage and floor markers to help people maintain the correct social distance whilst shopping. With a limited store capacity and enforced social distancing measures both inside and outside the shop, customers are required to queue up outside (2 metres apart from each other), until someone leaves, and only then they can enter.

Although the British are inherently good at queuing, it is important we establish clear controls and enforce strict measures to stop the spread of the virus. For some, these measures could be a matter of life and death. While some retailers are contracting staff to monitor queues, control the flow of people and caution those who defy the rules, these tasked should be carried out by SIA-accredited security officers. Retail managers employing staff to monitor outdoor queues and prevent disorder or theft need to make sure that this is lawful. Anyone performing this, or any other tasks that manage social distancing, should be properly qualified and hold a full SIA licence.


What is an SIA Licence?

All security staff require a full SIA licence to undertake licensable security activities. SIA, or the Security Industry Authority, is an independent regulatory body for private security companies, reporting directly to the Home Office under the Private Security Industry Act 2001. This organisation ensures the compulsory licensing of those performing services in the private security industry, and independently assesses these security providers through their voluntary Approved Contractor Scheme. An SIA licence is an assurance of quality and professionalism where security officers must undertake a structured training programme to receive this qualification and are consequently trained to handle any security situation that may arise.


The Benefits of SIA Licensed Security Guards

During these unprecedented times, retail managers need to make sure their employees and businesses are properly protected from crime and anti-social behaviour. Hiring expertly trained, SIA-licenced security guards can bring countless benefits to a food retail business. From managing social distancing and outdoor queueing systems, to preventing theft and offering additional CCTV services, Churchill can create a bespoke security solution for your retail business needs.


Crowd Control and Access Control

Every officer Churchill Security deploys is SIA-licensed, highly experienced, and fully vetted for a minimum of 10 years. With over 20 years’ experience in retail security, our expertly trained officers can perform crowd control, access control and general security to ensure social distancing measures are fully adhered to and that customers and employees are protected from criminal and anti-social behaviour. Trained to handle any situation, our officers can man access to the store and monitor the outdoor queuing system, so retail employees can continue performing their day to day job that they were trained to do and must not take on extra security duties and responsibilities.

Our retail security officers are trained to act in a professional and sensitive manner, meaning any breaches of social distancing measures will be dealt with efficiently and discretely. Most customers may just need a gentle reminder of the new measures but if the situation does become confrontational, our officers are trained to deal with both verbal and physical conflict and to resolve the issue with as little disruption to your business as possible.


Protect Your Staff and Customers

While security has always been a top priority for retailers looking to protect their business against shop lifting, anti-social behaviour and stock damage, the need for proper security has unfortunately never been greater in both the public and private sector. While tackling the COVID-19 crisis can bring out the best in us, it can also bring out the worst. We are living in strange times, and the stress and uncertainty that the virus causes can lead to confrontation. It’s a sad fact to acknowledge, but key workers and NHS staff have reported an increase in abuse and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been alarming reports of staff being verbally abused, coughed on, and spat at. Long queues and restrictions on certain goods can be a catalyst for verbal abuse against food retail employees, who are simply trying to enforce social distancing or the store’s COVID-19 policy.

Nobody should have to tolerate this kind of abuse in the workplace, least of all those working hard to ensure the continued provision of key services. It’s vital that these workers feel safe and supported at work. While an SIA licence is legally required for crowd control and social distancing management, having an increased security presence will ultimately help to protect staff and customers from abuse and aggression.

With supermarkets and food retailers busier than ever, retail managers need to make sure their customers are properly protected against all eventualities. With increased crowds come increased risks and responsibility. Our officers are trained to act in a multi-role capacity and are therefore qualified to perform services such as fire safety and first aid, emergency planning and evacuation procedures. Our SIA licensed officers can act as an effective first-response in the event of a criminal incident or emergency. If a situation escalates, our expertly trained officers are qualified to take statements, conduct interviews, investigate suspicious behaviour and will notify the relevant authorities if required.


Increased Outdoor CCTV

With outdoor queuing becoming the norm at food retailers across Britain, retail managers may wish to consider increased outdoor CCTV to monitor customers and the queuing system. Although many food retail stores have extensive CCTV inside the premises, outdoor CCTV may be limited; retail CCTV security was not designed with outdoor queuing in mind. Churchill Security is able to deliver a full mobile CCTV package, providing additional security protection for outdoor retail spaces. Our mobile CCTV solutions are easy to implement and an effective security measure that can provide 24-hour protection. The cameras can act as an effective visual deterrent for criminal or anti-social behaviour, whilst providing valuable evidence for the police and courts in the event of a security breach. Churchill Security will carry out a full assessment of your retail premises to determine the best security strategy, ensuring optimal coverage of outdoors spaces and minimising blind spots in your existing camera system. CCTV control room workers that monitor the cameras remotely, can also deploy security officers as a rapid response solution to any suspicious or criminal behaviour as well as informing the emergency services if necessary.


Uniformed Guards for an Effective Deterrent

Much like security cameras, uniformed security officers can act as a visual deterrent against anti-social behaviour, verbal or physical abuse of staff and criminal offences such as theft and stock damage. A strong visual security presence, both outside and inside a retail premises is one of the most reliable methods of crime prevention. Retailers now have to deal with COVID-19 on top of traditional security threats. There is evidence to suggest that COVID-19 could increase food theft as more people become unemployed and face increasing financial pressure. Italy, one of the worst affected countries in Europe, has reported an increased series of thefts in some regions, with people simply walking out the shop without paying for goods or pressuring cashiers to give them food for free.

It’s a terrible reflection of the times we live in but as James Martin, the British Retail Consortium’s crime and security adviser points out “ultimately, the costs are borne by everyday shoppers and those who rely on retail for their livelihoods”(BBC.co.uk).  This is especially true for smaller food retailers, who are working with much smaller profit margins than the bigger brand names. Indeed, according to The Association of Convenience Stores, theft costs the sector £232 million per year, with alcohol, meat and confectionary being the three top targets for thieves (www.acs.org.uk). During these financially difficult times, retailers need to protect their business interests and employee’s livelihood. An increased uniform security presence can help to prevent shoplifting and theft, acting as a visual deterrent to potential criminal actions.


The Security Industry Authority has created a useful flowchart to determine whether your social distancing management is safe and legal. To view this chart, please visit https://www.sia.homeoffice.gov.uk/Documents/sia-advice-to-retailers.pdf


If you are a retail manager, looking to hire experienced &SIA licensed retail security, please visit https://www.churchillsecurity.co.uk/services/retail/ to find out more about how Churchill Security can protect your business during these challenging times.

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John Melling is a Director for Churchill Security Ltd. John is a highly motivated, determined and decisive security industry professional. Drawing on his extensive experience gained within the security industry whilst working on the coalface John has operated at all levels within the industry. He has a proven track record for motivating and leading high performance teams and has helped mentor and develop many people at Churchill who now hold key or senior positions within the business. John is committed to delivering only the finest services, exercising compelling leadership, maintaining good internal morale and striving to resolve any challenges efficiently and effectively.