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‘Outstanding’ partnerships praised as Chelmsford awarded 11th Purple Flag

Everyman At Night

Chelmsford has received Purple Flag accreditation for its night-time economy for an 11th year in a row, with a commendation for the high standard of coordination of services in the city. Assessors found Chelmsford to be ‘above standard’ in all five of the core Purple Flag themes, with an ‘outstanding’ award for partnership working.

Purple Flag aims to both raise the standard and broaden the appeal of town and city centres between the hours of 5pm and 5am. The prestigious scheme found that the city has once again demonstrated its commitment to creating a dynamic, secure and vibrant evening and night-time economy, increasing its score on the previous year.

Assessment of whole night-time offer

The assessment, which took place one Saturday last November, examined Chelmsford’s night-time offer. Assessors looked at every aspect of visitor experience, including safety and services, transport and movement, the range of venues and activities available and the city’s overall appeal as a stimulating destination.

Coordinated services a ‘key success’

A key success in Chelmsford’s submission was the high standard of coordinated services evident in the city, with Chelmsford City Council, Chelmsford’s Business Improvement District (BID) and Essex Police working effectively with each other and the city’s businesses, organisations and stakeholders. The panel found that these partnerships, which involve collaboration on joint projects such as Chelmsford’s Women’s Safety Charter, were ‘visibly stronger’ since the last assessment.

Women's Safety In Our City
Chelmsford's Women's Safety Charter was launched in late 2022

City improvements praised

Upgrades to parts of the city were also highlighted as significant improvements on the previous 12 months. Assessors praised Chelmsford Theatre’s ‘wonderful refurb’, of which the council ‘can be justifiably proud’, which they found enhanced both the customer experience inside and the public realm outside.

The transformation of Tindal Square at the top of the High Street was judged a ‘big improvement on previous visits’, keeping people safer at night with a wider pedestrianised route and by removing traffic from the area. Better lighting at bridge crossings and in the Bunny Walks were also noted as positive developments for the city’s evening and night-time economy and street art created for Chelmsford For You’s Concrete Canvas festival was judged to have ‘successfully brightened up’ parts of the city centre.

Councillor Rose Moore, Chelmsford City Council’s Cabinet Member for a Greener and Safer Chelmsford says the award is an important one for the city.

“Seeing Chelmsford at night through the eyes of the Purple Flag assessors is always enlightening. A lot can happen in 12 months in the life of a city, and when you’re here night in, night out, you don’t always notice how far you’ve come. It’s great to see projects like the refurbishment of Chelmsford Theatre, independent venues and restaurants, and the pedestrianisation of Tindal Square recognised for having a really positive impact, helping visitors to have an enjoyable and safe evening out.

"But this accreditation isn’t just about places; a vibrant evening and night-time economy depends on people. I’m incredibly proud of the partnerships we have in Chelmsford, with our excellent Community Policing Team, our creative BID and all the premises, businesses and organisations working hard for the city. This acknowledgement of Chelmsford’s great teamwork will galvanise us all to see how we can collaborate even more effectively in the year ahead.”

Cllr Rose Moore, Chelmsford City Council

A safe and welcoming place

Purple Flag inspectors got to see joined-up partnership working first hand during their visit, which coincided with a multi-agency night of action in the city centre. These monthly events bring together a wide range of services to promote safety and wellbeing at night, including Essex Police, the council’s community safety, licensing, parking and homelessness officers and Open Road’s SOS Bus which supports vulnerable people.

Assessors found city centre policing to be ‘visible but not overbearing’ and working effectively with the city council’s ‘well-resourced’ CCTV control room. There was also praise for the good relationship between the community policing team and the city’s Pubwatch – an independent scheme well attended by the trade.

Chelmsford’s district commander, Chief Inspector Paul Ballard, says these strong connections are good for the city.

“Retaining Purple Flag status for more than a decade is a fantastic achievement, due in no small part to the effective partnerships in Chelmsford.

“We work closely with the council, Business Improvement District and many other organisations to understand issues affecting the city centre, and act immediately whenever there are problems.

“In 2023, reports of anti-social behaviour fell by 36% across the district, with 750 fewer incidents, and we take pride in the part we are playing to help Chelmsford remain a nationally recognised place for a safe and welcoming night out.”

