Neil Logan : reducing vulnerability in the Night-Time Economy

Edinburgh has wonderful groups of people working with vulnerable people. Although, most of them work daytimes and evenings only. At the end of their working shifts, these wonderful people sign-off, wind-down and go home for a good night’s sleep.

However, vulnerable people continue to need wonderful groups of people after sunset too. You could argue there is a greater need for these wonderful groups of people, between 22:00 and 04:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.

“Vulnerability in the Night-Time Economy comes in many different shapes and forms” says Neil Logan from Street Assist. “Everything from girls (and sometimes men too) whose heels have worn away and they need a plaster, right through to saving someone’s life and all of the in between – from people being assaulted to dealing with the effects of alcohol and drugs. Then there are the people who have been sexually assaulted. Victims of domestic abuse and hate crimes come to speak to [Street Assist] because we offer a friendly ear. There are a lot of mental health issues and these are exasperated when people have been drinking, especially in the homeless sector.”

“We’ve had people say to [Street Assist], they were on their way to North Bridge, to jump off and do the unthinkable. But after spending a little time with our Volunteers, Street Assist gave them information on where to find the professional support they needed and thankfully, they chose not to jump off North Bridge after all”

Neil set up Street Assist in April 2016. Edinburgh clearly is a better place, thanks to Neil and his team of 130 volunteers. They know much more about Old Town’s streets than most residents do, between the hours of 22:00 and 04:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.

Street Assist’s purpose is to stop people from coming to further harm and helping them get home safely.

“We do this by getting vulnerable people sober enough to get them into a taxi or we contact a family member to come and take their loved-one home, so that they do not get into further harm”

In 2017, of the

  • 1,300 people helped by Street Assist
  • 940 (72%) were drink related
  • 560 (43%) of all calls came directly from pubs and clubs
  • 294 (23%) of all the people helped, were students, mainly from the University of Edinburgh.

“Drink related problems increase in the night time economy”, says Neil. “At Street Assist we want to reduce the number of unnecessary visits to the Emergency Room.

Most people might assume that the largest numbers of drink-related visits to the Emergency Department at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, would be on Friday and Saturday nights. Although it seems this is not so, possibly because Street Assist are on-duty between the hours of 22:00 and 04:00 on Fridays and Saturdays. Instead, Street Assist has been informed that the highest numbers of drink-related visits to the Emergency Department at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh are on Sundays.

Street Assist’s 130 Volunteers are very well trained. Most come from Healthcare and Care backgrounds. Some are practicing Doctors and Nurses. Others are students – their volunteering helps with their coursework. Then there are the Street Assist Volunteers wanting to be very much part of the future emergency services. In 2017 alone, three Street Assist Volunteers joined Police Scotland and two volunteers joined the Scottish Ambulance Service. As Neil puts it, “Street Assist is adding value in terms of shaping the future workforce.

Street Assist Volunteers gave 11,549 hours of their time in 2017. They helped the vulnerable between the hours of 22:00 and 04:00 on 175 separate delivery nights. Of the 130 volunteers, 75 were regular Volunteers “and if some of them were given the opportunity, they would be out every weekend” says Neil.

“90% of the people coming to Street Assist, go home by their own means or by a family member or friend coming to collect them. There is a huge saving to the public purse in terms of the interventions we make”, says Neil and he has the evidence to back this up.

The Portman Group looked at the extent that the UK’s 56 night-time economy safe-place initiatives are helping reduce demand on public services. They found that for each person coming through a safe-place initiative in the UK, there’s a saving to the public finances of £850. “What this means to Edinburgh’s City Centre, is that Street Assist saved the public purse about £1.1million in 2017.” It’s definitely worth saying that again !

That £1.1 million of taxpayers money saved, could have paid for

  • 10 new Hospital Doctor Consultants (their starting salary is £78, 304 and after on-costs, it’s about £113,500), or
  • 45 new Police Constables (their salary starts at £24,204 and after on-costs it’s about £35,000), or
  • 50 newly qualified Nurses (their starting salary is £22,128 and its about £32,100 after on-costs) or
  • 50 newly qualified Paramedics (their salary starts at £21,909, or £31,768 after on-costs).

