Sometimes retailers have to do more than just provide a service within their store; sometimes they have to lead their community forward when others are unsure about what to do. Lesley and William Brown, who run Frankmarsh Stores in Barnstaple, Devon, have done just this.

Lesley and William's problems started two years ago when residents on their estate began selling drugs from their house. Drug abusers took to hanging around at all hours, waking up residents in the middle of the night, and when they started threatening people it was the final straw.

"We were sure they were shoplifting from the store, but we were never able to catch them," says William. "And when staff refused to serve them because they were under the influence of drugs they became abusive, and nobody is paid enough to deal with that."

When the severity of the situation became clear, the Browns contacted other residents and held a meeting to discuss what to do. "All of the residents decided they had had enough and the police were asked to get involved," says Lesley. "We gave evidence to help the police get the house emptied and we offered to appear in court as other residents were afraid that they would be targeted if they did the same."

The police eventually shut the drugs den down and after several court appearances the family in question was evicted from the estate. The Browns were wary that the dealers would come back for revenge on them for giving evidence in court. "We were afraid of reprisals but it has never happened and, thankfully, the drugs have gone from the area," says Lesley.

William adds that this show of strength has brought the town closer together. "The community has become empowered now," says William. "Before this nobody took much pride in the area and residents were scared that something would happen to them if they contacted the police about the drug dealers or users, but now they stand up for themselves.

"When we moved here 10 years ago there was graffiti everywhere, but now there's none. We've all bonded as a community to cut out this sort of thing and make the area safer for residents."

He adds: "A lot of elderly people live on this estate and before it got cleaned up were afraid to come out at night. Now that the drug addicts have gone, they don't feel trapped in their homes once it gets dark and are able to go out in the evenings. It's really made the area a better place to live."

Lesley and William believe that standing up to the criminals was essential for the future of the community. "We were the first ones to talk to the police about the problem and when people saw us speaking up about it, they found the courage to do the same," she says. "Someone had to take the first step and once that was done, everyone else followed."

Positive influence

Not content with forcing drug dealers out of the area, the Browns are also working with the community to try and set up a local office for social housing representatives and the police to work from. "Besides the shop, there's nothing in the area when it comes to amenities. There's no church, or community centre, and the local police station and social housing offices are on the other side of the town, so it would be fantastic to have an office nearby that residents could use instead," says Lesley.

They have already made progress with the project. "The council has offered up the land for the community and we've held some great events to try and raise money to fund the office," says William. "All we need is a portable cabin-style building for everyone to use. It will cost a lot of money to run so we have to organise plenty of events for it."

This suits William and Lesley down to the ground as they are keen to get as much going on in the estate as they can. They recently bought the freehold for Frankmarsh Stores so decided to celebrate being fully integrated into the community by updating their fascia.

They have also made it their priority to help raise money for as many local charities as possible. As well as the proposed new community office, beneficiaries of their support have included Devon Air Ambulance, Yeo Valley Community Woodland and local litter picks.

The Browns believe that another way of getting the community involved is to make them more responsible for what happens in their neighbourhood. So Lesley and William decided to get residents together to write a charter for the area. "It was met with some suspicion at first, but once they realised they had an opportunity to have a say in what goes on in the estate, they welcomed it," says William. "It all has to be cleared by the local council but the residents now feel that they have a voice."

All of this good work has not gone unnoticed and Devon and Cornwall Community Watch Association recently gave Lesley a Community Support Award for her and William's efforts. Last June she was also awarded a Partners and Communities Together Award by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.

Responsible retailing

As they are at the forefront of fighting crime in the area, the Browns make sure that their own store is in order when it comes to responsible retailing. They enforce a Challenge 25 policy and mark bottles of alcohol with a UV pen so if any underage drinkers are caught by the police, officers will be able to tell if it came from Frankmarsh Stores, and possibly even who bought it.

"If it did come from our store, we'll be able to go back through our records and see when it was bought and give that information to the police," says William. "It's something we take very seriously and go to great lengths to crack down on."

They care so deeply about it that they made the decision not to stock high-strength lagers and ciders. All of the alcohol fridges and displays carry Challenge 25 stickers and posters to remind both staff and customers that they are strict on underage sales.

Lesley says that they have a good working relationship with their local Trading Standards team and call on them if they need anything. "Trading Standards has taken a sensible approach to age-related sales," she says. "They tested stores in the area and anyone who failed was given the chance to improve, rather than receive warnings or have their licence taken away. When they tested again a few months later, only one store in the town failed. TSOs took a more educational stance rather than being heavy-handed and everyone has benefited from it."

William says that retailers who are worried about age-related sales shouldn't shy away from contacting their local Trading Standards office. "They can be a great asset," he says. "They will provide signage, training and DVDs on handling sales. I'd advise every retailer to get in touch with their local office."

By working with the authorities and locals, the Browns are making their neighbourhood a better place for all. They have turned their store into the heart of the community, making them worthy Zero Tolerance Award winners

Zero Tolerance Award for Crime Prevention
Winner: Lesley Brown

The awards judges felt the Browns demonstrated immense courage and determination in helping their community rise against criminality. Tony Benson, risk director at sponsor Loomis, says: "It takes a positive attitude and strong resolve not to be intimidated by unlawful behaviour. The couple have been able to inspire their community, which has successfully deterred criminals, but also spurred a neighbourhood campaign. 

"Lesley has also shown real initiative in taking simple steps to protect her business; ensuring everything from staff training to in-store security has helped minimise the risk. Her close relationship with the police shows her commitment to zero tolerance and she is a worthy award winner."
Testing times
To make all members of staff aware of their responsibilities for age-related products, the Browns ensure staff take a BII qualification. 

"It was a way of showing due diligence and making staff more aware of the consequences of alcohol sales," says William. "It would be easy for us to just tell our staff to ask for identification every time they think the person looks underage and to refuse them if they don't have any, but this way the staff can learn why it's so important and what the risks are. 

"It doesn't take long to complete and can be done over the phone," he adds. "And the best thing is that anyone who takes the test will know if they passed or not straight away. To pass the test you need to get a 70% pass mark, but thankfully all of our staff scored close to 100%."