Just over 14 years ago we had this thought that the 'Wild West of West Yorkshire', Halifax town centre on a weekend evening, needed people who care to offer love and support to those who became vulnerable. As Christians we believed our town centre deserved better than this Wild West image! We approached Churches Together and the YMCA with the idea of opening a cafe they ran between 9pm and 3am on Friday and Saturday nights. They said yes! We then approached the police who said an even bigger YES and asked if we could start something 2 weeks later - Friday 25th November 2005 (the start of the busier Christmas season and the day the licensing laws changed).
We said ok - not much else happens for people involved in church communities at this time of year! Our initial aim was to run a safe place drop-in cafe. A team of 6 committed to this and we turned up not having a clue what we were doing or what to expect! Amazingly 50 people turned up that night to volunteer - people from church communities across Halifax who believed our town deserved better than the binge drink, sexual assaults and violence that seemed to be so prevalent on weekend nights.
With too many people to just sit in our small cafe we decided (with permission from the police) to offer patrols alongside the safe place drop-in and Street Angels was born!
It worked! Helping over 60 people in our first 6 weeks and with Police, Home Office, media, business, church and community support we carried on once our 6 week trial was over.
This simple idea to help our town centre contributed to a 42% reduction in violent crime within 12 months! Other town and city centres were watching and started to visit to see Street Angels in action. By the end of 2007 we had supported 26 communities to set up similar projects with much of this growth coming via Police and Local Government encouragement to the local church to replicate what they are doing in Halifax!
In July 2008 we started the Christian Nightlife Initiatives Network - we sensed that what we were about was bigger than a name (Street Angels) and we wanted to offer support and resources as well as celebrate all that God was doing through His church, community partners and volunteers in the night-time economy. By the end of 2008 we had grown to 36 projects within the CNI Network family and 29 interested towns across the UK and overseas. We also connected in 2010 with the amazing NightLight in Northern Ireland and Street Chaplains in Scotland who were running long before us!
Our journey is an amazing story of faithfulness to a vision and the willingness to grow and develop as the vision increases.
We are now at around 130 local projects - working on the streets, in clubs, at festivals, around train stations, at sporting events, with communities and with young people.
Collectively the CNI Network family have: received awards; met with Royalty and Prime Ministers; expanded the concept; become one of the 21st century missionary movements as we export overseas; featured on TV, radio, magazines and newspapers; held several conferences and receptions; seen crime and anti-social behaviour reduced; and, most importantly, equipped thousands of volunteers to impact local communities and people through the simplicity of loving the person in front of them!
As we celebrate 14 years, and enter our 15th year, CNI Network honours and thanks all those who are within our family - all those who volunteer, pray, support, organise, fundraise and keep quiet on Saturday and Sunday mornings to allow those who have volunteered to sleep!
CNI Network is the church and community working together to help make our streets like new again. We have helped and assisted tens of thousands of people, picked up tens of thousands of bottles, handed out countless pairs of flip-flops and stopped numerous fights with the offer of a lollipop! Thank you to all who are part of the 14 year adventure!
Paul Blakey MBE - founder / CEO Street Angels, CNI Network
Below a cartoon based on Northallerton Street Angels drawn by Chris Bambrough....