Our Thoughts on Anti-Social Behaviour Outside Baltzersen’s

I’ve been writing this post for about a week now and working out whether it’s something I actually want to publish because tackling homelessness and anti-social behaviour on the streets of Harrogate is a divisive issue.

I do want to speak out as an owner of a small business in town because ours is a voice that is not really being heard at the moment.  My business amongst others is being directly impacted and there will be indirect consequences for many others.

Things are on a bit of a knife edge for many small businesses in the town centre and many of the larger ones too.  I interact with quite a lot of indies as part of our work trying to promote independent business, and I know many are feeling pain.

It’s tempting to avoid talking about the situation for fear of being singled out for abuse online, accused of having a lack of compassion or ‘picking on’ a vulnerable group in society.  I’ve read a lot of comments online and we’re increasingly being asked about it in the cafe too so here we go…

Paul Rawlinson, Baltzersen's

Background

There have been people sleeping outside the rear of Primark, on and off, for a couple of years now.  It’s far from ideal and for the sake of all parties I’d rather it wasn’t the case. It’s only been problematic for us occasionally but others around us have experienced greater problems including shoplifting, criminal damage and very disruptive behaviour.

Recently the number of people sleeping there has increased and in the last couple of weeks tents have appeared, giving a more permanent feel to the settlement. People in similar situations will be drawn together, it’s a natural phenomenon. Taking into account the weather over the last month I’m sure the shelter of the roof has been welcomed.  This area has now become an area to gather and for us it’s adding to a feeling of unease as these larger groups congregate to drink. The group tends to face outwards towards our guests and passers by and whether that’s intentional or not the posture and behaviour is intimidating.

15th-16th June 19

Over last weekend we had to call the police on multiple occasions across Saturday and Sunday as a group of people were drunk, potentially using drugs and acting in a very aggressive and disruptive manner.  Two of our team were physically threatened when they tried to intervene in one gentleman being abusive to a group of teenage girls who were eating breakfast and other members of the team felt very uncomfortable going outside and serving/clearing our outside tables.

This same group also abused guests sitting on the outside tables and made homophobic remarks about people walking down the street following the conclusion of the ‘Pride’ event.

Potential Impact

We totally understand that Primark, the owners of the land currently occupied by the group, will be nervous about taking civil action because of the possible repercussions in terms of bad PR if people are moved on.

Our concern is that if the current behaviour continues unchecked, people will start changing their route to avoid the street. That’s not great for us and it’s also detrimental to all of the businesses on the street.  We signed a new ten year lease on our current location last week. The rent agreed is of course linked to how busy the street is and its central position within town. If locals start changing their habits and avoiding Oxford Street it’s surprisingly difficult to reverse that change even if the reason for diverting disappears over the next few weeks/months.

External factors like this that are outside of our control are really problematic, especially for small indie businesses that don’t have huge reserves to carry them through difficult periods.

It’s not about business owners having to settle for only three holidays this year rather than four.  It’s about survival. Many owners sign personal guarantees on leases, to suppliers and for loans they have taken out to start a business.  This means that if our business fails people will be coming for our house, our car and everything else we own. This is an underlying stress that families live with all the time.

Businesses like Baltzersen’s and many others cannot afford to stand still.  We need to be growing, becoming more efficient and improving all the time to keep pace with changes in the market and to compete in a crowd.  Growth is how we keep up with increases to minimum wage and it means we are able to award our whole team pay rises to reward them and help keep up with inflation.

I have heard the argument about people having a right to choose how they live and I have some sympathy with the idea.

To this point I don’t feel that our team, guests or me on a personal level have infringed on any of the rights that people have to lead their lives, but I can’t say that is true of some of the people who are living and congregating opposite us.

On a basic level I do think the following is reasonable:

  • Our team have the right to come to work and not have to deal with verbal abuse or the feeling of being unsafe in the workplace.
  • Our guests should have the right to enjoy their food and drink without being verbally abused or subjected to swearing and generally aggressive and disruptive behaviour.
  • As the business owner I should have the right to operate my business without having to deal with the negative effects of anti-social behaviour.

