Bites, fights and sick buckets: We spend a Friday night in Edinburgh city centre with Street Assist charity
Edinburgh Evening News reporter Andy Shipley spent a Friday night with the dedicated volunteers who help revellers in trouble and keep our city safe...
EYES glazed with excess, the young reveller presents his pockmarked hand to a Street Assist first aider – his thumb punctured by teeth marks and gnawed to the bone.
Over his shoulder another club-goer rocks unsteadily on his feet, a blemish rapidly forming on his cheek. Alert police officers wait to speak to a squaddie still dazed from a head-butt.
These are the latest casualties of the Capital’s payday weekend chaos fuelling a rise in violent crime in the city centre.
“I’ve definitely noticed in the last six months that the whole atmosphere is a lot more volatile,” says Neil Logan, 50, founding director of the Street Assist charity which treats many of the walking wounded.
The Evening News spent Friday night on the frontline with Mr Logan’s band of dedicated volunteers after latest Police Scotland figures revealed a surge in thug attacks.
Attempted murders, serious assaults and knife attacks were all up in 2018-19 compared to the previous year – though numbers remain comparatively low.
Mr Logan and his pool of 130 volunteers – from which any dozen give up their Friday and Saturday nights to help others – have witnessed the rise in attacks first-hand from their West Tollcross base.
Two months ago, a teenager came staggering out of the nearby Atik nightclub with blood gushing from his temple having been bottled in the head.
All he had to stem the potentially fatal arterial bleed was two rolls of sodden toilet paper.
“We phoned an ambulance and were told it would be 20 or 25 minutes – but he didn’t have that long, he could’ve bled out,” recalls Neil.
“From our point of view, the number of assaults has increased. Some of these can change somebody’s life forever.
“When you’re vulnerable anything can happen so we warn people to look out for their mates and don’t get into bother.”
Having helped 2,500 patients since launching at the beginning of 2017, Neil estimates his team has saved the taxpayer nearly £2 million.
Their actions typically mean minor assault victims no longer need paramedics to take them to A&E and police can focus on crime rather than “babysitting” drunks.
On Friday night alone, Street Assist helped 14 stricken souls – saving over-stretched emergency services nearly £26,000.
So successful is Neil’s model, it helped shape similar schemes as far afield as Washington DC and London’s Soho.
And assault victims are not the only ones to benefit, Friday night’s intake included a victim of domestic abuse, a car smash casualty and those who simply drank too much.
“It’s certainly made me reassess my behaviour when I go out drinking,” says Neil.
The injured are assessed and treated while the drunk are taken back to base to dry out and transport arranged home.
Often the roots of weekend meltdown are already established. Friday night’s vulnerable domestic abuse victim was found traumatised at Waverley.
Female Street Assist volunteers are the first to approach and tenderly build a bond with her before arranging to get her home safely.
And all this despite only getting £20,000-a-year joint grant from the NHS, city council and police.
That covers the rent of their base and Neil’s two days a week wages – otherwise reliant on fundraising for the additional £12,000 needed to break even annually. That, and donations from grateful recipients.
They include the daughter of a 63-year-old hen party reveller found incapacitated outside Shandwick’s in South Charlotte Street two weeks ago.
Another recent beneficiary – helped after having her drink spiked – was so grateful she signed up as a volunteer.
Neil’s band of helpers come from a wide range of backgrounds, often contemplating a career in the emergency services and united in a compassionate compulsion to help others.
Social media manager by day, Erith McKean is one of Streets Assist’s longest serving volunteers, having joined in September 2017.
“It’s difficult to explain the appeal of holding a sick bucket for people on a Friday night but you get into it,” yells Erith, 27, above the rattling engine of Street Assist’s rickety minibus.
Drummond High School student Faye Fullon, 17, is one of the youngest and newest volunteers on only her third shift.
“I’ve never felt so needed, that’s the main thing,” says Faye, who hopes to train as a paramedic after leaving school.
Caitlin Conway, 20, signed up as an alternative to getting “wasted” with friends at weekends. “I’ll do this as long as I can,” she says.
“I’ve got so much respect for our volunteers,” beams Neil. “I take my hat off to each and every one of them.”
Back at base, and chucking out time approaches at the Atik club with skirmishes breaking out in the street. The young reveller’s bitten thumb – sustained while trying to break up a fight – is treated and another trip to A&E avoided. His mum, a nurse, is called to pick him up.
To find out more or to make a donation visit: www.streetassist.co.uk
HOW THE NIGHT PANNED OUT
VOLUNTEERS at Street Assist treated 14 patients suffering a range of injuries and issues during Friday night.
Below is a timeline of how the evening panned out at the team’s West Tollcross base.
10pm: Street Assist unload their kit from the minibus before founding director Neil Logan gives a briefing.
11.10pm: First call of the night – a woman intoxicated in Rose Street
11.20pm: The minibus is redirected to a 50-year-old drunk woman at Waverley. Volunteers arrive and gain the woman’s trust before transferring her back to base
12am: A drunk woman is struggling to stand up at CC Blooms on Greenside Place. As we arrive, another woman collapses on the pavement in front of volunteers.
12.30am: Reports of a minor car crash on Leith Street
1am: A woman claims to have broken her foot on a night bus in Lothian Road
2am: Squaddie on R&R is headbutted in the smoking area of Atik
3am: A man with bite marks on his thumb is treated and another who has a facial injury