“You’re lucky. Ten years ago, this place was manic. Six, seven, eight fire alarms a night we were dealing with. You would have been out in the cold already!”
This, alongside the offer of a cup of tea, is what greeted me when I handed myself over to the Security Lodge at 10pm on a Tuesday night in November. Caffeinated and already losing the feeling in the end of my toes, I could not imagine anything worse than shepherding pyjama clad students whose Tuesday night had been rudely interrupted. The night shift team had already been on duty for three hours when we arrived, and had nine long, LCR-night hours in front of them. “We can always tell by half past 11 what sort of night it’s going to be,” explains Lisa, the security duty manager tasked with showing us the ‘other side’ of the LCR. “If the kitchen parties are loud, and if we have lots of loud walkers from The Village, we know we’re in for a busy one.”
On a cold night such as this one, it was very easy for me to appreciate the lack of fire alarms, but that is not to say that the security team were without anything to do. The number of incidents reported between September and November of this term have been up 30 percent on last year. Somewhat unexpectedly, it’s obvious that a large proportion of security’s business is relatively uncomplicated resolved within a matter of minutes: lost keys, lost campus cards, and countless Dominos deliveries to the Security Lodge fill a large proportion of their time.
The first few hours of our visit were relatively quiet, and by the time that is got to around half past midnight, and aside from a ten-minute stop along the LCR queue, the entirety of our time so far had been spent patrolling campus. Closing the odd window and throwing the empty wine bottles in the bin are all part of the job, but most importantly Lisa was using this time to look out for students who may have been in trouble, rather than causing it. Whilst she can roll her eyes about Chinese takeaways being delivered to the Lodge, or having to deal with yet another locked out fresher, there are still plenty of incidents that leave their mark in memory. Lisa tells us that she is filled with a familiar dread when she is contacted for next of kin details of students found unresponsive on Prince of Wales Road, or when the Police inform her that they need to search the Broad as part of a missing person’s enquiry.
“Mental health problems are a big issue, especially during the winter term”, she explained. As students move away from home and into new environments reports of self-harm and suicidal tendencies peak. The first year of university is accompanied by so many clichés, and rites of passage that it’s easy to forget about the emotional upheaval that can accompany a move away from home and the desperate need to form new relationships so quickly.
Aside from the emotional and bureaucratic pressures these incidents place on the security and pastoral teams, Lisa seemed far more concerned with the impact these have on other students. “It puts a lot of pressure on everybody’s friends and flatmates”. She worries that students are often caught between a rock and a hard place, worrying about their friends or course mates, but terrified that reporting them elsewhere will just cause unnecessary pressure and panic.
It is at this point – just after 1am – that the first ambulance of the night pulls up outside the Security Lodge. “I thought you said that this was looking like a quiet one?” I asked Lisa. She laughs as she tells me that only one ambulance by 1am means that tonight is an especially quiet one, as there are multiple ambulances called to campus every night. At least 90 percent of these calls – they estimate – are related to alcohol. This ambulance will be responding to an alcohol related call at one of the Terraces and we have been warned not to head over the walkway in that direction, or run the risk of standing in something unpleasant. There is already another security officer there dealing with the situation.
We’ve all heard the old adage about waiting for buses, and clearly that same sentiment also applies to ambulances. We had waited three hours without a single sighting, and now suddenly it felt like we couldn’t move for blue lights and yellow trucks. As we headed back down towards Union House, a police car pulled up outside of the LCR at 01:40am. There was a sudden rush of security activity when the police officer informed us of reports of a boy having fallen, possibly having been assaulted ‘somewhere near an entrance’: this officer had been called on to campus by a paramedic. However, before we can get to the bottom of the problem, Lisa was distracted by a request for police assistance elsewhere on campus. The incident in the Terraces from half an hour earlier still hadn’t been resolved. The female student involved needed a trip to hospital, but she was reluctant to go, so had to be spoken to by an officer before she could be taken for treatment: Paramedics are within their right to refuse treatment to any patient, regardless of condition, if they are subjected to any verbal or physical violence.
