TONIGHT – just like any other Friday or Saturday night – an army of volunteers will take to the streets to help keep people safe in Bradford city centre.
I decided to join them for one evening to see the valuable work they do.
It's 10pm and my late shift at the paper has finished, so I make my way to City Hall where the Street Angels are having a coffee break.
They start at 8pm and patrol until around 2am, covering several miles of the city centre in search of people who may need their help.
I am given a high-visibility jacket and for the evening I am one of them.
There are ten Angels, 11 if you count me; all volunteers of all ages, from retirees to single mums. There was also a new recruit, Casey Herbert, who was cutting his teeth on his first walkabout.
The charity, now approaching its tenth year, was started by city centre churches. It has a Christian ethos, though volunteers come from all walks of life and faiths. Some are not affiliated to any church and volunteer purely to help.
Angels can only patrol in groups of three or more, so tonight there were enough volunteers to form three groups.
My group leader is duty manager Steve Nuttall, a butcher by trade whose day job is at the Caring for Life charity farm shop, in Cookridge, Leeds.
He had already been working since 6am but was happy to pound the city’s streets on a Friday evening.
“I do three or four Fridays out of five and really enjoy it. I’ve been a volunteer for around 18 months and have completed 56 patrols so far. I really feel we do a great job and people feel safer knowing we are out and about,” said Steve.
“The response we get from people is terrific. People know who we are and come up to us to chat. We get to know them too.”
The other members of my group are group secretary Chris Swale and Steph McMahon.
Steph told me: “This is actually only my second patrol and I joined because my sister-in-law is involved.
“I really love it. It is tiring after a day’s work, but I feel we are doing something really worthwhile. We do look out for people and people know it. We are forever getting hugged.”
This is true. I am hugged several times over the next four hours and told by many revellers that we do a great job.
Within minutes of setting off on patrol there is a disturbance outside The Turls pub, in City Park, involving a police officer. He has radioed for help and police arrive from all directions.
“We don’t intervene in fights but if one breaks out we can radio for the police,” said Steve. “We are also linked to the CCTV headquarters and can ask them to close in on situations.
“We will watch from a distance and once we know the police have a situation under control we carry on our patrol.
“We keep in touch with each group so we know where we all are. The more groups the better because it means we can cover most of the city centre at the same time, though we can still easily cover six or seven miles in an evening.”
From City Park we head up Godwin Street towards North Parade. Steve spots a young woman at a cash machine.
“We’ll just watch her to make sure she’s safe,” he said. It does look as though the person at the next cash machine is with her, but if she is on her own we’ll keep an eye on her and even approach her to check she’s okay. A lone female at a cash point could be a target for someone.”
The woman is, indeed, with the man at the next cashpoint so we continue our route.
There are few homeless people about tonight. But those that are, are spoken to and asked if they have anywhere to go. They say they are fine. One, sitting outside the Odeon later in the evening, accepted a sleeping bag; one of several donated to the Street Angels to be handed out.
Our next port of call is Forster Square Railway Station. There are no homeless people under the arches so we walk into the station. It is just after 11pm.
“Sometimes there are lone people waiting for late trains who may feel vulnerable,” Steve explains.
Our next visit is the new Sunbridgewells complex, which we enter from Ivegate. Steve spots a glass bottle outside the entrance and picks it up to put it in a bin. I discover that is another of their tasks – to remove any bottles or glasses that have been left and could be used as weapons. They also pick up broken glass if they see it on pavements. The women we see walking around in bare feet, killer heels in hand, are no doubt grateful for this gesture.
We walk through the Sunbridgewells bars twice that night, observing that all is well. It is very busy. Our second visit brings us across the aftermath of a minor altercation where an inebriated reveller has suffered a head injury. The police appear and the reveller, more than a little awkward, is dealt with.
We head to the West End, where there are nightclubs and more bars, but all is quiet.
“One of the things we do is wait outside the Alhambra at the end of a show because there is always someone who has forgotten where their hotel is or where they have parked their car,” said Steve. “We also point people in the direction of the taxi rank. If it is a lone person we will walk with them to make sure they make their taxi safely.”
Minutes later, back near City Park, a lone young woman does actually ask us where the taxis are and we walk with her to the side of City Hall.
At 12.20am we head back to North Parade and at 1.15am we walk again around West End. Another homeless man is spotted and approached. He was just on his way to a shelter for the evening.
At around 1.45am Steve says he is satisfied there is a healthy police presence in town and we call it a night. We return to City Hall and he contacts the CCTV operators to log off.
There have been one or two incidents where the Angels alerted the police and one ambulance was called for a man suffering chest pains.
Scores of partygoers were chatted to, dozens of hugs were received and more than 60 bottles and glasses moved from harm’s way.
Recently the Street Angels were joined by a Barnado’s charity worker who taught them how to spot evidence of potential child sex abuse.
I feel Bradford city centre is a safer place with the Street Angels watching out for people – but they are always in need of more volunteers and I say I would love to go round with them again.
If you can spare an occasional Friday or Saturday, contact admin@bradford streetangels.org.uk
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