Purple Flag – Recognising Excellence

As a lead assessor for the ATCM’s Purple Flag Award scheme which recognises excellence in the management of the night-time economy in town centres, the thought that Round 3 of the awards has just been launched sends a slight shiver down my spine.

Let me qualify this, the shiver is not one of dread, but rather the more traditional shiver you get when you feel cold… on all three (this includes the original path-finder round) previous assessments it has never failed to be a very cold experience; even on the one occasion when the rain thankfully held off.

Certainly the shiver is not because of the process or the time it takes to complete, because it is rewarding to know we are delivering a very useful service to, not only the authorities in the towns who apply for a Purple Flag, but also to residents and visitors who use those town centres.

So let me explain a little about what I do as a lead assessor for the Association of Town Centre Managers (ATCM) Purple Flag award scheme.

Firstly let me explain the role of ‘lead assessor’; it is a little grander than it sounds. Normally assessments are done in pairs and one person is assigned as the ‘lead assessor’; a choice made by the ATCM, I believe based on previous experience and / or availability of assessors. The key is to realise that good assessments rely on the different perspectives and experience assessors bring to the role; I have done assessments alongside assessors from backgrounds as varied as the police, town-centre managers, licensing officers, local authority officers and I myself am from the private sector. We all bring a different perspective from our backgrounds, the areas in which we specialise and we bring a fresh set of eyes to town-centres we are not familiar with; which allows us to provide unbiased opinion. So the ‘lead assessor’s’ role is really one of an organiser, someone to get the best out of those involved in the assessment, to collate all the evidence observed and summarise the opinion of all the assessors into one comprehensive report.

It is the lead assessor who drives the assessment process. My approach is to organise a ‘welcome meeting’ between the key figures involved in the management of the town’s night-time economy and for them to deliver a short presentation on the submission they have made to the ATCM for the Purple Flag Award; before we start the night-time assessment proper.

Areas applying for a Purple Flag must, before any assessment takes place, submit an application with evidential support to the ATCM, which will be vetted by them; it is only once this process has been completed, that it is passed on to assessors.

It is up to the lead assessor to indicate who they would be interested to see at the welcome meeting, I typically determine this once I have reviewed the application and base my requests depending on areas of the application I have questions about or where I require further clarification. The usual attendees are representatives from the police, licensing, town-centre management, community-safety partnerships, pub-watch / town-watch / shop-watch, environmental health and similar bodies. Depending on the nature and usage of the town there may be a need to see other people who play a key role in the town-centre, for example on one such assessment we were keen to see someone from the Royal Military Police, because of their active involvement in the management of the town at night.

Once the welcome meeting has been completed the cold part of the assessment starts. It is the assessors role to observe the night-time economy of the area being assessed, this means getting out there and spending a long night observing the effectiveness of all the systems, policies and regulation which the town has presented in their application. After all policy is only as good as it’s practical application and actual effectiveness.

We assess the area from early evening (normally 5.30pm ish) until early morning; depending on when the town ‘shuts down’. Without going into great detail on all the different points we are assessing (the ATCM Purple Flag website can provide more details on this), we observe the transition from the day-time to the night-time economy, the attractiveness of the area to users and the effective management of the night-time economy for town-centre users.

Just a few of the points we hope to observe might include:

  • The choice and variety of late-night activities and premises
  • The effective management of people using the town at night both by the local authority, police and by the private sector.
  • Excellent co-operation, co-ordination and partnership between all those working towards delivery of a safe, pleasant area at night-time; especially a proactive partnership between the private & public sector.
  • The attractiveness of the area being assessed.
  • Transportation infrastructure which is fit-for-purpose
  • Innovation in delivery of a welcoming, safe and attractive night-time economy.

This is achieved by diligent observation while completing circuits of the area throughout the night, interacting with and talking to both those involved with the management of the town-centre at night as well as users of the town-centre at night.

We will take the opportunity where possible to view and talk to key licensed premises, police and enforcement officers on active duty, volunteers, safety / taxi marshals, the CCTV control centres, private sector security / door supervisors, late night food outlets and town-centre users.

The ACTM assessment criteria reflect this with the five key areas of assessment being designated as:

  • Wellbeing – Welcoming, Clean & Safe
  • Movement - A Secure Pattern of Arrival, Circulation and Departure
  • A Broad Appeal - A Vibrant Choice and a Rich Mix
  • Place - A Stimulating Destination and a Vital Place
  • The Policy Envelope - A Clear Aim and a Common Purpose

Once the nigh-time assessment has been completed, I will usually meet with my fellow assessor the next morning while everything is still fresh and discuss our findings before completing the assessment report and submitting it to the ATCM. It is the Purple Flag Advisory Committee who will make a judgement based on the application and the assessment before deciding whether to award a Purple Flag to the Area.

