Katie, coordinator of the Leeds Street Angels stated that the group was formed in Leeds in 2012, one of about 100 such groups the first of which started in Halifax, West Yorkshire and come under the Christian Nightlife Initiatives umbrella, saving them from much of the administration a charity must undertake.
They meet at Holy Trinity Church, Leeds on Friday and Saturday nights at 10 p.m. Teams are formed and start to patrol the area – from the Arena in the North, to the river in the south, and encompassing all the main Leeds nightspots, at 10.30 p.m. They work to about 3.00 a.m. having a tea-break at 12.30. Two questions were posed on the screen – what was the worst incident you have had to deal with and why help those who have created their own problems? These were not answered specifically, but by the whole presentation. All volunteers are given basic training, with training on specific issues given periodically; they patrol in teams and they are at all times connected by radio to their base and to other agencies with whom they coordinate…and they avoid confrontation (they can for instance call the police to deal with an incident). Thus are the dangers minimised.
To answer the other question Katie listed many of those involved in the night-time economy – theatres, transport, – including taxis, health-workers/paramedics, clubs, bars and of course the public that are drawn to the vibrant nightlife of the city. Their job is to aid the vulnerable – and though they do encourage dialogue with rough sleepers, and carry foil blankets and socks in the winter, there are Homeless Street Angels that deal specifically with this group. There are other vulnerable people around though- often caused by drink or drugs and the Angels aim is to try and help them to safety. Katie took us through a typical night to illustrate this –a young man with friends who were worried about his health, was accompanied to A & E (many people are not familiar with Leeds), a girl, separated from her friends and whose phone’s battery had “died”, had the battery recharged and was reunited with her friends. Bottles are picked up and placed in the waste bins (to stop issues with broken glass and their use as weapons). People who have become incapable through drink are accompanied to a safe place (usually the city station) and sat with until they are capable of going home safely. Once (not a regular occurrence fortunately) a man was located in the Aire. The Fire brigade was called and the man rescued. Now the teams have received training and carry a length of rope and a glow-stick which is thrown to the victim to hold, so s/he doesn’t drift out of sight in the darkness.
Which brings me to what, for me, made this talk so engaging… Katie took us through the rucksack which all volunteers carry, as well as wearing their “Street Angels” jackets. It was amazing how much it held! A set of vomit bowls which could enable a person to get a taxi to take him or her home (a large fine is levied if one is sick in a cab and not surprisingly, cab drivers are not too keen on accepting the fare if they think that is a possible scenario). The volunteers are protected with gloves and anti-bacterial wipes and cotton-wool buds. Hair bobbles are given out to keep long hair tied back. Phone chargers are on hand. Flip-flops were another item – by the end of an evening, some cannot walk in their high heels, so these stop girls walking barefoot and perhaps stepping on broken glass and ending up in casualty.
What is the reaction to the team on the street? Extremely positive on the whole. They have built up good relations with door-men, who appreciate having someone to contact should they find they are dealing with someone they feel is vulnerable. Those they aid are grateful – and they get lots of thank you messages via social media from them and their parents in particular. We were left in no doubt that this initiative utilising volunteers paid a very useful role in lessening the work of the professionals and made Leeds a much safer city for all who visited it at night. Please spread the word to anyone you think might enjoy the role – new volunteers are always welcome.