What can we do?

I don’t have any expertise in dealing with these kinds of large social problems that exist within society – they are way bigger than me and beyond the level of local government to completely solve.

In a recent open letter published in the Harrogate Advertiser local organisations (Harrogate Homeless Project, North Yorkshire Horizons, North Yorkshire Police and Harrogate Borough Council) suggested that residents should try to support the relevant local charities rather than giving money direct.  They are the people that are working in this area on a daily basis so I am not qualified to disagree with them, and most people commenting online are probably in the same situation.

I do question how the existing support structure addresses people who have clearly decided, consciously or as a result of addiction or illness, not to engage with the available services.  There was no suggestion of any solutions that might address people in this group.

If the group are moved on from opposite our premises they will likely find somewhere else to settle down, so the issue isn’t going away.

We have been informed that the council Community Safety team are hosting a multi-agency meeting scheduled for Monday, after which there is a plan to brief businesses, but we have no idea what the scope of the discussion will be.

This Weekend

The outlook for this weekend is for reasonable weather and as such we hope we’ll be able to make full use of our outside space.  We’ll manage any issues that arise as best as we can.

For their own safety, we’ve instructed our team not to engage with members of the group opposite, to protect guests by directing them to alternative seating where appropriate and report inappropriate behaviour to the Police via 101.

We’d really like to see you at the cafe this weekend and we appreciate your continued support in a challenging time.

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46 Responses to Our Thoughts on Anti-Social Behaviour Outside Baltzersen’s

  1. Ben Griffiths says:

    What an absolute load of offensive tosh. I’ll not be visiting again.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Ben, Paul here. That’s fair enough. I’m giving my viewpoint on the situation, it’s not going to be universally liked but I can only speak from my own position. I hope you visit one of the other great indies in town.

    • Alex says:

      I hope this was sarcasm.

    • Caz says:

      It’s not offensive at all! This is a balanced view point respecting people of all backgrounds and asking society to do the same. The businesses are vulnerable too. Well done for speaking out in a respectful and articulate way. I hope the issue gets resolved for everybody’s sake.

      • Paul says:

        Hi Caz. We felt it was pretty balanced. Everyone is entitled to their view we suppose, and that includes me writing above. Thanks for reading and we hope that there are some positive developments following this meeting on Monday.

  2. Lisa dyson says:

    We are completely on board and gave also informed the police as some of our younger customers have felt scared and intimidated by the situation.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Lisa, we’re not surprised to hear that. If you haven’t heard about that meeting on Monday we’ll pop over once we’ve heard their report and share it with you. Fingers crossed for a quiet weekend compared to the last one.

      Regards

      Paul

  3. Michael Holmes says:

    We support you in your views and will continue to look forward to visiting you

  4. Sally Spragg says:

    Well Paul, if we lived nearer, we would certainly be over to support your business at the weekend or any other time come to that! It takes a strong person to speak out knowing that a lot of people will disagree with you. I think we all have sympathy for homeless people, after all we all could be in that position at some point if our jobs had failed or through ill health but when it impacts on work that has taken a lot of hard graft to build up then I think it is time to speak out as you have done. Primark or the landlords should certainly be doing something to alleviate the problem.of illegal occupancy of the land. Unfortunately where it may improve your situation, it will undoubtably push it on to somewhere else. I have no suggestions that will help. Just keep up the good work and keep being open and honest!

    • Paul says:

      Thanks for reading Sally. We’re waiting for this meeting on Monday. The way I understand it the Police could choose to intervene using some of their powers if they deem it to be appropriate – but whether they do or Primark take action there needs to be a plan for where people will go. I think that’s the tough bit.

  5. Kim Haughton says:

    This is a very well written and articulate article that is both polite and considered.

    You have been both respectful and reasonable in your approach and I hope that the business continues to thrive. You are absolutely right in wanting both peace for your team and customers and also the hope that the homeless residing opposite achieve the support they need.

    Me and my family will definitely be visiting soon.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Kim, thanks for reading. There are certainly multiple sides to consider when finding a solution and whilst it’s frustrating that the agencies haven’t been able to make any progress yet I concede it’s a very difficult situation. From my point of view our team and guests certainly need to feel comfortable when they are on site. We hope to see you soon.

