THE day known as 'Mad Friday' was one of the busiest evenings of the festive season.
For most schools and workplaces, December 19 - the Friday before Christmas - marked the start of the seasonal holiday, but for Bradford's Street Angels it was the first time in the organisation's six-year history that it couldn't provide enough volunteers to cope with the expected demands, as bars and pubs filled up.
Every Friday and Saturday the Street Angels patrol the city's pavements, giving support to those who need it. Since its launch, volunteers have walked more than 250,000 miles and have dedicated more than 9,000 hours to keep people safe on the city's streets.
But finding sufficient volunteers to man the rotas remains a constant struggle resulting in the desperate situation during the festivities. "We literally begged and borrowed and got friends out with us. We had one very small patrol out but could have done with two or three patrols out. Last year on that Friday we had 30 people out and this year we had three," says Paul Sunderland, chairman of the Bradford Street Angels.
Many of their student volunteers return home for the holidays so Christmas and the long summer break can leave the rota significantly depleted. Paul says they also have fewer students signing up to volunteer which may be down to the pressures of studying.
"We have always been very lucky with having lots and lots of students volunteering, but for some reason where we would normally get 90 plus per year signing up to volunteer with us, this year we got literally a handful of new volunteers."
Paul says while they have a dedicated core of local people who volunteer, they need to boost their ranks to relieve the demand on those who volunteer regularly. This would also help when student volunteers return home for the holidays or leave the city after completing their studies.
"We've got a dedicated group of local people who can keep us going, but again there is only so much a relatively small group of people can do so we are really looking to increase the number of people volunteering with us," explains Paul.
He joined the organisation two years ago. Working in the banking industry, Paul explains his employers encourage staff to do voluntary work. Having friends who were involved in Bradford Street Angels, he decided to find out more, although he admits venturing out on a cold dark night didn't instantly appeal!
"But I thought I would try it and I was hooked," he says.
The role can be beneficial for those seeking to include volunteering on their CVs. "In life we all have to deal with people. In 99 per cent of careers as well we have to deal with people, whether colleagues or the public, and there is no more difficult person than a drunk. To be able to convince somebody who has had way too much to drink that it is time to go home the best people we get are not the strongest - they would not break up a fight because that is not what we do - the best people are the people who can talk. If you are a people person and you like people that is all we need," explains Paul.
Volunteers range from 18 to 70+. Retired journalist, Brian Horsfall, and his wife Thelma became involved in the organisation through their church. Brian is a lay reader at Clayton Parish Church. "I see it as part of my Christian service to the community," says Brian, Street Angels' duty manager and management committee member.
"We have two children who are in their mid to late 30s and we said we wished it had been around when they were teenagers going out into the city centre because it feels a safer place than when they were out then.
"To have them (Street Angels) there on the streets looking after you if the worst comes to the worst I think it is so worthwhile and I see it as part of my duty as a church member."
For those who have benefited - the underage drinker returned to the safety of her family and the elderly man found in Bradford Interchange after leaving his care home, the Street Angels are literally a Godsend.
Easily identifiable in their reflective bands, Street Angels don't intervene in disputes but they, along with the Samaritans who they have previously teamed up with, and the local police, can provide a supporting role.
But, according to Paul recruiting more volunteers is imperative. "With the number of volunteers we have got yes we can keep plodding along but we do need to change the people we have out because they will burn out," he says.
"It is very easy in this life to take but, actually, it is much more rewarding to give something back. Even if it is one night a month or one night every two months, we are not going to insist you do it every week or every month, just when you can but it is rewarding."
* Anyone interested in volunteering with Bradford Street Angels, or wants to find out more about the organisation, is asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org
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