What-ever the outcome, the town centre will receive the assessor’s recommendations on ways they can improve the area they submitted for assessment, as well as an overview of areas / services which are deemed to be ‘Excellent or Outstanding and which are Worthy of Note’. Even when some negative sentiment comes into the assessment process, proactive towns can use these recommendations in a positive way to drive improvements and future policy making decisions.

Those areas which achieve Purple Flag status gain national recognition for the hard work which the many different agencies and people involved in effective management of their night-time economy have put in. It reflects the dedication required in order to deliver consistently high standards in the night-time economy.

However a mild warning; Purple Flag is not the end point but rather an important stage and a useful tool in future development which benchmarks achievement and sets a platform for continued and effective development of the assessed area. In order to sustain Purple Flag status and improve the offering to residents and visitors alike, Purple Flag areas must continue to strive for excellence.

The memory of 8 or 9 hours observing a town centre at night-time is no more than a week old for me, but I am already excited about the prospect of what the next town I assess will be and I am looking forward to meeting all the dedicated people who work so hard to deliver the safe, attractive, welcoming and vibrant towns across the UK. There is quite some satisfaction in helping them in some small way benchmark their achievements, while hopefully providing some guidance on how they might take that further.

The ATCM is now launching round three of the Purple Flag awards and inviting applications from towns wishing to achieve the standard.

The ATCM has issued a press release calling for new application from towns wishing to achieve Purple Flag status:


Purple Flag Round 3 Opens: Gain National Recognition for your Night-Time Economy

The ATCM Purple Flag award launches the third round of applications on 1st October 2010 and is open until the 14th January 2011. ATCM invites towns who feel they can match, or exceed, the standards required to enter and gain national recognition. 

Purple Flag is an award scheme offered by the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM), which recognises excellence in place management in town & city centres at night, setting standards going forward for managing successful evening economies and benchmarking performance.

The initiative aims to improve perceptions of places, address imbalances in activities, retail offer and entertainment, tackle anti-social behaviour, and encourage a diverse evening offer; providing significant recognition for councils and partnerships who deliver key services associated with the night-time economy.

ATCM CEO Martin Blackwell comments, "Our towns and cities must adapt. Retailing is important but not the whole story. Those centres that thrive in the future will be those that have a more balanced economy and utilise their assets 24/7.

Purple Flag really is an exciting initiative. This programme offers the opportunity for national recognition of excellent strategies and best practice across these areas for a variety of places. The scheme will help drive up standards and replace negative perceptions with positive visions by rewarding well-managed evening and night-time economies."

Developed by a team of industry experts since 2003, Purple Flag is rigorous accreditation process that helps to tackle many prominent issues associated with night time economy management and is supported by the Home Office, Association of Chief Police Officers, Local Government Regulation (LACORS), NOCTIS, Diageo, and many other high profile national bodies. The scheme focuses on four key themes encompassed by a policy envelope: wellbeing, appeal, place, and movement providing a solid framework for assessment.

The scheme’s increasing popularity has led to a record number of applications for the latest round following the success of the initial rounds in 2009, which saw the likes of Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bath, Kingston, Leicester Sq, and Covent Garden gain full accreditation.

ATCM hopes this upward trend will continue into the next round(s and expects that the award can be supportive of smaller towns in the future. If a centre offers a clean and safe environment, diverse activities, entertainment and retail offer, excellent transport links, and a great nightlife then the Purple Flag award applies, regardless of size/ population - it is all in the context! 

Jon Shipp, Night Time Economy Co-ordinator for Bournemouth Council who have recently been awarded Purple Flag status emphasises the importance of the accreditation, “This status is a big achievement for the town and provides Bournemouth with a solid platform to encourage and sustain future development.”

ATCM will be hosting a “Going for Purple Flag” workshop on the 1st October to coincide with the launch to aid and inspire future entrants. The workshop will also be hosted at the round two awards ceremony in Nottingham on the 3rd November 2010. In addition, ATCM runs support workshops and development studies with interested towns to support them in their application to, or progression toward, Purple Flag.

Please visit www.purpleflag.org.uk or contact Daniel McGrath daniel.mcgrath@atcm.org to register your interest and discuss your future involvement


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Source – Beyond The Blue Training & Consultancy / ATCM 

Date – 7th October 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew