Volunteers at the University of York’s NightSafe team patrol the city centre during busy nights, offering assistance and support to vulnerable and drunk people of all ages. DAN BEAN joined them for a shift, to find out more about the group.

THOUSANDS of pounds has been spent on training and equipment for members of the NightSafe team, which was launched by the student union to coincide with Fresher's Week in September.

Since then, volunteers have clocked up more than 600 hours on the busiest student nights in the city - Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays - trying to make sure those who have had too much to drink or those who are vulnerable remain safe in York.

The group take to the streets with over 700 bottles of water, 1,000 lollipops, 130 pairs of flip flops, 400 foil blankets and 400 sick bags given out to those who need them, keeping people hydrated, comfortable, and in some cases, just in a good mood.

Jemima Busby, 23, is the union's Welfare and Community Officer who oversees the group, which was partly set up to tackle the spate of young people who died in York's rivers this year.

She said: "I was really surprised by how many came forward and asked to get involved, I thought it was really encouraging. Within four days we had 150 and we started off aiming for 32, so we had to close the applications. We now have a full complement of 49.

"Out of the original 51, we have only had two drop out, which is phenomenal. I'm surprised at the retention because it's really hard what they have to do and they do it for fellow students and locals and public and they put up with a lot."

Jemima said that although the group was primarily set up to look after students, volunteers "weren't going to ignore anyone else", and have dealt with students from York St John University, visitors and locals who have found themselves vulnerable on nights out.

The group received about £2,000 from the university's alumni, £900 from Safer York Partnership and the Police and Crime Commissioner, and £400 from Streamline Taxis, who also provided a specially modified Homesafe Taxi, dedicated solely to helping vulnerable students get back from the city to their accommodation during Fresher's Week.

All members have received training from alcohol charity Lifeline, first aid training from the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, and advice from the university's Open Door team, which taught members how best to deal with vulnerable people.

At 10pm, the group is in the city, and a radio check is carried out - NightSafe shares radio coverage with all members of Pubnet and CCTV operators, the same as North Yorkshire Police.

Lizzie Ashley, 19, is a second year Social Sciences student considering a career with the police after university, and said no two shifts were the same.

She said: "We have seen fights and a guy running after a swan. Only in York. Last shift someone was hit by a car. He ripped his jeans and injured his back, but was quite drunk and it was quite a hard job to persuade him to stay still. Paramedics said the alcohol could have saved him from a more serious injury.

"There have been nights out when I could have done with someone to point me in the right direction and I want to be the person who can help someone in a similar position. We spoke to one guy who was trying to go in the Ouse for a swim. He was convinced he could do it. I don't think he would have but it's better to be safe than sorry."

By 11pm, the first call comes over the radio. A very drunk woman is sat in the street outside All Saints' Church in North Street, as her friend who has also been drinking tries to calm her.

The group sits with her, providing sick bags, water and comfort until she is well enough to be moved.

At 11.40pm a taxi is called and the situation is explained to operators, and at 11.50pm both are in a taxi on their way home.

Lizzie said: "What's surprised me most is that some people think door staff are hard, uncaring and aggressive, but they aren't. If someone leaves the club on their own you hear the doormen radio CCTV operators, giving them a description and saying they think he or she might be vulnerable, so they can look after them."

Throughout the night, which sees hundreds of students in the city, the group hands out bottles of water to people in nightclub queues, and at 12.35am a passing taxi driver asks the group to check on a couple who look vulnerable in Coney Street. They are spoken to and offered water, but politely decline and head home.

At 1am, a young man is ejected from Salvation, and is so drunk he can barely speak. He is vomiting and having difficulty sitting upright, but is looked after by NightSafe for as long as they can.

Eventually, the decision is made that the best place for him is hospital, and the team radios for a Rapid Response vehicle and ambulance at about 1.40am.

Neil Brolly, door manager at Salvation and Society, said the group had already shown their worth.

He said: "They have done a good job, and take the pressure off us dealing with certain things. They can deal with drunk people so we can do our jobs.

"On any student night we'll have about 2,000 of them through the door, so maybe call them three or four times a night but so will every other venue in York. It frees us up to do our job and helps people get home safe, which we can't technically or legally do."