DRUNKEN chatter takes hold of the High Street as alcohol gets to work on its night shift.
A group of women have decided to head home at midnight and wait for transport at a taxi stand.
As a metered vehicle steers into the layby its tyres creep over the top of an unseen empty glass bottle.
Under the pressure the vessel explodes sending small shards flying into the air, cutting the head of one of the waiting women.
A message crackles over the radio and within minutes a team of red jacketed volunteers, the Street Angels, arrive to patch her up, ensure she is ok and get her safely into a taxi.
They do this several times a night, every Saturday night in Bedford to help people out and in the process free up police and ambulance crews from low level work.
“Our first aim is to keep people safe,” says Stephen Elphick, chairman of Street Angels.
“We are Christian but we don’t go out there to preach.”
He adds: “It allows the church to get beyond church boundaries.”
Street Angels was set up around four and a half years ago after the death of 17-year -old Robert Gill, who was beaten up and thrown in the River Great Ouse following a night out.
In two mixed gender teams the volunteers patrol the town centre streets from 10.30pm to 12am and 12.30am until around 4am.
They provide flip flops for girls who have given up on their heels, water for the worse for wear, silver blankets during the winter, minor first aid, lollipops to help maintain a good mood and they collect discarded bottles left out on the streets.
But their core purpose is to make sure vulnerable people finish their evenings safely.
“We have 27 volunteers at the moment aged from 19 to 74 years old and they all come from different churches around Bedford”, says Stephen.
“At one level we are independent but at the same time we work with BedSafe. We’ve got a good working relationship with the police and the kids appreciate what we do.”
Joining one of the teams on a Saturday night it is instantly noticeable how much respect and recognition they get from the crowds.
“It’s staggering the effect the jackets have and it gives us a platform to start conversation as we are a kind of informal counselling service as well,” says 24-year-old Ben Scott, one of the volunteers.
“Though sometimes we have been mistaken for Arsenal players because the badge is quite similar.”
During the night the team keep an eye on arguments that could escalate, they check on a man who is a little worse for wear and has chosen a doorway as a bed for the night and hand out water to a tipsy 18-year-old who wisely advises ‘it’s all good fun until someone loses a b*llock’.
“Some people don’t ask for help because they are too embarrassed or feel they don’t need it. There’s a host of reasons why someone vulnerable may not ask for help”, says Ben.
Perhaps the summer heat has taken its toll because the town centre seems unusually subdued, but this could also be an example of the impact of the work done by the Street Angels and the authorities.
“I think Bedford is very well run on Saturday nights. It has significantly improved and there’s probably less violence too,” says Stephen.
As closing time beckons hopefully the only other head injuries sustained from the night will be the pounding hungover headaches the next morning.
If you are interested in volunteering with Street Angels contact Stephen Elphick on email@example.com
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