The Glasgow Street Aid team are based on Argyle Street.
Since launching on October 5, 2020, the team have responded to more than 1000 incidents - a mix of situations which require first aid (and sometimes more serious medical attention) or support and an arm around the shoulder approach. Medical help can range from someone who has had too much to drink to an overdose, while welfare support can be something as simple as helping a drunk teenager get home.
To understand how these volunteers work, I spent a Friday night out with them in the middle of COP26.
Night on the town
Within minutes of the team arriving at their Argyle Street base at around 7.30pm, two of the three teams had been called out.
I’m chatting to Rebecca Blair and John Barclay, the co-founders of the charity, when one of the teams calls for advice. A man has been found further along Argyle Street - he’s not reacting and he’s cold.
Police load him up into their van and bring him back to the Glasgow Street Aid ambulance for questions and tests. Questioning does not go well.
“Where do you live?”
“Do you have any family we can contact?”
The team find a phone in his pocket - but it doesn’t have a single contact on it. However, they are able to work out his name. Becky believes he might be homeless and staying in a hotel. One quick phone call and she’s worked out where he’s staying. The team drive him back and make sure he gets tucked up in bed.
Glasgow loves Street Aid
While that individual might have been a bit hostile (he tried to take a swing at John) what becomes obvious during my time with the team is that Glasgow’s night time regulars, especially its younger ones, love Glasgow Street Aid.
Whether it’s the group of neds hanging around at Four Corners or the goths outside GOMA, the kids love speaking to the team - especially John.
As one gentleman puts it so eloquently: “John’s great because he’s not a wank.”
The team’s main focus is making sure that people are safe; they are not there to be judgemental or ruin a good time. That’s appreciated by the kids - many who seem to enjoy getting their heart rates measured or pupils checked.
Despite their friendly attitude, not everyone wants their help. Becky tells me of one man who had been stabbed in the back six times - he took convincing, and even then thought he could just get some plasters. Another had been smacked over the head - he said he was fine, despite the bleeding.
There is also the name calling - parking wardens, bin men, flip flop police and fashion police are some of the favourites.
And it’s not just the punters who like Street Aid.
“The relationship with the police is good, the relationship with the CCTV is really good - the working partners we get on well with,” says John.
Police officers and CCTV operators can call for help from Glasgow Street Aid. Rather than officers having to spend time watching over a man who has had a tad too much to drink, or over a woman who might have taken something she shouldn’t have, they can pass these people over to Street Aid for the correct support. And now that the team have their own ambulance, they can even take them to hospital should the situation deteriorate.
“We had a situation a while ago where we had a guy who police thought was drunk,” says Becky. “We found that his blood sugars were very low, to the point he needed medical treatment. He was confused and drowsy, and police thought he was drunk. Actually, he was having a hypoglycemic attack and was needing clinical treatment. It’s good for them to have that resource - are the patients just a bit drunk or are they unwell? They seem to quite like us.”
John, a tech, and Becky, who works as a pharmacist for a homeless service, met by coincidence. They both rushed to treat someone who needed help and ended up becoming good friends. When John came up with the idea of Glasgow Street Aid he knew who to ask about it.
“You can watch things that don’t work, things that are broken, and think ‘someone should do something about that’,” says John. “I wouldn’t have done it on my own. If it wasn’t for Becky, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We’ve given up a lot of our own time. As long as the patient gets the right care, I’m happy we started it.”
“John said he had this plan and that he thought it would work,” Becky adds. “We came out for a full week, walked around as a pair, saw how busy the town was, who was about. Luckily it was quiet - but there was still a few people about, police about, youths out. There was a need.”
The pair, along with two colleagues, started small and built up. In the beginning it was just the four of them. After a few months they started taking on other volunteers - now there are 30 in its ranks. On this night there are six members on shift - these then split into groups of two and patrol different parts of the city centre.
The volunteers come from various backgrounds. The minimum experience required to join the team is the first aid at work training - although only a couple of members are at this level. Most are clinicians - nurses, dentists, and even a vet. They have a “wee bit of everything” according to Becky.
And joining the team is no simple process. More than 120 people submitted applications to join at one point. However, the nine-step induction exercise is a rigorous one. It involves a trial shift, disclosure check, skills check, training modules (including an anti-terrorism module) and more. It means those who do join the team have the talent to do so, and also the passion.
The passion of the current crop of volunteers is self evident - most don’t even live in Glasgow. Some drive through from Edinburgh and Falkirk, while another travels up from Newcastle just to volunteer.
While volunteers are expected to spend at least one night on patrol each month, John and Becky still work two nights per week.
End of the night
After spending the first part of the night on Argyle Street we make our way up to Royal Exchange Square. One of the teams had been helping out a man who had come off worse in a fight. We hover around to offer support, but it remains quiet.
We rush up to George Square at one stage after calls of an unconscious man being found. John explains that most of these calls end up being a false alarm - and so it is this time. The man in question was just teasing a group of police officers from south of the border, up in Glasgow for COP26.
While I prepare to head home, the Glasgow Street Aid team still have another three hours to go. By the time 4am rolls around, the volunteers will have been out for more than eight hours. All of it is driven by a passion to help Glaswegians.
“You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t enjoy it,” says John. “Because it’s a completely voluntary role, all of the people here are here for the right reasons.
“It’s nice to see your patients get the right care. In the city centre you see repeat patients - you see them one week, then the next. If they are doing better, you get to see a progression.”
If you can make a donation, or just want to learn more about the charity, visit the Glasgow Street Aid website.