Behind the scenes

Talking student safety with Astoria owner, Alistair Ritchie

If you love a weekly visit to Guildhall Walk's The Astoria, you'll be happy to know that student safety is at the top of their priorities.

Alistair (Ali) took over as Director of popular student nightclub, the Astoria, back in 2013. It's now grown to be one of the most visited student nightclubs in the city - we've caught up with Ali to ask him a little about the nature of his job and what students mean to his business.

As a local business owner, why is the welfare of University of Portsmouth students so important to you?

Our customers' welfare is always at the front of our minds, whether they’re inside our premises or after leaving. We like to see people having a good time at our events hence our high levels of production. When a customer comes into difficulties we like to make sure things are corrected as soon as possible or ideally, ensuring that issues are prevented before they develop.  

What are the key steps that your team takes to support our students when they are on a night out and may feel vulnerable?

With our years of experience of running events we know that sometimes the most vulnerable amongst us don’t stand out easily in a crowd, hence we employ a whole host of crew to identify and assist. This ranges from the usual security staff, plain clothed staff, visible welfare staff both inside and outside the venues and a highly experienced management team who can spot issues. I’m proud of our team as they have some great success stories, not only with customers but vulnerable public outside our events. 

How can students easily identify a member of your welfare team if they need support?

Our team can be identified by high visibility security staff uniforms and Eskimo 11 crew uniform. Any member of our team will always be happy to help, but our dedicated welfare officers are normally located outside, where it is quieter. 

It has been noted that The Lyberry and The Astoria are the only venues on Guildhall Walk to be actively tackling drug issues by having random visits from sniffer dogs. Why is the prevention of drugs on nights out so important to you that you go above and beyond to address the issue?

Drug use is a huge problem in society, and we are aware that our venues and events are obvious places for them to be used. Our policy on drug use is very clear and we work incredibly close with the authorities, and we have sniffer dogs attend at random. Our management team is very experienced in the effects of drug abuse, and we all want to work to minimise the risk of drug abuse at our events. 

What advice would you give to students to ensure that they get home safely after a night out?

Having a good time is an essential part of anyone's social life, but understanding the risks your choices incur is important. Walking home alone is very dangerous, so take advantage of the cheap taxis in Portsmouth, or cut the cost even further by arranging to share one with flatmates or friends. If things do go wrong, always inform the police. Even if they can't take any action, it will allow the police to build a better picture of areas that need more attention. There is a great app called 'Where's my friend' and if all your friends sign up to it, it can be a great way of making sure everyone is safe! 

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