This weekend I went out with the Cheltenham Guardians to see first-hand what they do, and how effective they may be.
The Cheltenham Guardians patrol the streets of Cheltenham on Saturday nights to help people (often us students apparently)- be that with things as simple as directions, to holding back someone’s hair and diffusing violent situations.
While doing this, they have received mixed reactions. Many people applaud the work they do around Cheltenham’s town centre on Saturday nights, whilst others are not so welcoming.
Originally, the Guardians were an individual body unaffiliated with any other of Cheltenham’s night safe schemes or the police, but despite initial tensions are now recognised as an official organisation within Cheltenham’s night-time operations.
At around 11pm we started our shift, and met Terry Howard (who set the whole scheme up) and two female guardians in the Municipal offices car park.
Terry explained that the night would be a mixture of patrolling the area in the car, and getting out on foot and dealing with matters on the streets.
The night I observed was a comparatively quiet one according to the guardians, and things didn’t really start happening until after 2am.
We were made aware of our first ‘client’ by two men who told us a young woman had been sick, and was with two older men who didn’t really seem to know what to do.
We made our way down to near Subtone, where the girl was lying across the steps.
The two female guardians on patrol went over to assess the situation, and also provided the woman with water and an insulation blanket before helping her to her feet.
After the guardians decided she was safe and capable, the woman then made her way home, being helped along by the men she was with.
Terry put out a notice on the radio which connects the guardians to the police, street pastors, and night venue security to watch out for her passing by.
The guardians say that this radio link is a big part of what helps them, and Cheltenham’s night life economy in general, be so effective as it means they can all alert and keep each other up to date on issues throughout the night.
Later on in the night we help arrange taxis for several intoxicated individuals, one fare of which Terry pays for himself.
When I asked him about this, he said that it’s something he does regularly if people do not have the money to get home.
This money is completely out of his own pocket, but Terry says he doesn’t feel he can leave people with no way to get home.
One of the things the Guardians do not do is take people home themselves; something which frustrates them, but that the council is set on.
It is a measure taken for the Guardians own safety as well as the people they help, and from what we saw does not hinder the way they help people, as if they have no other option they can call an ambulance or police to help the individual, which is what they did in ‘Emily’s’ case.
After a night patrolling the Guardians put up a facebook post about a girl they had helped, and who had ended up being taken home in an ambulance as her friends would not come to help her.
The post went viral and has been featured in several national newspapers and on sites such as COSMOPOLITAN and The LADbible.
While we were out lots of people came over to say thank you for everything they do, and often hollered support as the car drove by.
The night was definitely an interesting one – it’s certainly the latest I’ve been out in Cheltenham sober and it was great to see how everything is interconnected behind the scenes.