FROM the streets of Southsea, to the deserts of South Sudan. An innovative Portsmouth security company has gone international.
Vespasian Security was set up in 2006 by Oliver Gardiner – 6ft 2in and built like a rugby player – who fell into security after finishing college.
At 22, he realised there must be a better way for door staff, the venues and customers.
Fast forward seven years and Vespasian is so successful it is responsible for the safety of thousands of revellers across the city and beyond, every weekend.
You are likely to meet Vespasian staff at one of the dozen or so venues the company covers throughout the city.
But there are also contracts in Malawi, South Sudan, close protection for foreign dignitaries, huge events in London, festivals across the country, and they even covered Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday concert.
Not bad considering the company’s humble beginnings.
Oliver says: ‘We’re not your average security company. We do get to do some weird things.
‘Our guys are highly trained.
‘ They have to be. At a major event they have to be able to switch from reacting to a lost child in distress to escorting a superstar artist in a heart beat.’
He was the first man in the country to be SIA licenced and felt his employers at the time, and the venues, weren’t taking it seriously enough.
So Vespasian was born and has gone from strength to strength, including contracts for Victorious Festival and the Victorian Festival of Christmas at the Historic Dockyard.
‘People who run late night entertainment venues, around alcohol, have to be optimistic. They have to be because they have to be fun people to be around.
‘But I’m in a pessimistic industry.
‘We’re only there for the “what ifs?” It can make for interesting meetings.’
Oliver, who recently married, said one of his favourite parts of the job is working out logistics.
And international events are an opportunity to test him.
In 2009 he was asked to supply security consultancy for a new festival, the Lake of Stars in Malawi.
It is a not-for-profit event to showcase to the world the rich artistic talent of the country.
It was so successful Oliver has flown staff over every year since and they provide their services for free.
He has also covered the We Want Peace concert in South Sudan, which provides a very different set of challenges.
One of the first was clearing a road for emergencies and discovering live mortar rounds.
Workers were casually flinging them on to a rubbish heap.
‘You have to remember that this is a country where 86 per cent of men have been in the militia or were child soldiers’, says Oliver.
‘It is amazing to be involved with such a high profile and important project.
‘We had to draw upon our experiences of working in challenging environments.’
Such jobs give Oliver’s staff an experience that will stay with them forever, and flexibility to react to situations they could never learn on a job over here.
Oliver works hard to dispel the image of the typical ‘bouncer’.
He said: ‘The violence levels were epic in the 1980s, especially in Portsmouth.
‘“Bouncers” were expected to be able to fight and hold their own.
‘I’ve worked with people who were irresponsible in the past, and they would look for trouble, but they wouldn’t last more than a week because no one would want to work with them. It would put them in danger.
‘Now, if we question someone about how much they’ve had to drink or their behaviour, we joke we can’t let them in just because of the sheer amount of paperwork they might cause us!
‘Everything we do try and do is preventative.
‘I like the staff to want to work with us, not to feel like they have to, just for a job. If our guys are smiling it’s so much easier for them at work.’
VESPASIAN was named after a great military commander who rose through the ranks to become the first non-bloodline Roman Emperor.
His 10-year reign, from AD69 to AD79, brought peace.
Oliver said: ’His dynasty built the Colosseum, which is one of the earliest examples of crowd management.
‘The whole site actually works on the modern systems of crowd management we use today.’
The other directors of Vespasian, which has offices in North Harbour and Southsea, are Oliver’s parents, Keith and Angie.
They are both retired teachers and Oliver jokes that he is their boss now.
Oliver went to school St Jude’s School Primary School, in Southsea, followed by secondary school in Swanmore, because of a shortage of Portsmouth school places at the time.
To find out more go to vespasiansecurity.co.uk
AFRICAN FESTIVALS ARE A JOY – AND A CHALLENGE
ONE of the highlights of Vespasian’s calendar is providing security at the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi.
It is a not-for-profit event showcasing the country’s rich culture.
Oliver said: ‘Malawi is a nice, very civil country.
‘Despite there being very high deprivation the people are happy and the land is fertile.
‘If you smile, people smile back at you. But it’s not like that in South Sudan.’
Oliver and his team plan events using models of expected behaviour from people.
‘They can usually predict a crowd.
‘But in South Sudan, where Vespasian covered the UN-backed We Want Peace concert, they had to throw the rule book out of the window.
‘Just getting into Sudan was a task in itself,’ said Oliver.
‘Here, we know what people expect because we are culturally immersed in it ourselves.’