Back in early December, I had the pleasure of interviewing Una Riley, a well-known figure and inspiration to many in the Security Industry. And quite frankly, just a lovely lady.
Una has just accepted the position of Chief Executive at IPSA; the International Professional Security Association, who are dedicated to frontline workers in the private Security Industry. IPSA are going through a radical shake up and among other improvements, have made the bold decision to offer their membership for free.
So how did Una Riley – who was suddenly registered blind 5 years ago – end up somersaulting back into the industry she had all but retired from before 2020?
Una started her career with similar bravado, having been the victim of a burglary. She’d been contemplating starting her own business for a while and thought it would be in PR, using her Fleet Street honed marketing skills. Then ‘luck’ of sorts intervened and the poor customer service she experienced during her search for a household burglar alarm helped her spot a gap in the market.
And so, Una set up Euro Alarms Ltd – whilst pregnant! – where for 23 years the ethos of the company was quality and reliability and centred on being not the biggest but the best installation business in the security industry. Her vision was for security to be a profession.
When she started Euro Alarms Ltd, engineers were often still contractors, held at arms-length by the rest of the security business where salesmen still dominated the poled positions. She created a ‘quality loop’ – with the installation engineers in the middle. She only employed on permanent contracts and her frontline team were called ‘Executive Engineers’ right from the start.
Una also valued creativity and quality and ensured her business was the first to carry the “Investors in People” Accreditation. Under her leadership, her company didn’t just talk the talk, the team ensured their quality standards were practised as living documents.
Throughout the 23 years Una ran Euro Alarms Ltd (later to be known as Euro Security Systems), Norbain SD offered a partnership in the true sense of the word and were one of just 3 distributors on a tight, strong preferred supplier list.
Norbain and Euro worked closely together with clients on both UK and Europe projects, advancing both parties ability to win and retain business.
When Una came into the security industry, very few females were attracted to the sector and so she set about imagining how she could affect change. She was the only female owner and Managing Director of an installation company back then. Her dream was for many more women to choose the sector and make the wider world of security a career of choice.
She tried as far back as the 1990’s to set up the now prestigious ‘Women in Security’ Awards. Finally, in 2010, there was enough female representation across the sector to make such an annual event viable and support the industry in sending out the right message to attract women.
Within her own company, Una always tried to recruit based on efficacy and potential. Having experienced all sorts of interesting obstacles, including from her own bank manager, she used the experiences to drive her ambition of a level playing field in a professionally run security sector, even recruiting said bank manager as her Head of Finance when the opportunity arose!
Una helped drive huge change across the security industry, including being a principal founder of the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals – the industry’s charitable arm of which she was the first woman to be elected Master.
She co-founded the FSA (Fire & Security Association), set up JASIC to lobby and communicate with government on the industry’s behalf and headed up communications at SectorGuard, set up to enhance the position of security personnel and attract more young people into the industry. Whilst at SectorGuard she created the first Anglo-American Exchange. She also represented the BSIA as the first female chairman of the CCTV section, Council member and as EC Member & Chairman SC1 of Euralarm.
Una has seen huge change in the industry since she started her business back in 1985 – there are now many more women, including in top positions. And the sector is considered a professional one, attracting diverse talent from across the UK spectrum.
Five years ago, Una was registered blind. This was a huge blow to such a prolifically influential and active lady and she withdrew whilst she came to terms with such a lifechanging occurrence. Una decided to cut down her obligations. She slowly stopped working, sold up her business, turned down invitations and hid herself away.
Then Lockdown happened and, ironically, Una found she was back on a more equal footing with her peers, even ahead in her understanding of newer forms of communication and AI technology. Now everyone was forced to communicate remotely, and she didn’t have to worry about the logistics of getting to meetings or events or navigating a building just to find the door!
She had also started to reflect that she was now able to speak up for those with disabilities, to influence employers and industry bodies to consider individuals based on merit and potential.
The revolution of the new IPSA started when Una was approached by Simon Pears, whom she’d worked with previously at Sodexo and for whom she had great respect with regards to his work in relation to front-line appreciation and Women in Security. They had the same vision in common.
So, it was a no-brainer when Simon invited her to become CEO. She was ready to see how she could continue influencing the security industry positively. Simon offered her the opportunity to assist in making the revolutionary changes they identified as vital for the new IPSA.
As a part of this work, an App will be launched in January 2021 aimed at three disciplines: Fire, Security Systems and Front-Line. For the first time, people working as front-line Officers, and installation technicians in both Fire and Security will have access to benefits normally only attained at executive level. It’s a thank you, after a year which identified many security personnel as “Key Workers”.
As well as free membership, there’s a new website (www.ipsa.org.uk) where individuals can pre- sign up for the App. The launch of the App will enable front line security personnel – 12% of whom are now female – to access remote support, health & safety, welfare, mental health, and training.
One of the most exciting aspects of new IPSA as far as Una is concerned is the ‘Front-line Forum’ (FLF) which will comprise of front-line workers from Security Systems, Fire, and front-line Officers.
For Una, this is where the ‘voice’ of the frontline workers will emanate, and she is understandably excited that the first Chairperson will be female – Deborah Stewart of Securigroup. In 1985 she had a dream about how the security industry would change, and now we not only have The Women in Security Awards, but also a female front-line officer as a Board member of IPSA…for her that truly is revolutionary change…
Norbain are very supportive of this new initiative and glad this dynamic and influential lady has returned to the industry with aplomb.
To find out more and sign up for the forthcoming IPSA app, visit https://www.ipsa.org.uk/
by Caroline Cooper, Content Marketing Manager at Norbain SD