Monday, 15 August 2022

'Angels' could help people who overdo it on night out

STREET “angels” are set to be used in Henley to protect people on nights out who are vulnerable or at risk due to excessive drinking.

The town council has budgeted £4,000 for the start-up costs of the scheme, which is backed by Thames Valley Police.

It would operate on the busiest nights of the year, such as the Fridays and Saturdays during Henley Royal Regatta and the Henley Festival.

For the past two years Street Angels groups from Reading and Newbury have worked in the town on the busiest nights during the regatta.

Teams of volunteers would go out in the town centre from 9pm to 3am and help members of the public who are distressed or vulnerable, such as lone girls or women who have lost their friends.

They would give first aid and provide flip-flops for those who have lost their shoes.

They would also tackle minor incidents, enabling police officers to deal with more serious ones. Insp Mark Harling, head of Henley police, wrote to the town council asking it to support the scheme.

He said: “For me this is not just about crime and disorder, this is about caring for people. There is an element of society that, for whatever reason, does not have the self-control to limit the amount of alcohol, or other substances, that they consume and it is from this that they can come to harm.

“The night-time economy in Henley is very safe — our incidents are much lower than they were five or six years ago and when you consider the number of people coming into the town on a Friday and Saturday night, that is quite impressive. Henley is a safe place to socialise and celebrate in.

“However, we cannot afford to be complacent and the Street Angels/pastors are an amazing asset for any town and if we could get them in Henley it would be brilliant.”

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s finance strategy and management committee, Councillor David Eggleton said: “The police do a fantastic job in the town and we should support them all the way.”

Businesses involved with the town’s night-time economy and festivals will be asked to help fund the scheme in future.

A committee will help establish the Street Angels group with a co-ordinator who will recruit, train and deploy the volunteers.

Councillor Ian Reissmann suggested funding the scheme by stopping paying towards the cost of a police community support officer.

The council currently pays £16,000 a year, which covers half the cost of a Pcso with the rest coming from South Oxfordshire District Council.

Cllr Reissmann said: “I understand the district council is strongly minded not to renew its provision of Pcsos. They were going to ask the police to take over and consider that funding to be even less likely to happen.”

Councillor Dylan Thomas agreed, saying: “I think the people of Henley do not expect their town council to finance their Pcsos.

“ I think they expect the town council to provide clean streets, look after the children’s centre and support the town.”

Mayor Julian Brookes added: “It is a Thames Valley Police responsibility, not a parish council responsibility.”

But Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “If we don’t have Pcsos it means other police officers would have to pick up their duties when they should be focused on other things.”

Councillor Martin Akehurst said Pcsos were especially valuable during the regatta.

The committee agreed to remove the funding unless a new source can be found for the other half.

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