AS the spectacle of the Shrovetide hug heaves through Ashbourne town centre, across fields and into rivers, few people realise that a huge operation is going on behind the scenes.
A huddle of computers and CCTV screens are closely watched in the silver command control room at Ashbourne Police Station.
A team of people from the police, the Shrovetide committee, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, East Midlands Ambulance Service, St John’s Ambulance and Derbyshire County Council emergency planning constantly monitor the game and the town during the two-day event.
CCTV, teams of people on the ground and an intricate web of communications are all employed to react as swiftly as possible to any accident or incident which could occur during the game.
A bespoke emergency plan is produced each year to lay-out how the emergency services can respond to any incidents and emergency planning officer at the county council, Rob Brittan, observes the game from the silver command centre at Ashbourne.
He said: “In this instance I’m part of the silver command group and we are just here to co-ordinate different responses out to various incidents.
“Having an overview of the event is useful as it is quite unique so it can be challenging in terms of what we deal with, which is really why we’re able to discuss, if there’s an emergency, what our response should be and put a plan of action into place.”
Teams of medical staff and police are out on the ground, poised to spring into action as and when the need arises. Minor injuries can be somewhat commonplace in the rough of the hug, but with first aiders, paramedics and Ashbourne doctor, Helen Maxwell-Jones on stand-by, small incidents can be dealt with quickly.
The team in silver command also have to consider how to manage a response to any incident such as a fire or medical emergency which is separate to the game but could happen in the town during Shrovetide, when the crowds of spectators and the hug itself can pose additional hazards to emergency crews called to deal with the incident.
Shrovetide is one of the biggest events in the Derbyshire Dales and can present unique challenges to the emergency services simply due to the speed at which the game can move from town centre streets and alleys into open fields and rivers.
Inspector Bryan Hall is the section inspector for B Division which encompasses the Derbyshire Dales and remained in the silver command centre during the Shrovetide game. He said: “It’s like a hub with communication facilities and resources. The key is face to face contact.
“We all have different communications systems which will only come together in the event of a major incident.
“I have a bronze command, Sgt Steve Edwards, who follows the hug and by being in that position he can anticipate which way the ball is going to go and close the roads off accordingly.
“For the first time, the Shrovetide committee are taking more responsibility for traffic regulation and there are eight strategic positions identified which are covered by six stewards supported by police officers.
“I’ve got a dedicated officer at our command and control centre at headquarters purely for the event and we have a dedicated radio channel for the event as well so we can also call for other police resources if necessary.
“I’ve got about 20 officers on each day and because the organisers have taken more responsibility I’ve been able to reduce my staffing levels.
“I worked it out last year and it’s a massive cost over the two day period in the region of £60,000 purely for the police.
“But because the organisers are taking more responsibility we’ve been able to cut the number of resources in the town. Really it is not our responsibility to regulate traffic at these sorts of events because we don’t have the power to do so.
“There have been a number of meetings this year with the organisers and organising committee. We’ve had emergency planning advisory group meetings involving all the emergency services and a bespoke emergency plan purely for this event.
“Without the co-operation of all the emergency services, the game couldn’t happen, but we recognise that it’s a traditional event that has happened over the course of many years and we want to continue to support it so that it does continue for many years to come.
“But we can’t be expected to provide all these services at the same level as previous years because of the cuts in our resources, so it is incumbent upon the organisers to take responsbility and work together to make this event safe and successful.”