Chief Inspector Paul Ballard, Chelmsford district commander

A mix of chains and independents

‘A broad appeal’ is one of the key themes of Purple Flag and demonstrating a vibrant mix of venues is essential to any submission. Chelmsford is known for its selection of chain restaurants and high street brands, and assessors noted that there were many new units since their last visit to the city. Independent restaurants Fête Grays Yard (‘buzzing’) and Taste of Italy ('very busy') in the city’s West End also received honourable mentions, with unique, local venues having a significant role to play in giving diners choice in Chelmsford.

The city’s pubs and bars were judged to have a ‘good mix of independents and chains’ and were ‘clean and well run’ throughout the visit, with highly visible door teams. Brewhouse, with its wide selection of craft beer was deemed ‘well worth a visit’ and Courtyard was noted as a ‘good-looking independent venue’.

To get a full picture of Chelmsford’s night life, assessors also indulged in some axe throwing at Boom Battle Bar and found it to be a ‘vibrant, well-run establishment’. The ‘very impressive’ Everyman Cinema also received a glowing review.

“We’re really proud to hear that Chelmsford has retained its purple flag status, which is a testament to the incredibly hard work from so many organisations to keep our city safe.

"The BID has really focused on strengthening its partnerships with key organisations such as Chelmsford City Council, Essex Police and Pubwatch and we are delighted to hear this is being recognised as having a positive impact. This will continue to be one our focuses moving forward to ensure Chelmsford and its businesses go from strength to strength.”

Sara Tupper, Chelmsford BID manager

Outstanding ‘indie gem’ Hot Box

The star of the night, though, was undoubtedly Hot Box Live, a not-for-profit community bar and entertainment venue in Chelmsford’s viaduct staging original music, drag, comedy and poetry. The Purple Flag team loved this ‘indie gem’, which is ‘doing an awful lot of heavy lifting within the music ecosystem of Chelmsford’.

Inspectors were impressed by a DJ set from Vaughan Harris of group Nitzer Ebb during their visit, joining the ranks of Hot Box’s many fans. In April another fan, Fatboy Slim, is due to play a fundraising gig in support of the venue, which sold out in less than a minute when tickets went on sale. Hot Box owner Dave Hughes says this recognition from the assessors means a lot.

"I'm chuffed to bits to get this feedback from Purple Flag, as I know everyone at Hot Box will be. It really is a team effort performed by people who give a damn".

Dave Hughes, Hot Box Live owner
Untitled Design (14)
Purple Flag assessors called Hot Box an 'indie gem'. Image: Claire Naylor

Recommendations for next time

Each Purple Flag assessment gives honest feedback and guidance on some of the ways applicants can improve in the coming year to make their next submission even better. Recommendations for the next 12 months include a culture plan for the night-time economy (especially for music), considering fewer but longer nights of action, and more focus on the areas by the rivers Chelmer and Can in the city centre.

Cllr Moore says this evaluation will help the city to keep striving for excellence.

“Now that Chelmsford is an established Purple Flag city it’s vital that we keep challenging ourselves to be better every year. There are some great things already in place, but observations from Purple Flag experts on a real night out in Chelmsford are incredibly valuable in helping us to think about how we build on what we have and take our night-time economy to a whole new level.

“Local charity Culture Chelmsford and the Ignite cultural partnership have a key role to play in developing a more diverse cultural offering and I hope Chelmsford’s first district-wide cultural strategy, launched last year, will help us to nurture the city’s music scene and increase collaboration and investment. The next phase of Women’s Safety in Our City, which launches later this month, should keep the momentum going in tackling violence against women, and we are working with Make Space for Girls to transform how our parks and public spaces feel for teenage girls.

“It’s really satisfying to see that we are already ‘above standard’ in all key areas: now the work begins to make us ‘outstanding’.”

Cllr Rose Moore, Chelmsford City Council

About Purple Flag

The Purple Flag programme was developed following the Civic Trust’s “Night Vision” report in 2006 and is now managed by the Association of Town & City Management. Purple Flag is an accreditation process which leads to Purple Flag status for town and city centres that meet or surpass their standards of excellence in managing the evening and night-time economy.

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Julie Weight
Julie Weight

Julie writes stories and creates videos for Chelmsford City Council. Contact her at julie.weight@chelmsford.gov.uk or on 01245 606984.