SJUK Exclusive: Looking to a brighter future

September 26, 2022

Rob Gerrard, Director of Safetyflex Barriers, based in Coventry, argues that bollards have never been sexy – but they are starting to turn heads now.

They were big, brash, and ugly. Bollards and barriers had to be menacing, regardless of whether they were practical.

Fencing was made to look like a fortress, whether it was protecting a nuclear site or a park for families and small children to play.

Everything needed to be heavy duty and, for some, that perception has still not changed.

In many ways, they are the ugly duckling of our industry. Yes, they provided protection – up to a point – but they severely hampered the public appeal of the sites they were supposed to be serving.

But in recent times they have gone from ugly duckling to design swans. They have merged into their surroundings and do their job better than ever, even adding to the aesthetic appeal of a site

We consider ourselves to be one of the champions of this change which has really picked up pace in the six or so years.

Instead of bolting them into deep foundations of concrete, our bollards can be surface mounted.

Instead of being overbearing and dull, they can be slimline and fitted with LED lights to make an area look more visually appealing and improve safety during the night.

And instead of being considered ‘bollards’ at all, they can be turned into floral crash-rated planters and benches as part of Safetyflex Barriers’ innovative crash rated street furniture range, which have been tested to PAS68 or IWA14 standards.

Clients do not want a military-style looking bollard, barrier or fence to scare or show a potential threat away. Obviously, they need to provide the best crash rated performance possible, but clients want them to aesthetically pleasing, they want them as pretty as possible, and they want the visuals to be lot softer.

Changing attitudes

Changing attitudes has been a struggle at times but for us it is something we have led the way in.

I started the business in 2010, and I have my wife to thank for that.

Lorries delivering steel to our leaf spring company base next to our house used to always clip my wife’s lawn as they did a three-point turn.

It is fair to say she was not amused. Within days I had repurposed some of the springs and mounted them vertically to protect the lawn. The garden was safe – and so was I!

Our special military grade steel behind the barrier has now been adopted by the security industry to prevent ram raids and terror attacks. We are the only company in the world that uses this type of material for anti-terrorist bollards and barriers.

But from our very first order to protect a water board in London, to where we are today protecting major cities around the world, we are still – ultimately – using the same concept that has helped us to provide cutting-edge designs.

The only difference in recent years been the demand for something more visually appealing, which is an element we have developed strongly.

Our forte is our specially designed steel which can absorb large amounts of energy, allowing us to create extremely slimline anti-terrorist bollards, street furniture, and crash-rated street furniture, which are tough on the terrorist but soft on the public.

International market

Town and city centres across the world have public spaces protected by them.

We are the UK’s leader in stadium security, securing hostile vehicle mitigation projects around football stadiums including Wembley, Turf Moor and Molineux; to cricket grounds including Edgbaston, Trent Bridge; rugby stadiums including Twickenham; and the home of British tennis, Wimbledon.

As we look overseas, more than 40% of our business is now from exports abroad, with our products now leading the way in the international market.

It is important to continually evolve. We invest heavily in research and development, and have just launched a new range of surface mount street furniture that requires no foundations, are simple to install, and can stop vehicle attacks at 50 mph.

As a sector in the UK, we are a world-leader on the manufacturing of public space security products. It is something we should all be proud of as a nation, and for me that will only continue.

One of our own biggest exports in recent years saw thousands of slimline bollards installed in the heart of Melbourne, Australia, as part of a local government scheme.

The city was rocked by a vehicle attack in January 2017 when a car was deliberately driven into pedestrians along Bourke Street, killing six people and leaving 27 seriously injured.

In the aftermath, a AUS$52.5m security upgrade at Melbourne’s busiest and most prominent pedestrian sites was commissioned by The City of Melbourne, with hostile vehicle mitigation predominantly featuring our advanced spring steel bollards.

The bollards have already proved their worth; in 2020 they halted a stolen vehicle fleeing police in its tracks before drivers could inflict any damage.

These are in key locations around Melbourne, along promenades, arounds shopping centres, fitted with reflective bands to provide night-time visibility.

And whether it is slimline bollards in Melbourne, LED lighting bollards around busy shopping centres in Stockholm in Sweden, or bollards in our home city of Coventry for the UK City of Culture 2021, the emphasis more than ever is on our leading anti-terrorist initiatives with visual aesthetics.

Unfortunately, some security projects are reactive requests.

Over the past decade or so the need for them has been prompted by the evolution of terrorist threats, changing from organised groups to lone wolves who are more difficult to track – and often target crowded public spaces.

The use of vehicles in terrorism was a trend that was first spotted in terrorist military attacks in Iraq, but sadly has been seen far too often in recent years in non-military arena, as seen in Melbourne, Nice, and close to home on Westminster Bridge.

Statutory duty

Counter terrorism and public space security has, ultimately, not been taken as seriously as it should have been, and those threats have not been pre-empted.

But I hope to see those days behind us soon.

Monday 22 May 22 is a date which will change the industry forever.

Twenty-two people died when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an Ariana Grande concert, while a further 1,017 were left injured – many of whom were children.

Martyn Hett was one of those who attended that concert and never came home.

His mum Figen Murray has campaigned for venues to adopt tougher security measures ever since, with her petition to make Martyn’s Law mandatory prompting the Government to draw up plans for the Protect Duty.

This will create a statutory duty for the owners and operators of publicly accessible locations (PALs) to take appropriate and proportionate measures to protect the public from terrorist attack.

According to the Home Office, it is legislation which could affect approximately 650,000 businesses across a range of sectors in the UK.

Whether it is sports venues or tourist attractions with a capacity of 100 people or more, businesses employing 250 staff or more, or parks, beaches and town squares with an expectation of public presence; the role of the likes of bollards and fencing in spaces or places used by the public will come into its sharpest focus yet.

The hard work and heartbreak of Figen is something she should not have gone through, and protection should have been a statutory duty placed on leaders long before the Martyn’s Law was championed.

But it will undoubtedly lead to the biggest seismic shift in security the industry has ever seen, and will change the way leaders and organisations view its security policies forever.

Those organisations need to be thinking now about how this will impact them and their stadium, shopping centre, theme park, or city centre. 

Gates, bollards, barriers and fencing need to be at the forefront of their planning.

Timescales for when the Protect Duty comes into law are unclear at the moment, and so is the turn-around time for organisations to comply.

The retro-fitting of such measures will be a huge challenge, not just because retro-fitting is far less cost-effective than pro-active planning, but logistically too.  

It is important for the future for public space security spaces need to be designed with this in mind.

It is also important that local government, central government, and security experts like us and others are brought around a table on this, to help establish partnerships and drive best practice. We have so much collective expertise in our industry, and I have no doubt the future of public space protection in this country is looking bright.

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This article was originally published in the September 2022 edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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