At 01:48, whilst the team were still trying to establish whether there had been an assault on campus and whether there was anybody else in need of emergency assistance, another ambulance arrived this time, having been called to treat a male patient inside the LCR. Eventually, at 01:50, it was established that there had been no assault at either of the university entrances. The police officer had been called regarding a patient in the LCR medical room – next to the entrance of Union House – that we had heard about two minutes earlier. He had some sort of blow to the head, a panic that translated to ‘assault’ when communication had been passed between LCR security, campus security, and the St John’s ambulance team that had been treating him inside the Hive.
At this point, I lost track of the number of people that I had spoken to; who is where and whether they needed a sticking plaster or a pair of handcuffs, but all I could think was that the Kaiser Chief’s I Predict a Riot that was blaring from inside the LCR had never seemed more relevant. Meanwhile, Lisa calmly moved from student to student, clarifying issues and making sure they stayed safe.
The night continued in this vein for our final 90 minutes with the team. As the LCR emptied out there were several cuts and bruises, reports of drug use (which are swiftly followed up and dealt with) and more alcohol related illness from across campus, as well as a familiar declaration from somewhere in the square: “I want Chinese food!” Remarkably, this was followed by a friend producing a perfectly packaged chicken chow mein in a lunchbox.
By 3am, I had been astounded by the patience and perseverance of the security team. With four hours left on their shift, the kettle in the lodge was churning out yet more coffee, as the team returned for a quick pit stop, weary smiles on their faces. Our last incident of the night was the giggling of a colleague over Lisa’s radio: he’d just had to chase a first year student leaving the LCR around campus. She was armed with several traffic cones. The team talk about the students on campus fondly, endeared by their escapades, their concern for them is their priority. They assure us they’ve seen it all before.
As we returned home at 4am and tucked ourselves into bed — the soberest LCR we have ever experienced — Lisa and her team continued watching campus until the early hours of the morning.
Our guide for the night was Lisa L’Anson who has worked as a member of UEA’s security team for over ten years, winning Security Officer of the year in 2014 from ‘Women in Security’ Magazine. Working the B shift her standard week is two days, two nights then four days off. She said, “the team gets tight. We’re a perfect working team.”
After starting work as a store detective at the age of 18, Lisa quickly progressed to Staff Detective. Working as a Private Investigator and receiving training in fraud, theft and body language, she assures us she can immediately tell when a student is lying: “I’ve seen it all before.”
She then spent three years working as an body guard for a Saudi family. Although she flew around the world, visiting countries and experiencing a life far removed from what she had been used to, she said, “I was a nodding dog. They were so generous, but eventually it was not about the money.” So she moved to Spain with the intention to buy a bar but, she and her partner eventually wanted to return. She laughs when she talks about returning home: “We had a lot of rescue animals — about ten. So we drove back. It took us three days and I’d never repeat that journey!”
She moved to Norwich after falling in love with the city / country vibe: especially as this gave her enough space to continue adopting animals.
After working for the civil service, she became a member of UEA’s security team and has never looked back. She tells us how UEA hired the first female prison guard, who used to tell her horror stories about working within a largely male dominated industry.
Her animal family has continued to grow, and she now owns six dogs from Romania, as well as two cats.
Dealing with drugs on campus
It is just after 3am and we are completing a final lap of campus. Lisa has just walked home a very drunk first-year who was crying about a boy who didn’t want to get serious with her. After giving her advice on who to talk to, Lisa made sure she was safely inside her flat before continuing on her walk. We are rounding the corner of a block of flats when we get our first whiff of weed. Lisa follows the smell to find a group huddled around a doorway, passing a joint between them. As we walk up to the group, the person holding the joint hastily tries to pass it to someone else. Unsurprisingly, no one takes it. He drops it on the floor.
“It’s just a cigarette.” he offers. Lisa raises her eyebrows: “Are you really going to make me pick that up off the floor and check? Tell me the truth.” This is how Lisa deals with most of the students on campus: she’s kind, but firm and reminds this group that not only are the using drugs, but they are also disrupting students by smoking so close to residences. She can tell immediately if you’re lying and informs the students that it is likely the consequences will be less dire if they own up and apologise. After radioing in the boy’s campus card number and whilst the group stare sheepishly at their feet, Lisa reminds them that campus has a zero tolerance drug policy.
We leave and continue our lap, and I look back over my shoulder and see the group scampering back into their flat.