A new book has been launched to celebrate the Street Angels scheme, which aims to curb night-time antisocial behaviour and binge drinking.
The book, entitled “Street Angels: The Amazing Story from Binge to Better,” has been written by Larne native Jean Blakey and her husband Paul.
The Christian Nightlife Initiative’s Street Angels scheme began in Northern Ireland twenty years ago, and involves groups of volunteers maintaining a late-night presence in town centres, offering a hot drink and a listening ear.
In Larne, the initiative operates under the “Night Light” scheme run by First Larne Presbyterian Church, whose volunteers man a stand outside Dan Campbell’s pub on Dunluce Street, offering tea and coffee.
Englishman Paul told The Times: “Myself and Jean set up Street Angels in Halifax ten years ago. Halifax was known as the Wild West of West Yorkshire. “There were 8-12,000 people coming into a small town centre which had more pubs and clubs per square mile than any other town in the UK.
“Combined with cheap alcohol there was violence, sexual assaults, under-age and binge-drinking.
“It became a no-go area and as Christians we thought there was something we could do.”
The Halifax group’s 50 volunteers helped 69 people in their first week. Jean explained: “Having people who care in the centre of the town and who can respond quickly really changes the atmosphere.
“We’re not there to judge or lay down the law so we’re not seen as a threat or above them. We develop relationships with people and if they are going through a tough time we listen.”
The group’s actions have seen a number of people turn their lives around. Paul explained: “There are teenagers that have been going out clubbing and didn’t have any hope or care for themselves.
“When someone puts a bit of love or respect their way it encourages them to get their degrees, to take a better way.
“Halifax has now received a “Purple Flag Award” to recognise great entertainment and hospitality in the night-time economy.
“More family-orientated businesses are coming into the town, which is bringing in money. There’s a big difference. Alcohol-related violence and A&E admissions are reducing year on year as Street Angel groups increase.”
There are now 130 projects across the UK, with Street Angels working from a variety of venues including cafes and mobile units.
In some situations, the Street Angels have literally saved lives. Paul revealed: “In one incident a guy was leaving a night club and had an argument with a worker who pushed him, and the guy fell down the stairs.
“Our volunteers turned up in 30 seconds to do first aid and saved his life. If they hadn’t been there with a first aid response it would have been a murder scene. The chap was in a coma for six week’s and came out of it to see his new grand-daughter being born.”
The Street Angels movement has been so successful that it has now expanded to include Club Angels in night clubs and Festival Angels at music events. The proceeds from the new Street Angels book will be ploughed back into the work of groups around the country.
The book, which costs £7.99, is available to purchase from First Larne Presbyterian Church and Glenarm Tourist Information shop.
It can also be purchased online at www.sa-cni.org.uk/book