Meeting the Street Angels of Windsor
PUBLISHED: 16:25 16 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:29 16 April 2018
Jan Raycroft and Maureen McLean meet the people who take to our streets to help others when most of us are tucked up in bed
It’s dark and chilly, but at least there’s no rain or sleet falling as the clock ticks past midnight. Not that such weather conditions would stop the small team who had set off earlier from the warmth of Windsor’s Baptist Church from heading out on a tour of the Royal town centre through the small hours of Friday and Saturday nights to perhaps 3.30am, which would definitely not be the choice of the daytime tourists.
Half a dozen at most, they are greeted at familiar stopping off points by those who know them – perhaps security staff outside a nightclub or homeless people grateful for a hot drink, soup or simply a quick chat. Others, in the main young people out for a night on the town and sometimes seeming to have left their coats at home, dance and skip past on their way to another venue.
If it wasn’t for their blue high-viz jackets the people we are accompanying for part of their walk around Windsor might well be mistaken for very late night shoppers. For the Windsor street Angels are carrying bags filled with everything from water to phone chargers, flip flops for any young ladies who’ve had to discard pinching high heels, lollipops, drinks and snacks, blankets, and even a defibrillator, donated by south Central Ambulance service… just in case.
They’ve been doing this for six years now and thousands of people have been helped. In a typical year they deal with 4,000 of us, distribute 1,000 pairs of flip flops, 600 bottles of water, make 47 referrals to other agencies and calm 73 situations.
Earlier, in the church before heading off, they had been briefed by street Angels co-ordinator Police Community support Officer David Bullock. “I won’t be going out with them, I’m off back to work at the station after this chat,” he explains. “The scheme will always work best if any connection to the police is at arms-length. We might advise about anything we’ve heard, but many of the situations they come across are best resolved without the presence of a police uniform. The Angels often diffuse things so that we are not needed.”
He’s right. For instance, girls crying because they’ve fallen out with boyfriends, or lost their pals and the phone to contact them, most require a friendly, adult face, not the increasingly stretched long arm of the law.
And while the town’s Street Angels scheme may have welcome connections to Windsor Christian Action, you don’t have to be ‘churchy’ to start training as a volunteer. Indeed, chatting to the team on our night, it’s clear you can have any, or no, religious leanings. One such trainee, Lisa from Old Windsor, was actually on her first shift observing the team’s work on the night we joined them: “I’m a mum of two children, 12 and 15 and safely at home right now. Life’s good and I’ve been looking ‘to give something back’. this could be it, really interesting and I might just do one Friday night a month.”
Young people and alcohol can be a bad mix, but it’s not just youngsters losing the plot or their friends on pay day nights. The Angels have assisted older people having panic attacks, medical emergencies or simply anxiety over lost directions. Even so, for those of us who go to bed watching the clock while our own family’s youngsters are ‘out on the town’ it’s reassuring to know that some other welcoming faces are also out there in case of emergencies. The Angels have first aid training – a handy skill for life in general – but it’s often a listening ear which provides the best ‘medicine’. But they are quite used to ‘patching up’ those who’ve fallen over or ended up physically the worse for wear.
Any such scheme has its running costs and this one very much relies on local charities, including support since its inception from the likes of the Michael Shanly Foundation, Radian Housing, the Edith Murphy Foundation, Prince Philip trust, Windsor and Maidenhead Christian Trust, Windsor Baptist Church, RBWM and Thames Valley Police.
Could you be a Street Angel?
People from all walks of life have joined, and more are welcome. It doesn’t suit everyone – as one Angel told us, his wife had attended as an observer and decided it wasn’t for her. But many discover it’s the ‘perfect fit’ as a volunteer and can’t wait for their next shift.
You have to be over 18 and prepared to patrol Windsor in a team from around 9.30pm to perhaps 4.30am on Friday nights and Saturday ‘pay days’. There’s no minimum commitment, some volunteers have lifestyles which see them on regular rotas while others fit in around their other commitments.