It is quarter to ten as I hurry towards Trevelyan Square. The city is buzzing with people waiting to celebrate the start of Halloween weekend. In the middle of the square, three figures in neon-yellow jackets are huddled over a radio transmitter – the Leeds Street Angels. Since its founding in 2012, the organisation’s volunteers have made it their mission to offer help to people on nights out. Tonight, their first patrol after the summer, promises to be a busy one.
As we make our way through the crowded streets, the Angels tell me a little about their organisation. Starting out as a Christian project, it currently involves twenty volunteers of any religious background, connected by their hope of making the streets a little safer and helping as many people as possible. Their patrols require both mental and physical strength, yet most of them have been doing it for years. In addition to providing more serious assistance, the Angels are also armed with things like flip flops and water, to offer to anyone who might need them. They are always happy to chat, point out directions or recommend the nearest (and best!) take-outs, so don’t be shy to approach them on your night out!
Two more volunteers join us and the Angels decide to split up in groups of two to widen the covered area. It is just past midnight when we notice a group of friends gathered around a bench. As the Angels approach them, a girl steps forward to say that their friend has most likely been spiked. We soon discover that the girl’s pupils have dilated and do not react to light. A look of serious concern passes between the Angels. One of them informs me that this can be an indicator of having been drugged and it is now clear that she has to be taken to the hospital. Thankfully, her friend has been able to secure a ride from the station. Having reached the station, one of the Angels takes the girl’s wrist and says, “I don’t think she’s got a pulse”. We hurry her to the car and the friends take off towards the hospital. The next morning, the Angels learn she is well and recovering.
As we meet up with the other patrol group, there is a call for help through the Angels’ radio transmitter. It comes from the staff at Revolution next to Millennium Square. A woman has been spotted on the steps of the City Museum, alone and vulnerable. A pair of Angels set out to find her. We hurry along the crowded streets of Leeds (handing out two pairs of emergency flip flops on the way) and soon find ourselves at the steps. The staff at Revolution have been watching over her. We are given a quick overview of the situation; she is breathing and responsive. That’s a good sign. By the time the Angels take over, a friend is sitting next to her on the steps. Both are clearly in a state of shock. Sometimes, a hand on the back and reassuring words of comfort are just as important as anything else. However, it is getting increasingly colder and she is barely able to walk, so the Angels decide that the best course of action is to take her to the hospital. Luck seems to be on our side as the Leeds General Infirmary is not far away. Hoisted between the two of them, we start the journey, step by step. As we finally make it to A&E, the relief is evident on the Angels’ faces – another girl will be okay tonight.
Walking back from the hospital, the Angels stop by Revolution to thank the staff for their quick reaction and help. In the wake of the recent rise in spikings and the boycott only a few days earlier, both venues and staff have fallen under a lot of scrutiny. A bouncer at the Slug and Lettuce tells me he thinks the criticism is important for encouraging change, but hopes people also understand that sometimes there is only so much door staff can do whilst having to remain on their post. He recounts a recent night on duty when he was taking care of two suspectedly spiked customers. He called an ambulance, but it only got there three hours later. Until then, he had to continue to check and monitor the line to the venue, as well as try his best to take care of the two women. Eventually, medical help arrived, but if it hadn’t been for a compassionate bouncer, their night could have ended far worse. He believes the whole community needs to step up to make nights out safer, something that has already been started here in Leeds, but needs to be taken much further.
After a few more rounds along the busiest streets, we join the other patrol group who are taking care of another girl. Their main concern is the dropping temperature. The Angels have wrapped her in multiple layers of foil blankets, but as they keep waiting for the ambulance, her friends are growing increasingly cold. In the end, they are able to relocate to a hotel lobby, where the warmth and care slowly help her into a better condition. From there, the group is able to get a cab and take the girl home.
It is now half past three in the morning. In just over five hours, the Angels have helped multiple women in serious need, and provided a reassuring presence in the city centre. Although the recent reports regarding our night life have been alarming, it is important to recognise the amazing and altruistic efforts of these volunteers who, after a busy working week, still find the strength and compassion to come out and help people in need. They truly are Angels on our streets!
The Street Angels Project is always looking for new volunteers, so if you would like to be a part of their cause, they would love to hear from you.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 07582 925978 Facebook @StreetAngelsLeeds