Reporter ALEX CAREY joins the volunteers helping to make town-centre streets safer
AS I found myself yards away from a vicious drunken brawl in Oldham town centre this weekend I was taken aback — not by the unconscious young man lying in the road bleeding from his head but by the inspiring work of a group of angels.
The Oldham Street Angels to be precise.
Only hours earlier I had received a tweet from Oldham Parish Church priest Jean Hurlston inviting me to join her and the Street Angels on their weekly weekend patrol of the town centre.
The Street Angels volunteer their time from 11pm to 3am every Saturday night to help those enjoying a night out in the town.
I must admit I was slightly reluctant at first, but I headed down to the Street Angels office — a shop unit at the bottom of Yorkshire Street —at midnight.
The group has been given the property rent-free by a kind-hearted landlord, who simply told them, “How could I charge you when you do the work that you do?”
This week was slightly different to others because, like me, Oldham councillors Amanda Chadderton and Susan Dearden tagged along with the Angels to see for themselves how they help people.
Jean started by telling us how she set up Oldham Street Angels in November, 2012, when she moved to the parish from Bolton — where she was part of the Bolton Street Angels.
At first it was just members of Oldham Parish Church that accompanied Jean in offering any support they could to people out and about in the town centre late on Saturday nights.
This has now grown to 19 volunteers, all from different walks of life, giving up their free time to help others.
All volunteers receive training before taking to the streets — covering first aid, communication, substance misuse and conflict resolution among other subjects.
Jean said: “We really want to raise the profile of Oldham, we want people to come here and enjoy their night out. We’re here to help people do that really.
“If we can help in anyway we will. We prevent people from being victims of crime as well as preventing them committing crime.
“If people have had a bit too much to drink or have injured themselves we can help them and in some cases we escort people home to make sure they are safe.
“We also give out flip flops to ladies that are struggling to walk in the shoes they are wearing. Some women can end up spraining or even breaking their ankles in certain footwear.”
The team has also recently secured funding from Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to enable it to have two professional medics as part of the group every Saturday — this particular week they were joined by Dawn Sewards, head of governance and clinical leadership at Go to Doc Denton, and Judith Ringland, an advance nurse practitioner.
After I was debriefed I headed out with one of the team leaders, Susan Fozard, and instantly we were called to the doorway of an unused bar in Yorkshire Street where a young man called Mike had passed out and hit his head against steel shutters.
After a few minutes of talking to Mike he finally responded but was not making much sense.
Although he was not really injured, he had clearly had a lot to drink and said he did not know where he was, that he had no money and had lost his bank card.
Mike was escorted back to the Angels’ office where he was given a medical check and helped to sober up with water before he found his money and was on his way.
Councillor Chadderton said: “I think what they do is incredible. The things they do every week are outstanding and I think in particular it is really impressive how well all of the partners work together to help people — everyone is just in sync with each other.”
What the whole experience highlighted is just how important and remarkable the Street Angels are — they are a crucial part of the town centre’s set-up and offer a unique, selfless service.
l Contact Jean Hurlston on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Oldham Street Angels or if you would like to help.