Ian Pugh chronicles the ups and downs that 2020 brought for those responsible for security at shopping centres and how these will continue in 2021.
Little did I know when I said a toast to welcome in 2020 that it would end with it being the toughest year in my 35-year security career, culminating in my departure from a job I loved due to administration.
I began the year with lots of plans as Group Head of Security for intu to continue the great work our in-house security team was achieving and to further strengthen our security strategy and partnerships to continue ensuring our shopping centres remain safe and secure.
It started with reports from China in January about a new virus now known as COVID-19 and then in March lockdown was upon us and all those plans went out of the window.
The first challenge was having to change our security strategy from looking after a crowded place where we, as a group, had been used to previously welcoming over 400 million repeat customer visits per year to locking down the security of our centres to essential retailers only.
The need was to introduce detailed security procedures so that our teams’ focus was on securing a shopping centre and to prevent people coming in unless they were visiting an essential retailer. Security teams whose focus had always been managing security issues in the centre and supporting retailers with their own security issues whilst welcoming the public in were now doing the opposite and were having to prioritise social distancing rather than hostile reconnaissance.
No sooner had those plans been put in place then planning began about re-opening the shopping centres and re-designing our security strategy to ensure that our centres continued to be safe places in the new normal.
There have been lots of negatives this year but from my perspective there have been positives as well. The collaboration between competing landowners around security and the sharing of information through groups like the Revo Security Committee, Oris Forums, Retail Business Continuity Association and our partners across the European Council of Shopping Places security group all brought us closer together and ensured that as we prepared to re-open we were supporting each other and sharing our ideas to enable the safe opening of our centres.
When re-opening occurred, plans were in place and new security strategies written but no one could have expected some of the abuse security teams in shopping centres and workers within retail units were to receive from members of the public who did not want to wear a mask or did not want to follow social distancing measures.
The abuse was unacceptable, but our teams and the retail teams dealt with it and continued to deliver great security under extreme conditions, whilst having to wear face coverings themselves.
In September news broke that the Sunday Times had published a letter to the prime minister on behalf of 23 major retailers, from CEOs of supermarkets to industry bodies and high street shops, warning that shop workers were facing an ever-rising tide of abuse, threats and violence from customers as they introduced safety measures around COVID-19. The letter was written in support of a private member’s bill tabled by Labour MP, Alex Norris. It also hoped that shopping centre security teams are included in this bill.
So, with the shopping centres now open, albeit under strict social distancing measures, retail could look to re-build, but casualties were already being seen across the country in retail, and no bigger casualty than intu who went into administration.
The final part of my year has been to support the transition of our centres over to new owners and operators and to see over 600 security officers, who were operating to a clear security strategy, transferred out of the business to continue their careers with new companies. Some great people who were highly trained will continue to be an asset to their new employers but will be missed by myself and fellow colleagues.
So, what next for retail and retail security? There will be continued challenges in 2021 with organisations facing the challenge of keeping costs down and reducing overheads.
It will be the role of the security directors of those organisations, either from the landlord or service provider side, to stand fast and be confident in their own expertise to continually stress the importance of security within crowded places and the need for security teams to be well funded, well-resourced and to remain a key priority of any organisation’s strategy in keeping our crowded places safe and secure.
For my part I will be starting a new chapter in my 35-year security career as a director of my own security consultancy business and a non-executive director of the Kiasu group.
I am looking forward to working with and supporting companies who have a passion for security and who want to keep security at the top of the agenda during these challenging times.
Retail security is a great environment to work in and I wish everyone who works within the industry best wishes for the future.
To read more about the response to COVID-19, see also Andy Kynoch on the security response to COVID-19, Thermal camera systems taking the temperature of COVID-19 and Resilience during COVID-19
For more articles on retail security, see our Retail Security Category.