Binge drink culture, violence, sexual assaults and under-age drinking made up the story of many of the UK's town and city centres on weekend evenings. Halifax in Yorkshire was no different and over the years had gained the reputation as the Wild West of West Yorkshire. Late evening strolls around the town for Paul and Jean Blakey revealed the reality - police struggling to cope with fights, people lying in the gutter covered in sick, trails of blood - our town had a no-go reputation and we believed, as Christians, it deserved better than this!
Working with Churches Together and the YMCA we got the ok to open a cafe as a safe place drop-in on Friday and Saturday nights between 9pm - 3am. A week later Paul approached the town centre police sergeant who got very excited at the idea. He told us that nationally it was recognised by the police that when the church gets involved amazing results happen - he didn't know how or why but the police were desperate for that to happen in Halifax!
Two weeks later we launched and with fifty people turning up our small cafe was too small to cope with that number and those wanting to come in to receive help! So we went to the streets and Street Angels was born! Safe people who would patrol the town centre and run a safe place cafe drop-in.
It worked! In our first 12 months violent crime in Halifax reduced by 42%. Very quickly we became an inspiration for other towns - often through the Police network - and so we began to replicate the Street Angels model across the UK.
In 2008 we launched the CNI (Christian Nightlife Initiatives) Network as we realised that God was up to something! He was calling his church to the streets within the night-time economy. CNI Network would act as an umbrella to resource, support and celebrate Christian led night-time projects.
Since then we have helped over 130 communities to start work within this night-time community. Club Angels working inside club venues with a vision to 'chat, help, listen and care'. Festival Angels working at several major UK music festivals and sporting events, including Leeds Festival where the team run a Prayer Cafe, the Lost Property tent and detached work. Lap dancing bar chaplaincy, Community Angels, Youth Angels and work around train stations are some of the other projects that CNI Network supports.
The heart of all we do is summed up in Isaiah 58:12
Your people will rebuild the cities that were destroyed long ago.
And you will build again on the old foundations.
You will be called the one who repairs broken walls.
You will be called the one who makes city streets like new again.
As our teams go out on weekend nights, or to festival events, the practical help that we offer - flip-flops to young ladies who have taken off high heels, bottles of water, first aid help and lollipops which help prevent violence (seriously!!!) - really does show that the ordinary and everyday achieves the profound and world-changing! Reduction in violent crime and anti-social behaviour, the night-time economy of the community moving from binge to better and the church at the heart of partnership working with the Police, Local Authority, pub and club management, BID (Business Improvement District), Purple Flag, etc.
When the church gets involved amazing results happen! The church is represented within every community. We have thousands of potential volunteers who are passionate about people and making a positive difference for others. We have a heart and the projects that seek to see change in every area of life that dehumanises people. We have good news that says people are of worth and valued.
Through the often very simple acts that our teams of Angels carry out we see that the ethos 'love the person in front of you' can and does have city (and world) changing implications. Creating safer places, I think, really is that simple - love the person in front of you! Go for it!!!
Paul Blakey MBE is founder of www.cninetwork.org to find out more about our work click on the link. Paul will be speaking at the Safer Places Track