  6. Rebekah says:

    Your concerns sound very founded and also grounded in concern for all those involved. It is never very popular to call out inappropriate behaviour as many people would prefer to do whatever they wish without having to answer for, or improve their behaviour. As members of society, we ALL have a responsibility to treat everyone around us with respect and care. There must be care, compassion and accountability that no one have the right to choose to make anyone else feel scared by their interactions. Yes people can choose their own lifestyle, but this should never come at the cost of others freedom. You have my support.

  7. AMY B says:

    A well written blog and an insight. I agree the issue is much larger but also question how we can support on a local level. Running to early morning run crew at 6am this morning I ran past an unconscious man who two security guards were calling for assistance for. On my way home there was an ambulance crew and he was still laid on the bench unconscious. Time and money spent on the wrong resources (nhs). Emergency care or preventative work? These people need support and empathy but also need to be able to help themselves. It won’t stop me visiting Balterzens.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Amy.

      Fingers crossed the multi-agency group the council are getting together on Monday will have some good ideas on how we can start working on this at a local level. Albeit the charities are already in place and no doubt working tirelessly to do what they can. It’s a challenging area that is probably being replicated up and down the country….
      .

  8. Caroline Bell says:

    Absolutely with you in your call to acknowledge the challenge. Thoughtful and pragmatic post.

  9. L says:

    I start work early on a morning and walk past Baltzersens and the camp that has formed outside Primark. I do feel intimidated walking past them and I’m always pleased to see one of your team putting out the benches & tables so I feel I’m not alone. It will always be a controversial topic, but I support you and what you are trying to convey to others.

    • Paul says:

      Happy that you feel having one of our team present makes you feel a little more comfortable, feel free to say hello to them! Thanks for reading and we appreciate the support.

  10. Christopher Warburton says:

    What a brilliant and balanced view point.
    I’ve never been to your place, not really a cafe person, but I will now. We need to support our local small businesses, because if we don’t our town will disappear.
    I understand that this is a divisive issue, and one where there is no quick solution, but your staff should not have to police the area.
    See you soon.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Christopher. Thanks or taking the time to read the post. The team and I would love to welcome you to the cafe at some point soon.

  11. Christina McSweeney says:

    An extremely courteous and respectful commentary. We will continue to visit.

  12. Gina says:

    I bring my elderly 92 year old uncle in to town to go to the Halifax every Wednesday afternoon – he used to love the independence of walking around a few of the shops near there – sadly every Wednesday afternoon I’ve observed incidents of abuse and shouting and verbal abuse with the homeless sat outside McDonald’s – drug related conversations and physical abuse .. I feel unsafe and intimidated myself – now I have to chaperone my uncle to try and avoid all the not so pleasant caracters that seem to be congregating in our streets . I support the homeless but these guys don’t help them selves !!

    • Paul says:

      Hi Gina. That’s sad to read, I hope things improve soon and your Uncle can reclaim his brief opportunity to explore town.

  13. Gareth says:

    I don’t know the specifics of the organisations in Harrogate, but having seen and read media coverage of the challenges in other towns and cities providing support for vulnerable homeless people, support shelters have had strict no-drugs, no-alcohol / anti-social behaviour policies. They have done so to protect other residents of the shelters.

    I wonder, as you do, if the people on the street in Harrogate are not asking for this help from those projects, or, in fact, they are perhaps denied access on this basis, if local organisations have the same policies? For the sake of other vulnerable people in the shelters, I hope they do, but I do also hope that there’s alternative local support for people on the streets of Harrogate with drug- or drink addiction.

    Likewise, I hope the authorities are conscious of the wider community and the impacts of anti-social behaviour there. The basic rights you’ve outlined seem completely reasonable to me for you, your staff, and we as your customers.

    We’ll keep supporting Harrogate indies like yourselves with our custom and thank you for speaking out to tell your story.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Gareth.

