Visit the centre of Whitby on a Friday night and you will see a number of people walking around wearing fluorescent jackets.
While many people will be thinking of going to bed at 10pm this band of volunteers, known as Street Angels, will be out in all weathers on a Friday night not only to help make the area safe but also provide a hand to those who need it.
“We aim to help people who may be vulnerable, those who may be lost or others who need basic first aid of the type which we can deal with rather than call an ambulance,” explains Helen Webster, a Deacon with the Methodist Church in which she is community-based minister.
She was at the forefront of putting the idea into practice more than two years ago following a discussion with a representative of the borough council’s Safer Communities team about its work.
She was told about the Street Angels in Scarborough and that the council was looking to expand the idea to Whitby with a church link.
A meeting to discuss the idea resulted in 12 volunteers coming forward and although a couple or so have dropped out for various reasons more have come forward.
But the scheme would like even more people to join so that it can also operate on Saturday nights.
“We would like to do it every Saturday. We have got more volunteers and have been able to do alternate Saturdays,” said Helen who adds that new training sessions will begin this month.
She is looking for people of all ages but they must be over 18. There is no upper age limit – the oldest volunteer at present is 75 – but they must be able to do the organised route they will walk.
Based at the council youth premises, they start their walks around 10pm – having first met for a briefing around 9.30pm - and go on until 2am with a short break around midnight.
“We walk around the town in teams of three and have a route worked out with the police which is covered by CCTV,” says Helen.
They are trained over a number of weeks in basic first aid and listening skills as well as in drugs and alcohol awareness and, as is the case with other organisations, must undergo the usual security checks.
“We can also help people to get home, find their friends or call a taxi. We aim to look after people and keep an eye on those, for example, who may be wandering down a dark alleyway on their own,” she says.
As well as Friday nights and some Saturdays the teams were out over Christmas and New Year’s Eve in particular.
“Our aim is to help people and also to help them drink safely,” says Helen who explains their role is different from that of other organisations, such as the Salvation Army, who may provide food and shelter for the homeless.
Working in partnership with local organisations such as the local police, the ambulance service, the borough council the CCTV team, local security services, North Yorkshire Coast and Moors, the teams each have a radio linked up with the pub watch scheme, door staff at pubs and the CCTV operation.
“We will respond quickly if someone needs to help – with first aid – but also by calling the appropriate services if needed,” says Helen.
However, they hope to prevent calling on those services in the first place by providing practical help like picking up discarded bottles and glasses, helping people to get a taxi home, contacting friends or family, being a listening ear, chatting with people and providing flip flops to those without shoes.
“We also aim to be able to spend more time with people in a way that perhaps others, such as the police, cannot do because of the time involved,” explains Helen.
She stresses: “We do not deal with any conflicts or such difficulties but would use our radios to talk to the CCTV operators and the police and door staff but we may stay in the background to help people afterwards and make sure they get home safely.”
Christians on the team will also pray with those people who request it.
The main point, though, is to provide a friendly face in the town centre, helping to make everyone’s evening as fun and as safe as possible.
“People are very supportive of us and are very friendly. They appreciate what we do,” says Helen.
lThe website involved is: www.street-angels.org.uk.