How off-trade can get support from Pubwatch schemes

Q I'm feeling increasingly isolated in the battle against under-age sales, despite trying to foster good relations with the police. Is there an off-trade version of Pubwatch anywhere which could provide inspiration for my local area?

A Despite the name, most Pubwatch schemes will usually accept membership from the off-trade. Although much of the business tends to revolve around pub-based issues, it's a useful forum for discussing common concerns about problem customers, and your involvement sends a clear message to police and Trading Standards that you're proactive in your approach to responsible retailing.

Threshers, Spar and dozens of independents have joined forces with their local Pubwatch schemes. Apart from ­anything else, this breaks down some of the hostility and suspicion that ­sometimes exist between the on and off-trade, and helps to dilute some of the more strident views of our cousins in the pub world, some of whom tend to regard off-licences as intrinsically evil.

Pubwatch isn't the only option, though. For example, Watford Council has introduced a "responsible alcohol retail zone" to help stop sales to under-18s.

Seven stores have been asked to sign up to a code of practice in return for training, advice and practical assistance from the council about preventing ­under-age sales. They are being given tips on crime prevention, CCTV installation and licensing law.

Jeffrey Leib, licensing manager for Watford Council, said: "It is hoped the scheme will provide added support for traders who often operate alone. Just as pubs can call upon support from neighbouring venues to warn of problem customers, now off-licences can telephone ahead."

It's also not uncommon for councils or police to arrange training days, and of course there's nothing to stop you suggesting one.

Recently, Wokingham Council linked up with Thames Valley Police on just such a project. Retailers were given advice on how to deal with aggressive customers after sales are refused.

Wokingham community safety officer Stephanie Nagiel said: "We want to build up a relationship with shop owners so that they know we will support them if they refuse to sell alcohol to under-age drinkers. It can be difficult to refuse sale to teenagers if they become aggressive and this training day gave shopkeepers advice on dealing with those situations."

Attendees were given information packs with advice on avoiding sales to children, along with posters and stickers backing up the message.

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