Bristol City Council first announced the Marshals as part of its much-discussed ‘Tier 1+’ last month, but by the time they started on Friday (November 6) the second nationwide lockdown was in place.
They are being funded by a government grant of £ 282,752 for Bristol’s ‘compliance and enforcement activities’, of which at least 16 will be recruited in the coming weeks.
I joined two marshals for a 30 minute patrol today (November 11), eager to see them in action.
Here is everything that happened.
The couple met me just outside the town hall, wearing masks, hi-vis jackets and small backpacks with masks and wipes to hand out.
One was called Rob and the other Mike. They declined to give their last name or age, but both appeared to be in their 20s.
The council press secretary informed me that they would not be answering questions as they were still settling down.
We started our College Green walk on a gray, calm morning, with relatively few shoppers on the normally busy Park Street.
The marshals had small orange compact cameras attached to their uniforms. I asked Rob what they were for, but he reminded me of the no-questions rule.
Fair enough, I thought – let them do their job.
The first thing they did was stop at a mailbox near the bottom of Park Street.
A postman watched with a wry expression as Mike pulled out an antibacterial wipe and cleaned the mailbox.
I asked the postman if he thought marshals were a good idea.
“No, not at all,” he said. “It’s Big Brother, isn’t it?” I think people get the idea. We are adults. We don’t need to be treated like children.
A few yards away, Rob took over the wiping duties, turning his attention to an ATM next to the 168 Oriental store.
We continued to Park Street before Rob pulled out his phone and scanned the QR code – which businesses use as part of the Test and Trace app – displayed on the window of the Mission Burrito restaurant.
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Apparently satisfied, Rob put his phone away. I asked if it had worked and Mike nodded silently in response.
We entered Mission Burrito, which was empty of customers, while its staff were busy preparing deliveries.
Rob introduced himself as a Covid-Marshal and approved the one-way system with approval.
“As far as I know, the social distancing measures you have put in place are good,” he said. “Did you have a lot of people?”
Director Charlie Williamson replied, “No, not really. Nobody’s here anyway, and there’s never really a line-up or anything like that.
“They are mainly Deliveroo pilots and they all wear their helmets.”
Mr Williamson said the Marshals program was a “great” idea, adding: “It’s really important for us to make sure people can come in and feel safe.”
On our way to the Clifton Triangle we passed many other restaurants and cafes, but we didn’t go to any of them.
It occurred to me that they might have benefited from a visit, especially a takeout where a group of customers were ordering inside without any masks.
Rob approached an elderly woman standing in front of the Pret sandwich shop. She used a scarf to cover her mouth and nose.
He asked her if she needed a face mask, but she shook her head and said something muffled by the fabric.
I turned to Rob, “I know I’m not supposed to ask questions, but did she say she didn’t want them?” ”
He replied, “She already had a blanket. ”
Our last stop was Sainsbury’s store on the Triangle.
Rob asked one of the workshop workers if she was free to talk about Covid safety, but she said they should talk to her manager.
It seemed the principal was not readily available, so the marshals left and began to walk towards College Green.
They took no further action as they walked down the slope of Park Street.
I asked Mike, “In a normal shift, would you usually work in more companies?”
He nodded again.
As we parted at City Hall, I couldn’t help but think that more could have been done to engage with business.
It is very early, however, and it is important to remember that the Marshals are still finding their marks.
I couldn’t see the full range of their activities, but the council said it would “help residents and businesses in the city stay safe by offering advice on government advice, helping to do the tail and to outrun social networks, distributing face masks. and disinfectant, and cleaning of frequently touched surfaces ”.
They will also be deployed on buses and at bus stops to ensure people are within social distance.
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Marshals cannot enforce bylaws but will report any violations to Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council.
Council agents – and not just Covid Police Commissioners – visited more than 500 businesses in Bristol last week to remind them they should be closed.
We asked the council how much will be spent on the marshals, when and where they will operate.