Meet the first aid volunteers helping Edinburgh party goers get home safe this Christmas

The Evening News joins Street Assist on the charity's city centre beat

Friday, 20th December 2019, 11:45 am

FOUND slumped at the foot of stone steps in the Three Sisters, the dazed and drunk reveller has blood seeping from a head wound.

Police are the first on the scene but with no suspicious circumstances, they call in Street Assist volunteers to care for the casualty and free themselves for more pressing problems.

Similar scenes play out across the Capital as the Evening News spent a night with the first-aid charity as the emergency services geared up for a hectic festive season.

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Street Assist founding director Neil Logan says: “December is always busy, this weekend and next weekend, of course, is Black Friday.

“Some of the things we have to deal with can be quite challenging – someone with mental health issues or sexual assaults can be fall on so we’ve trained volunteers as welfare officers.”

Approachable and personable volunteers have found themselves hearing the first cries of help from some of the Capital’s vulnerable, including historical sex abuse victims.

Police in West Tollcross

“You think you’re dealing with someone who’s just had too much to drink or drugs but once they open up - it’s the underlying issues,” says Mr Logan.

“It’s why we don’t wear high-vis, for example, which can put some people off. We make people comfortable and when they’re comfortable they talk to us about what they’re going through.”

“We’re getting more serious assaults"

The band of dedicated volunteers offer everything from a quick phone charge to help get stranded revellers home to treating the victims of serious assaults.

One recent arterial bleed casualty probably owes his life to the team after being bottled in the head at a nightclub.

“We’re getting more serious assaults,” says Mr Logan. “They’re definitely on the increase which is in-keeping with what the police are reporting as well.”

Volunteers have also received NHS Lothian training to administer Naloxone to heroin overdoses - called into action three times in one night.

“There’s been an increase of people coming in to us saying their drink has been spiked,” says Mr Logan. “But there’s a difference between getting spiked and having 15 Jägerbombs,” he adds, in a nod to festive over-indulgence.

With the approach of Black Friday this week - traditionally the busiest night of the year for emergency services as the last payday before Christmas - the advice is simple.

“If you’re going for a night out, make sure your phone is fully charged and you have money for a ride home,” says Mr Logan.

“Drink water between drinks, stay with your friends and never leave your drink unattended.”

This weekend is expected to be so busy, volunteers will be out from the earlier time of 8pm, as opposed to 10pm, each night to help out emergency services.

Funding from Edinburgh City Council’s community partnership and Edinburgh University has funded training for volunteers - with many now eyeing careers as police officers or paramedics.

“The whole focus has shifted,” says Mr Logan. “We’re still about getting people home safely, relieving the stress on the emergency services and reducing the number of people at A&E who don’t need to be there.”

“I don’t remember anything at all but the police found me"

Such work helping some 3,000 walking wounded and vulnerable since December 2016 has saved the city an estimated £2.6m.

Not only that, but volunteers have freed-up police and paramedics to deal with those most in need or at risk.

“But it’s also about the employability of our people and the number going into jobs is incredible,” says Mr Logan.

“The experience we give them is good for their CV,” he adds, with ten volunteers lined up for Police Scotland alone.

One volunteer, 23-year-old Andrew McNicoll, from Baberton, has his sights set on becoming a paramedic - after experiencing firsthand the value of Street Assist.

“I got picked up by them on my 21st,” he recalls. “I’d been in Tron and had two bottles of wine in about 25 minutes.

“I don’t remember anything at all but the police found me and Street Assist took me in and got me to a safe place.”

Shopworker Andrew is now planning to apply to the Scottish Ambulance Service while building experience at Street Assist.

“You see how stretched the police and the ambulance are,” he says. “Getting people back safe is always rewarding.”

“I’ve made so many friends here"

One volunteer to have already made it into the police force is Gemma Ingram, a call handler at Bilston Glen - with two fellow volunteers following her lead in the next intake.

“Obviously I take the calls but I don’t physically see the person I’m trying to help,” says Gemma, 22, from Musselburgh.

“Here, I do. I see what the police do on the frontline,” she adds, hoping to become a police officer herself.

But anyone is encouraged to volunteer, not just those with their sights set on a career in the emergency services.

“I’ve made so many friends here, I consider them my best friends,” says Gemma. “They’re a great bunch of people from all different backgrounds.”

Back with the Three Sisters casualty, a Street Assist volunteer tenderly treats the cut on the back of his head as swelling takes hold.

Given the nature of the wound, a decision is taken to transfer the patient to the Royal Infirmary as a precaution while he slips in and out of consciousness.

A trip that would otherwise require an ambulance is made in Street Assist’s minibus with the casualty’s friend keeping him company.

On arrival, the patient is lowered into a wheelchair and pushed into A&E for a check-up by his friend with a wave of thanks to the volunteers.