Flip-flops, dust pans and lots of drink - patrolling Saturday nights with the Northallerton Street Angels
THERE'S a tearful girl stood in front of us on the pavement, waiting for a lift home from her friend after an argument with her boyfriend in a nightclub.
To my left is a man lying on his back in the middle of the road, holding up a taxi as he waves his arms and legs in the street like a bluebottle in its death throes.
The girl’s phone rings. “I’ve left because you’re behaving like a p***” she explains loudly and clearly to presumably her boyfriend.
Then a man taps me on my shoulder to my right, asking if I can give him some flip-flops because his sheep have been stepping on his feet all day at his farm and now they’re hurting him.
I'm stone, cold sober in Northallerton on a Saturday night – and feeling it acutely.
I’m with a group of volunteers, Northallerton Street Angels, an extraordinary group of people who turn out at 10pm on a Saturday night to patrol the streets until 4am on Sunday, handing out flip-flops to the footsore and safety and peace of mind to drinkers and their families back home.
We stand with the woman who is waiting on her own for her lift and chat with her until her friend arrives to ensure she gets home. Two others in our patrol group good-humouredly encourage the man on his back in the road to get up and leave him in the care of one of his friends who assures them he’ll take care of him.
The man who asked for flip-flops shakes the hands of the volunteers and thanks them for looking out for people in the town; the first of many people that night who stop the Street Angels to tell them they appreciate the work they’re doing.
The Northallerton Street Angels group was set up in July 2016 to provide reassurance and support for anyone in need of help.
It was launched with funding from North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, in partnership with New Life Baptist Church, Safer Hambleton Hub and Churches Together Northallerton.
The aim is to prevent situations escalating to the point where emergency services need to intervene. Since it has been operating, North Yorkshire Police say crime and antisocial behaviour has dropped a staggering 30 per cent in the town.
Steve Cowie of Northallerton New Life Baptist Church and the chair of Northallerton Street Angels, says the success of the project has exceeded everybody’s expectations.
I meet the team in Northallerton Town Hall at the beginning of their night. Everyone collects their patrol gear, which includes a first aid kit, torches, foil blankets, sick bags, tissues, flip-flops, bottles of water and bottle toppers to prevent drinks being spiked.
They're dressed in a high visibility black and orange uniform.
Team leader Ian Woods explains: “It’s warm now, but at 3am it could be freezing and they still have on their light gear and they’ll walk without shoes because their feet hurt. That’s why we give out flip-flops – so they can get home – and space blankets if they’re really cold.
“If you only help one person each week, that’s 52 people in a year we have helped.”
Before heading out, everyone gathers in a circle for a quick prayer, and we head out on to Northallerton High Street, which is already noisy with drinkers making their way between pubs.
A member of my group, who didn't wish to be named, explains how the piece of kit they use most is a dustpan and brush for sweeping up broken glass from the pavement. Vital, as before long people will be leaving bars and clubs bare foot, carrying their painful heeled shoes with them.
We only go a few yards before the first broken bottle is swept up off the pavement.
The group work in tandem with a CCTV operator, who directs the patrols to potential trouble. They stay within the radius of the cameras to ensure their safety.
The CCTV operator directs our group to a carpark, where there looks to be “some trouble with drugs” from a group of young men in cars.
Then the sound of breaking glass fills the street. A large bottle of spirits has been thrown into the road through the High Street. One of the Street Angels stops the traffic while the others quickly sweep up the large shards of broken glass.
Later on in the night, a report comes in over the radio from a CCTV operator of a man collapsed on Brompton Road.
When we get there, he is semi-conscious on the pavement bleeding from an injury on the back of his head.
The angels try and stem the bleeding with their first aid kit while they wait for ambulance crews to arrive.
Once he has been taken to hospital, we head back to the town hall for a warm drink.
I’m starting to feel cold and tired, but I haven’t yet heard one volunteer sound anything other than cheery.
One explains: “Some parents have come up to us and say their children are going out and that they’re glad they’re going to be looked after and watched over.”
The volunteers are of all ages and backgrounds, all of them giving up their weekend for free to patrol the streets and look after people they don’t know.
I had arrived that night, curious to find out what drove them to do this and now it's time to leave, I feel thankful they do.