Meet the volunteers watching Blackpool in real-time

Blackpool's new-look CCTV control room

Blackpool's new-look CCTV control room

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They are the eyes and ears keeping watch over Blackpool to keep the streets safe.

Deep in the heart of the town’s Bonny Street police station lies a room that would not look out of place in a modern spy film.

Blackpool CCTV control centre reopens thanks to volunteers.  Pictured is volunteer Chris Bodman.

Blackpool CCTV control centre reopens thanks to volunteers. Pictured is volunteer Chris Bodman.

Brand new 55-inch displays give a real-time view of the resort, showing live feeds from dozens of CCTV cameras.

A small group of volunteers can call up any image onto their own desk-top screen, where they can control the camera and zoom in on an incident as it unfolds.

“It is mind-blowing,” says Blackpool Council’s head of visitor services, Paolo Pertica, as he shows off the new-look control room.

In a side room he pauses to point out the huge amount of computer equipment needed to keep the cameras rolling.

The new-look Blackpool CCTV control room

The new-look Blackpool CCTV control room

He adds: “All this has been upgraded thanks to the funding we have secured. It is a labyrinth of computers and wiring.”

For two years the cameras have been recording but nobody has been watching – at least not in real-time.

The CCTV room fell victim to the cuts in 2013, as Blackpool Council could no longer afford to round-the-clock surveillance.

After a £52,000 cash injection to upgrade the outdated equipment, funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner, the council teamed up with police and businesses to bring back manned CCTV in the resort.

Blackpool's CCTV control centre reopens thanks to volunteers.  Pictured (left to right) are head of visitors services Paolo Pertica, Coun Christine Wright, PCC Clive Grunshaw, Eileen Ormand from Blackpool BID and Supt Nikki Evans.

Blackpool's CCTV control centre reopens thanks to volunteers. Pictured (left to right) are head of visitors services Paolo Pertica, Coun Christine Wright, PCC Clive Grunshaw, Eileen Ormand from Blackpool BID and Supt Nikki Evans.

Council worker Chris Brodman is one of the 16 volunteers to have cleared the necessary security checks so far and gives up his spare time to help keep watch over the town.

He said it was a “great shame” when the service was axed two years ago, adding: “I live in Blackpool and I always felt safer with the CCTV in operation.

“It makes people feel safer knowing there are people monitoring the cameras.

“It will reassure people and also deter criminals. The cameras are so clear and will be used for the benefit of people in Blackpool and visitors as well.”

CCTV camera operators can keep watch over Blackpool in real-time

CCTV camera operators can keep watch over Blackpool in real-time

During The Gazette’s exclusive tour of the new control room earlier this week, volunteers helped alert the council to barriers that had been blown down by strong winds and blocked the pavement.

The cameras – which are clear enough to read a car registration plate from more than 150 yards away – were able to zoom in clearly to pinpoint exactly where the problem was.

Another 24 would-be volunteers are currently going through the vetting process – just three have failed.

Mr Pertica said: “We thought the high level of security clearance might have been an obstacle to bringing volunteers in but so far that has not been the case.”

A full-time member of staff supports their work during office hours and a job advert for another employee to work at peak times – from Thursday to Sunday between 4pm and 2am – attracted 140 applicants. An appointment will be made once the necessary security checks have been completed.

The return of manned CCTV also comes as a major boost for businesses. Blackpool Business Improvement District (BID), which represents traders in the resort, made it a priority to get the service back up and running and now shares the cost of the new scheme.

Eileen Ormand, town centre and Blackpool BID manager, said: “We have 913 BID levy payers in the town centre.

“We have our radios linked into the CCTV control room, which is going to raise that level of safety and security.”

It means business have a direct line to the camera operators so problems can be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said using volunteers means the service can be provided at a “vastly reduced cost”.

She added: “Ending the CCTV monitoring service was never something we were keen to do. However, the financial reality was we had very little choice.”

Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, said he was pleased to see it “rising from the ashes”.

He added: “Even with a reduced budget we can deliver something that is far better.

“This is a fantastic example of people puling together. Using volunteers just makes sense – it makes it viable.

“It can’t happen without people and to have so many people willing to come forward is fantastic.”