Crime drops thanks to Angels

04 December 2008

by Pat Ashworth

A CHRISTIAN-based nightlife pro­ject in Halifax has contributed to a 42-per-cent reduction in crime in the town centre.

Street Angels is praised as having made a “massive and positive dif­ference” since its inception three years ago, and has been widely copied both at home and abroad.

The former mill-town had a reputation for binge-drinking that drew in coachloads of drinkers from other towns and cities on a Friday and Saturday night. Violence and sexual assaults had got out of control, and the streets had become a no-go area. The situation promp­ted Churches Together in Halifax to ask what the town needed, and how the churches could meet those needs.

The result was a team of high-profile Christian and non-Christian volunteers who work on the streets from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, from their base of a Fairtrade café that also operates during the day. It was formed with the support and backing of the police, the council, and the town-centre management, and has put the church at the centre of crime-reduction in the town.

Among the team’s activities is assisting elderly and vulnerable people around the theatre, who feel in­timi­dated by the large numbers of young people on the streets. Street Angels accompany theatregoers to bus stops and taxis. They then work with people drinking on the street. As the night goes on, they help to cope with those who have drunk too much, have had their drinks spiked, or have been in fights.

“They’re often covered in blood or throwing up. They want some­where to sit that’s safe, so we have a café open as well, somewhere warm and out of the way until they’re sober enough for a taxi to agree to take them home,” said Paul Blakey, project manager and one of the founders of Street Angels. There’s also the “simple stuff” like giving directions to lost visitors, he says.

Volunteers, a total of 50 in all, undergo conflict training from the police, and are also trained in drug and alcohol awareness. Three qualified first-aiders will be joined by a further 12 who are training in the New Year.

Street Angels has won a Home Office-sponsored Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Tilley Award, jointly with Halifax Town Centre Ambassadors, which works during the day. It was runner-up in the Faithworks Community Excellence Award, and has hosted a national conference of 30 Christian-based nightlife initiatives.

Young drinkers on the streets found Street Angels a non-judgemental presence, said Mr Blakey, although the team did sometimes challenge the amount they drank and try to encourage them to be responsible.

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