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In October 2005 Churches Together in Halifax asked a very dangerous question, "what are the needs in our town centre and what can we, as the church, do to meet those needs?"
One member of Churches Together, Paul Blakey, had seen the needs in the town centre on Friday and Saturday nights. Known as the "Wild West of West Yorkshire" Halifax had a reputation for binge drinking, violence and sexual assaults as between six and twelve thousand people each Friday and Saturday had a night out.
Paul was sure something could be done with a cafe base, linked to the YMCA, to help those who had or could become vulnerable within the night-time culture. Sharing the idea with the town centre Police Sargent the idea became reality two weeks later!
Fifty volunteers turned up on the first night and so Street Angels was born to provide a safe place drop-in and safe people who patrol the streets. The idea worked - in our first six weeks we helped 69 people - ranging from those leaving the theatre to those who had had way too much to drink to those who simply needed someone to talk to about problems and issues.
Over the first year Street Angels contributed to a reduction in violent crime by 42% and we helped hundreds of people and invested around 8000 volunteer hours into our town. Paul explains, "when we pray and act on 'God's Kingdom come, your will be done, in Halifax as in heaven' the reality of that, for the night-time, has to be reduced crime and a change in the atmosphere of the town centre. Street Angels is about taking God's Kingdom of hope, love, purpose in life, joy, peace, recovery from addictions, etc to our streets and demonstrating it as a reality.
Because of the success in Halifax other towns heard of the concept of Street Angels and visited to look at running in their village, town or city. Often it was the Police encouraging the church to get involved. Watford Street Angels launched in July 2006 with other towns in Yorkshire starting soon after.
In July 2008 we launched the Christian Nightlife Initiatives (CNI) Network at our first conference. CNI Network is an umbrella organisation supporting and resourcing any work happening within the night-time economy (5pm - 6am). As this network has grown we have supported over 100 communities to start patrol projects such as Street Angels, Town Pastors, Street Lights as well as projects such as Club Angels, nightclub and lap-dancing bar chaplaincy, detached youth work and beach patrol. CNI has also partnered with NightLight in Northern Ireland who have run for over 17 years and Street Chaplains in Dundee who have run for 14 years.
Street Angels - CNI Network has gone from strength to strength, as God has taken this idea and invited Christians to join him in the night-time of our town and cities. The founder, Paul Blakey, received a MBE for his contribution to community safety in 2010 with the Queen commenting that, "Street Angels sounds fascinating and much needed".
In 2012, we became winners of the Prime Minister's Big Society Award. Prime Minister David Cameron said, "Street Angels shows what can be achieved when communities come together and work hand in hand with their local services to make their towns, estates and streets safer places."
The church needs to be at the heart of transformation within the community. CNI Network is supporting that to happen within the night-time culture. Working across five strands - Local Projects, Network, National Influence, Love Your Streets and MakingTheDifference.tv - our aim is to see the church mobilised to be on the streets, working with other agencies, making a positive difference across the UK. Our towns and cities should not be 'no-go' zones and projects such as Street Angels can and do ensure that towns are changed from binge to better!
This year has taken us to London to be part of the Olympic More Than Gold outreach with many of our volunteers becoming Games Pastors, and a Praise Trailer taking music, drama, dance and love to several London communities.
For more information visit www.cninetwork.org.uk or contact Paul Blakey MBE on 07725 501465 / firstname.lastname@example.org