It's 15 years since Street Angels launched on the streets of Halifax in response to issues with the night-time economy.
Founded by Christians Paul and Jean Blakey, the couple decided to help the town shed its image as the 'Wild West of West Yorkshire' and opened a safe-place drop in at cafe owned by Churches Together and the YMCA.
Opening night was Friday 25th November 2005 and 50 volunteers turned up. With too many to help in the cafe, the volunteers took to the streets and Street Angels was born.
Paul told Premier how it all began:
"I thought: 'is there anything that we as a local church can do just to help those who are vulnerable, or those who may become vulnerable?' So, talking to the police and The Churches Together, who have this wonderful cafe facility in the heart of the town centre, it went from literally an idea to launch in just over two weeks.
"The police wanted a fresh new approach to the town centre on a Friday, Saturday night, when in Halifax between eight and 10,000 people can descend on the town. So we thought let's give something ago, a group of us committed to keeping that cafe open as a safe place. And amazingly, on the first evening, 50 people turned up to volunteer to work. It's been a fantastic roller coaster."
Paul and Jean Blakey's idea was almost an overnight success when it came to addressing problems in the town.
"I think it helped in the first 12 months in Halifax Town Centre. Violent crime, which normally goes up on a Friday and Saturday night was reduced by 42 per cent. And the police very publicly, locally as well as nationally, put that down to the fact that the church was out doing Street Angels on weekend evenings at a time when it was very much needed," Paul told Premier.
Fifteen years on, teams of Street Angels continue to offer help - armed with first aid kits, flip-flops and lollipops and are seen on streets right across the country.
Paul Blakey MBE went on to form Christian Nightlife Initiatives, an umbrella organisation for around 130 projects.
"We've expanded from just working within the night-time economy to doing things like festival angels. And we had last year a team of festival angels at 16 music festivals across the UK, as well as supporting initiatives abroad.
"We've had community angels, and they've responded amazingly during these last few months of lockdown, community angels are dealing with some of the most vulnerable, perhaps elderly people within communities.
"So, they've really stepped up to the mark and lots of our Street Angel teams have become community angels and offered telephone helplines and prayer and counselling and support and lots of different ways of responding to our current situation."
As for the future there are plans to continue expanding overseas. Street Angels already operate in Magaluf and have links in Tenerife and to the Seychelles Night Pastors.
"We've got a team in Wilmington, North Carolina, and so, very much that the fact that it works so amazingly well in the UK, and we can export that and expand into other countries was on our heart.
"We're so thankful to the amazing teams of volunteers that go out week in week out, when they can of course, and they've made a massive difference in local communities by helping reduce crime, helping reduce antisocial behaviour, and showcasing the church as a real agent of change."
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