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National acclaim for Wirral harm reduction project

Wirral’s approach to reducing the harm caused by super-strength alcohol has been judged the best in the country.

At an awards ceremony in London yesterday, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) presented its Best Project Award to the people behind Wirral’s ‘Reducing the Strength and Custodians’ scheme.

The initiative is a partnership between Wirral Council’s Environmental Health, Trading Standards and Public Health teams, working with the Wirral Ways To Recovery service. The award is recognition of its collaborative approach as well as its success in achieving a number of challenging targets.

‘Reducing the Strength’ is now embedded in Birkenhead, Tranmere, Rock Ferry and New Ferry working with local off licences encouraging them to stop the sale of super-strength, low-cost beers and ciders. The scheme is now expanding into Seacombe and other areas.

As an extension to the project, the team also developed the ‘Custodians’ scheme which trains staff in off-licences in how to signpost problem drinker customers to the drug and alcohol service, Wirral Ways to Recovery. This is also proving successful and has been well received by businesses.

In naming the Wirral project as the national award winner, the judges said: “This project stood out because of its ambition and its success in tackling this important social and public health problem.

“The project delivered a range of tangible outcomes through excellent planning, a multi-agency approach and the very effective use of Environmental Health skills, which were at its core. Officers capitalised on opportunities during the project to enhance delivery and this enabled the initial, already challenging targets to be exceeded and the impact sustained.

“It was an excellent submission, highlighting a very well planned, executed and evaluated public health initiative. All those involved are to be congratulated.”

Cllr Phillip Brightmore, Wirral Council’s Cabinet member for Environment, added: “The highest praise should go to all of those involved in this amazing initiative. It is a fantastic example of departments coming together to better the lives of those living in the most challenging circumstances. 

“It is beyond doubt that alcohol-related harm in Wirral is being reduced as a result of these initiatives and that many previously difficult or chaotic lives have been made that little easier, which has a positive knock-on effect for the wider community.

“It is great to see work being done in Wirral being acknowledged as the best in the country – it is well-deserved.”

Reducing The Strength was launched in Wirral in 2015 and asks retailers to stop stocking and selling cheap, strong (above 6.5% ABV and above) beer and cider.

Its initial target was to sign up 80% of off-licences in the target areas to Reducing the Strength agreements within 12 months. This target was in fact exceeded. Subsequent targets are focused on rolling the scheme out across Wirral and there is now an official pledge that by 2020, 30% of off-sales premises would be ‘super-strength free’.