CaptureAn award-winning initiative which aims to ‘raise the bar’ in Durham City’s pubs and clubs is back.

Best Bar None,  a national Home Office supported project delivered locally by Durham County Council and Durham Constabulary, is an accreditation scheme which seeks to drive up standards, encourage good practice and improve customer experience at bars, pubs and clubs.

The local initiative has won national praise and helped establishments increase their turnover and footfall, while also contributing to a drop in violence.

The scheme was set up in Durham City in 2008 and sees bars, pubs and club applying for accreditation on an annual basis.

At the end of each year, participants compete for much sought after awards.

The Durham project had early success when crowned the Most Innovative Best Bar None scheme in the UK, just a year after being established.

Participants last year reported an average 26.8 percent rise in turnover and 15 percent increase in footfall on 2014 figures, while crime data for Durham City for October 2015 showed a 9 percent drop in violence against people compared with before Best Bar None was introduced in 2008.

The Durham scheme was also Highly Commended in the Best Overall scheme category in the latest national Best Bar None awards.

Now back for its ninth year, there has been a rush of establishments signing up to take part, with 42 coming forward.

The 2016 scheme sees a number of changes on previous years.

The accreditation process will for the first time take place over the whole year via a combination of assessment on the premises with management and then three mystery shopping visits across the 12 months.

Also new for this year, licensees will be awarded either a gold, silver or bronze level of accreditation, with them needing to earn a score of at least 90% from their mystery shop to earn the top ranking.

Cllr Simon Henig, county council leader, said: “The Best Bar None Scheme has been extremely successful for everyone involved over the last eight years and receiving Highly Commended in the Best Overall Scheme in the UK recently demonstrates the high regard in which we are viewed nationally.

“But we haven’t rested on our laurels.

“We have made significant changes to the scheme this year and I would like to thank the trade for their continuous efforts to improve working practices for the enjoyment of all visitors to Durham City centre.”

Mick McDonnell, national Best Bar None coordinator, said: “The Best Bar None scheme in Durham has in the past received national recognition and always been considered one of our flagship schemes.

“Best Bar None strives to raise operating standards in the pubs and clubs by working in partnership with the statutory authorities and the venues.

“Durham continually demonstrates that partnership working has a positive effect on the night-time economy and because crime is being reduced, footfall and trade are improving year on year.

“More people are going out at night, and spending more money.

“Having professionally run, safe venues clearly contributes to that success.

“The commitment by the trade and the support given by the council and the police to this scheme offers much to celebrate, and long may it continue.”

Graeme Draper, manager of The Half Moon Inn which scooped an impressive double in last year’s local awards, said: “The Half Moon team are still beaming with pride after being awarded ‘Overall Winner’ and ‘Best Pub’ in the 2015 awards.

“The team work hard to ensure we operate legally and safely, following policies put in place to maintain these standards.

“In addition to these efforts, we work closely with the council and licensing authorities, to maintain our standing as a traditional English pub that has stayed true to its roots and with a long standing family history and real pub atmosphere.

“We are proud to help make Durham a great place to visit.”

The values of the Best Bar None scheme also support the wider work of Durham’s City Safety Group.