While Street Assist saves the public purse lots of money, their funding is tiny.

Street Assist received funding of just

  • £20,000 in 2017 and the same again in 2018. This was made up of
  • £15,000 from The City of Edinburgh Council in 2017 and this was cut to £8,000 in 2018
  • NHS Lothian chose to provide no funding at all in 2017 although in 2018, they filled the £7,000 gap left by The City of Edinburgh Council.
  • Police Scotland provided £5,000 in 2017 and they did the same again in 2018.

Street Assist received funding of £20,000 in 2017. They saved tax-payers about £1.1million. And Neil believes Street Assist can do much more, provided extra funding is made available to them.

“We spend a lot of time going out and speaking with door stewards at pubs and clubs. 43% of all calls to Street Assist came directly from pubs and clubs in 2017. It feels good that the licencing laws, the duties of care and social responsibility are nudging pubs and clubs to look after the safety of their patrons. Of the 1300 vulnerable people we helped in 2017, 940 were drink related.

Street Assist’s ultimate aim is not to rely on taxpayers money at all.

Neil wants to move away from having to rely on funding from The City of Edinburgh Council, Police Scotland, NHS Lothian and other public sector organisations.

Neil’s team of 130 Volunteers took vulnerable people out of 110 separate pubs and clubs in 2017.

The problem is that the people profiting most from the night-time economy are not providing any funding to Street Assist at all. Clearly, this needs to change.

“The people who benefit most from the night-time economy should be contributing towards Street Assist and the work we do. There are about 1967 licenced premises in City of Edinburgh. Even if each licenced premises paid just £100 a year, that would ensure that Street Assist is fully able to deliver our current service and all the plans we have for the foreseeable future.”

“It is time that influential people and politicians in Edinburgh, use their energies to dramatically improve how the City deals more appropriately with vulnerability during the Night Time Economy hours and more importantly how this can be funded”

Street Assist liaises with Scottish Ambulance Service – “We only phone Scottish Ambulance in serious cases such as if it’s drugs-related or serious injuries. I’d rather see Paramedics having more time to respond to people who have life threatening conditions rather than someone lying on the street because they had taken too much alcohol, waiting for someone to help them.”

Police Scotland are incredibly supportive of Street Assist. “If there is an issue or if someone is slightly threatened, then the Police are right there to help. My view is that [Street Assist] is safe because [Police Scotland] is keeping us safe.

That said, it is clear that life on our streets needs to improve in Edinburgh Old Town after dark. Neil’s proposal is a game-changer. He believes that the Purple Flag Scheme is absolutely key to making our neighbourhoods safer at night.

This is an accreditation scheme aimed at making Cities safer at night time. To achieve this in Edinburgh Old Town, would have to, as a minimum, bring the proposed Old Town Business Improvement District (BID), Old Town Community Council and other stakeholders together.

“For the Purple Flag Scheme to work really well in Edinburgh Old Town, we would need a Night Tsar/Mayor, an individual or group of individuals with the charisma to get key people around the same table at the same time. Their purpose would be to improve the experience of visiting and living in Edinburgh’s Night-time economy. That individual or group of individuals could be the proposed Old Town BID, Chamber of Commerce, a Councillor or someone else.”

Street Assist have ambitious plans for the future, particularly with the Homeless. They are looking to provide services on Sundays nights through to Thursday nights too.

Street Assist’s bus facilities are only used between 22:00 and 04:00 on Friday and Saturday nights. They are happy to lend their bus facilities to other charities at other times, so that those Charities can work in other parts of the City, to do extended outreach and take their services to the people. It goes without saying that lending their facilities would require more funding.

Neil continues that the homeless “are even more vulnerable on Friday and Saturday nights when some Night-Time Economy customers think it is ok to spit and urinate on the homeless.” There are lots of other examples of verbal and physical abuse of the homeless too. Street Assist is aware of this, because they are working late at night and early mornings, when most of the other charitable organisations working with the homeless, are off-duty.

Street Assist is doing so much. They are asking for so little.

To find out more, click here.

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