Convenience store retailing is a tough business, but it's made even tougher by the constant threat of crime. Latest statistics from the Association of Convenience Stores reveal that robberies increased by 30% in 2009 and that burglaries were up 19% compared with the year before.

ACS chief executive James Lowman says this shows that convenience stores are seen as soft targets by thieves and that store owners need to better protect themselves. So if help is out there to boost security, then retailers should certainly grab it.

Although Labour is no longer in power, one of its legacies will be the Small Retailers Capital Grants Fund, which made £5m available to store owners to help defend their businesses against crime.

Through the scheme, individual retailers were able to apply for grants of up to £3,000 and partnerships of stores could apply for up to £50,000. The grant money was to be used to defend stores by investing in security measures such as CCTV, UV pens to detect counterfeit notes, and security grilles. Former Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said that the fund aimed to ensure that small businesses which he deemed "vital to communities" were not taken advantage of by criminals.

As expected the scheme was well received, with retailers in the 50 eligible areas rushing to lodge their applications.

Dave Newman was able to secure £2,200 for his Newman Food & Wine store in Hastings, East Sussex, and used it to improve his CCTV installation.

Dave felt he had to enhance his CCTV system as his technology was in danger of becoming outdated. "The old camera system used VHS so it wasn't very good quality and would only store a couple of days' footage," he says. "If there was a shoplifting incident in the store then we'd have to act quickly in case the footage was wiped, and when we did give the tapes to the police they could use them but the picture could be grainy, making it difficult to see properly.

"The new system can store footage for up to 30 days and keeps a digital recording of everything that happens in the shop," he adds. "Before, if I went on holiday and something happened, the footage might be gone by the time I got back so there would be very little I could do about it. Now I can check back over the past month on the system or view the back-up disk if it's even longer."

With the grant money, Dave has also modified his system so he can view the cameras from a remote location via the internet and can keep an eye on his store from the comfort of his home. "I've had problems with staff theft in the past so it's good to keep them on their toes by letting them know I could be watching at any time," he says. "It's not that I don't trust my staff, but I don't want to be taken advantage of just because I can't be in the shop at all times."

Dave says the application to receive the grants was somewhat long-winded, but necessary. "We had to source three separate quotes and there were a lot of forms to fill out, but I understand they have to be careful that money isn't wasted."

Dave says that grants like these are extremely helpful and urges retailers to take advantage of them whenever possible. "I was lucky that my store was in one of the 50 areas that qualified for the grants, otherwise I might still be using the old system and vulnerable to shoplifting without a decent chance of the thieves being caught," he says. "If there is a grant available from any source, take the time to apply for it. Even if there's limited funding available, you might get some money that can go towards protecting your business."

One of the few business partnerships to be awarded the full £50,000 grant from the fund was the E11 Business Innovation District (BID) in Leytonstone, Walthamstow. It used the money to fund a CCTV operation, too, albeit on a larger scale, which protects both the stores and their customers.

BID managing director Fawaad Shaikh says that one of the group's goals was to set up a CCTV network that protected the whole town and improved the area for shoppers. The system, which was officially set up on March 31, has 13 cameras that monitor all entrances and exits for the Leytonstone area. If a robbery takes place, the thieves will be caught on camera while making their getaway.

The cameras also cover the main thoroughfare of the town, with all of the central shopping areas under surveillance. As well as recording everything that is going on in the streets, the cameras have a PA system installed which can be used as a warning device to those committing anti-social behaviour. Shaikh also wants to pump music through it to make the area feel more welcoming. "It'll create a market atmosphere that will not only help make retailers and customers feel safer, but enhance their shopping experience so they'll come back again," he explains.

When planning the CCTV network, Shaikh wanted a system that could be added to in the future. "The main infrastructure of the CCTV system is in place and when the money is available we will install more cameras on the streets to cover a larger area," he says. "We want to be able to protect as much of the town as possible."

The network can be extended thanks to the system's ability to add in cameras from existing CCTV networks. "Any retailer that has a camera system in their store can link it up to ours so that more areas can be monitored," he says. "A lot have already come on board with this because it increases the security in the neighbourhood and creates a community atmosphere among the retailers."

Although the system has been running for just a few months retailers operating within the district already feel safer. Arif Shah, who runs Best-In Low Cost Supermarket on Leytonstone High Road, had been robbed twice in the space of two months before the system was set up. Now he says he feels safe in his store.

"I felt quite intimidated after the robberies and we would have a lot of shoplifting, but now I feel much more secure because of the CCTV system," he says. "Thieves know that the cameras are in place so they're much more hesitant about committing a crime. And if something does happen, there's more chance that they'll be caught."

Not only has the new CCTV system cut down on robberies, but incidents of anti-social behaviour in the area have reduced. Wendy Patel of SFX Express Stores on Harrington Road says that there is less disruption at night now. "We didn't have much trouble with stealing, but there were a lot of fights on the road outside and it would put people off shopping here and in nearby shops," says Wendy. "There's less of it happening now because the culprits know they're on camera."

Shaikh believes that the system will not only improve the security of the area, but will help create more business. "The CCTV system allows us to take more pride in our area," says Shaikh. "If we want Leytonstone to grow as both a community and business district, we want people to feel safe about coming here and for it to look appealing to potential customers. The system lets us do this."

He adds that it would have taken years to reach this level of security if it weren't for the Home Office grants. "Before we were approved for the grant we had a schedule in place that would have installed the cameras in phases over the next three to five years," he says.

"But with the £50,000 received from the government we were able to have the improvements up and running in a couple of months and the system is already helping protect retailers in the area."