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Meet the 'Street Angels' who watch over boozy Brits as thousands celebrate start of Christmas hols on 'Mad Friday'
As government cuts leave emergency services overstretched, it falls to eight volunteers to patrol the streets and look after vulnerable revellers – the Leeds Street Angels
It is after midnight on a chilly December night and thousands of drunken revellers are marking the start of the Christmas holiday period.
This is the second of the Mad Fridays or Black Eye Fridays – the last weekends before Christmas – and the busiest nights of the year in Leeds city centre.
People are slumped over, unable to make their own way home, some vomiting.
And as government cuts leave emergency services overstretched, it falls to eight volunteers to patrol the streets and look after the most vulnerable people falling out of the clubs and bars – the Leeds Street Angels.
Volunteer Jon Grayson, 41, a local man, said: “Being out with the Street Angels on Mad Friday is the busiest night of the year. My first outing three years ago was on a Mad Friday.
"I was given the nickname Ambulance Angel because for the first nine months I helped someone into an ambulance every night.”
Tonight is no different. A woman has broken her ankle and her bone is protruding through the skin as she lies opposite the Corn Exchange.
The Street Angels hand bandages and a foil blanket to her friends, who claim to be trainee nurses.
An ambulance arrives and the woman is treated.
“She was in pain but very inebriated so that acted as a bit of an anaesthetic.”
The week before – the first of 2017’s two Mad Fridays – the team helped a man who’d cut his head open in a fall.
Volunteer Lee Jackson, 47, said: “He hit his head on the kerb and there was blood pouring out of a gash near his right eye.”
The teams are alerted to cases via their radios, linked to West Yorkshire Police, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, club bouncers and city centre CCTV hub Leeds Watch.
Lee, who works as a motivational speaker, said: “The bouncers have to stay on the door. The ambulance could be 20 minutes.
"We’re the stopgap in the middle where we can save someone’s life.”
There are over 130 Street Angels projects in the UK. The group, part of the Christian Nightlife Initiative, also runs schemes in Spain and the Seychelles, and is soon to launch in the US.
Founded by Paul Blakey and wife Jean, 38, in Halifax in 2005, Street Angels is credited with reducing violent crime and helping thousands of clubbers get home safely.
Paul, 43, said: “We deal more with vulnerability and incidents that police wouldn’t want to spend time involved in. “In any town or city centre when it’s busy we’re part of a family helping the emergency services cope with the cuts.”
Going out every Friday and every two Saturdays since they started in 2012, the Leeds Street Angels have helped pull a drunk out of a freezing canal, foiled robberies and stopped women being taken off by men claiming to be their partners.
“They save lives,” says bouncer Francisco Gomez, 26, at Brooklyn Bar.
Volunteers get basic medical training, know how to treat acid attacks and have been taught what to do in a terror strike by the North East Counter Terrorism Unit.
One Street Angels team helps a young woman collapsed outside a McDonald’s.
It takes three of them to hold her up as she slips in and out of consciousness between throwing up.
She does not want to be helped and swears at them.
But after 25 minutes of encouraging her to drink water, calling her boyfriend and stopping her running into oncoming traffic, they get her into her partner’s car.
Lee said: “One of the most frustrating things is when people are drunk they don’t think they need help.”
By 3am the streets are quiet and they decide to call it a night.
Lee added: “We don’t do the job for people saying thank you.
"We do it because we know it makes a difference.”