      Policies of shelters make complete sense with respect to drugs/alcohol – you don’t gather vulnerable people together and then give other residents/clients the opportunity to derail everyone’s recovery. I’ll be honest I don’t know enough of the specifics in Harrogate, but it’s something I need to look into to better understand the situation.

      I think the wider impact of the anti-social behaviour is quickly becoming obvious to the council and other organisations, it’s just working out how to proceed in the best way.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment as well as ongoing support.

      Regards

      Paul

  14. P Kingsley says:

    Well done. The fact is they are beggars … not homeless!!! The police and council have confirmed they all are in benefits and have accommodation.
    I have witnessed the disgusting behaviour so anyone who says different is ignoring the truth.
    I will continue eating at your place as it is amongst the best…… and most of us in Harrogate fully understand your predicament.

    • Paul says:

      Unfortunately I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as this. The council have said the support is there, the big issue seems to be that some people don’t want to (or can’t for reasons linked to addiction, mental health and more) engage with the available help. At this point we need a new plan on how to proceed with those people within society.

      I really appreciate the support though.

  15. Chris says:

    You shouldn’t have to suffer this anti-social behaviour. It’s hard enough running a business in these challenging times without these additional problems. I really feel for you :o(

    • Paul says:

      Thanks Chris. We’re hopeful the attention this post has received will help us to move the situation forward with the council and other agencies next week.

  16. Tony says:

    Completely agree with your thoughtful, polite and honest message. I do hope that a resolution can be found for all parties involved.
    I will continue to support your fantastic cafe with the best coffee in Harrogate!

    • Paul says:

      Morning Tony, Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and the team and I appreciate the support. We hope there will be some progress this week.

  17. Tim says:

    What a measured a sensitive article on what is a very tricky issue. Will definitely continue supporting you guys, it’s the best place in town!

  18. Chris says:

    Excellent, considered, articulate, reasonable, sensible and wholly justified position to adopt. The antisocial behaviour is unacceptable in any circumstances. Major businesses such as Primark need to stand up to this sort of intimidation and take responsible, proportionate action – as do the Council, Police and all the charities. Sadly I don’t have the answer but I do know that the effect on the general public and businesses is significant and those involved in this sort of activity are totally selfish and dangerous. Keep up the good work and I hope larger businesses become involved too. We will continue to support you.

    • Paul says:

      Morning Chris. Thanks for reading. We know that the team at Primark want to help, but with the size of the organisation there are layers they have to work through! It’s been interesting reading the published guidance on anti-social behaviour from the North Yorks Police website (https://northyorkshire.police.uk/what-we-do/public-safety-and-welfare/antisocial-behaviour/) especially:

      “Failure to tackle anti-social behaviour will lead to increased crime, especially violence with injury and criminal damage.”

      It’s something we’re already seeing.

      Hopefully we’ll see some action specifically around the anti-social behaviour next week.

  19. Em says:

    Nothings going to stop us coming for cinnamon whirls. We’ll continue to support you and other Indies in Harrogate. I think your article was superbly written and I am very sorry that you are going through this on a daily basis.

  20. Michele Malster says:

    What a well balanced and sensitive article. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to try to run a business in such sensitively difficult circumstances. Thank you for articulating the situation in such a considered manner. I hope a good resolution to the problem for all concerned can be found as soon as possible.

    • Paul says:

      Thanks for reading Michele, we’re still waiting for an update after the meeting earlier this week but hoping for some positive movement.

  21. Jane Wood says:

    Thank you for writing this eloquent and considered post Paul. It’s a difficult issue but, regardless of all the complexities we all want to feel safe as we go about our daily business. Just as someone else said, I feel I have a certain amount of protection, given by your team. I feel a sense of security knowing you are all downstairs. I haven’t experienced the problems your staff have, but I have to admit I don’t feel safe when I’m working here last at night and walk out into a precinct where people are acting in an anti-social manner, even if it’s amongst themselves. Thank you for bringing this to light.

    • Paul says:

      Thanks for reading Jane. Glad that our team being in the building does put your mind at ease a little, but we really shouldn’t be worried about leaving work, it’s not right. Hopefully we can look forward to some positive action over the next few weeks.

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