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Street marshal scheme aims to make Brighton safer and quieter at night
Marshals have taken to the streets of Brighton three nights each week as part of the University of Sussex’s Street Wise scheme. JACQUI BEALING pounded the pavements with them during Freshers’ Week to see what goes on after dark.
The night is young, but the streets of Brighton are already buzzing. It is the fourth day of Fresher’s Week for the University of Sussex, and there’s no sign yet of exhaustion.
A group of superheroes are waiting at a bus stop in Lewes Road, their red lycra Incredibles outfits attracting hoots and toots. A flock of high-spirited young people emerge from a side road and head towards the seafront. Two others with take-away pizzas worry if they have enough to feed their friends.
“We’ve seen a lot of the same faces every night,” says Wendy, one of the marshals for Street Wise, a new initiative set up by the University to promote safety in residential areas after dark. “I don’t know where they get their energy.”
Tonight Wendy is patrolling Lewes Road with her colleague, Adam. From 10pm until 4am, they’ll be introducing themselves to young people out and about – and perhaps later giving assistance to those whose evenings may not be ending so well.
Adam is 21 and has worked in security since he was 18. Wendy is 58 and took on the job after working in a police control room monitoring CCTV cameras. “It made me want to get out there and help people,” she explains. “You see how they can become vulnerable.”
Assertive, yet friendly, Wendy approaches anyone who looks like they might be a student to tell them about Street Wise. “Great,” says a Sussex fresher who is out with his new friend. “But I’m from Portsmouth, and he’s from Croydon, and Brighton seems way safer.”
Safety is one aspect of the scheme. Discouraging antisocial behaviour and encouraging good community relationships are also key features. The University of Sussex’s housing team worked with Sussex Police, Brighton & Hove City Council, the University of Brighton and BIMM to get the idea off the ground, and the scheme was successfully trialled earlier this year for 12 weeks.
Now there’s a pool of ten marshals with community safety accreditation, all trained in basic first aid and conflict management, who work in pairs to cover three residential areas of Brighton: Lewes Road, Elm Grove and Upper Lewes Road.
Wendy and Adam took part in the initial trial, and are already familiar faces to the shopkeepers and restaurant staff along the Lewes Road, waving and calling greetings through doorways.
We head towards The Level, passing people on benches. Wendy and Adam flash their torches around. Two nights before they found a member of the public passed out, having seen the person earlier in a distraught state. She wasn’t a student and had health and housing issues. “It was full on,” says Adam. “We called the emergency services to help.”
In the middle of The Level a group of sober freshers cross our path, asking for directions. It’s their second night in Brighton. Adam points in the direction of the North Laine.
Wendy advises one member of the group to keep a £20 note separately from her phone. “She’s got her phone and her cashcard in the same case,” Wendy says as the group moves on. “She’ll be stuck if she loses that.”
A few minutes later, another group of non-students, two of them staggering, tell us they’re heading for a nightclub. Adam doubts they’ll get in. Clubs and bars in Brighton have strict policies on admitting people who appear to have drunk too much.
Buses and taxis will also refuse to take passengers if they are clearly inebriated. In these circumstances, and where the person might be in a vulnerable situation, the street marshals will drive students back to their residences, making sure they arrive safely.
“We show empathy because we genuinely care,” says Wendy. “Things go wrong and they make mistakes. I’ve never had anyone be abusive to me and everyone is appreciative of our help.”
We progress along the Upper Lewes Road, where Wendy helps an elderly man with a white stick to cross the road and offers to walk him home – he says he’s fine.
And then we approach a street with a group of students tumbling out of a house. Wendy advises them to keep the noise down to be mindful of local residents. One of them gives her a hug. She wishes them a good evening and to “stay safe” as they head off.
“Of course, I care about them,” she says. “That’s why I love this job. But it’s lovely when you see them caring and looking out for each other too.”
More details about the scheme can be found here.