Street Angels will watch over you

Halifax Street Angels
Halifax Street Angels

Hundreds of people are expected to flock to bars and pubs across Halifax in the run up to Christmas.

And today will be one of the busiest days of the year as revellers embrace what’s become known as “Mad Friday” and get into the festive spirit.

At the same time, the Halifax Street Angels will be out in force to promote safety in the town centre and offer support to those who have become vulnerable.

The project was launched in November 2005 as a response by the church in Halifax to an epidemic of binge drinking, violence , a growing number of serious sexual assaults and under-age drinking in pubs and clubs.

So much so the town became a no-go area for many people on Friday and Saturday nights.

But after a six-week trial, the project had helped and assisted 69 people and twelve months later violent crime in the town centre had reduced by 42 per cent.

Nine years on, the work of the dedicated Street Angel volunteers is as integral to the town as it was in 2005 and preparations for “Mad Friday” begins months in advance.

Ellis King, Manager of Halifax Street Angels, said: “We’ve changed slightly in the way we work on Mad Friday - because we are expecting it to be quite a bit busier, we’ll be running from 8pm until 4am.

“This is a couple of hours earlier for us as people will have been out from earlier in the day. Preparations will be in place for it being lairier than usual and we’ll be setting up a first aid stall in the town centre - to really maximise the amount of help and support we can give people.

“We will just be prepared to be quite a bit busier and we’ll be in contact and conversation with the police so that we can make sure that support is there.

“The whole Christmas and New Year period tends to have such a large influx of people into the town centre, it all strings together as one big event we have to prepare for a month or two in advance.

“A lot of thought goes into it and we take time to think about how we are going to approach things and what we are going to do.”

The work of the Halifax Street Angels covers a wide remit - from picking up glass bottles and administering first aid to handing out flip-flops if the strain of walking in heels becomes too much for some, cleaning people up after fights and giving out directions.

And at the Angels Rest Cafe, Crossley Street, there is always a friendly face to offer a helping hand and support to those who need it.

“We have a point where people can charge their phones, people can come in and we will call them a taxi or if people are stranded and they need to contact a member of the family we can do that,” Ellis added.

“Anything we can do, that is reasonable, we will to do help.

“So much of the work we do is preventative - it’s hard to really give statistics because we don’t know what could have happened. A lot of the people we help could have ended up in fights and become a violence statistic or they could have ended up as victims and gone on to A&E, but we just keep doing it believing that ultimately it’s the right thing to do.

“Underneath it all is that we don’t judge, as long as they are with us and they are not being aggressive, we will help.”

From mid-2013 to mid-2014, the Halifax Street Angels helped more than 3,000 people and dedicated around 12,000 hours to keep the town’s streets safe.

Ellis said: “I like to think that we are making a big difference,

“You get to see there and then the person you are helping, you actually build a bit of a relationship with them, you want to help them and get to know them sometimes.

“Some people are very open and want to talk and sometimes you have people who are just vulnerable and want to have a chat.”

Now, to spread the message Ellis has created a ‘safe night out’ workshop which is delivered to schools, colleges and youth clubs across the district.

“There’s nothing more than an emphasis on being safe,” he added

“I put something together that offered practical advice on how to be safe and it was really well received.

“It’s getting people to think - one part of safe night out is my presentation on alcohol, drug and crime awareness and the other half is a basic first aid lesson.

“The idea is that they have the information, resources and skills to make informed, decent choices.”