April's Community Hero - Street Angels' Paul Rawson
Our Community Hero for April is Paul Rawson from Blackpool and the Fylde Street Angels.
Blackpool and the Fylde Street Angels came out of a pilot scheme of a single-decker bus which parked up in Blackpool centre to provide help and assistance to those who were vulnerable. Seeing the need around the night-time economy Paul looked into the possibility of an initiative for the town which had a thriving and lively night-time community.
Paul attended a Jackie Pullinger event in Halifax and met with CNI Network and Paul Blakey, which resulted in a group of Halifax Street Angels visiting Blackpool to help run a pilot scheme.
Paul says, “By June 2012 we had gathered the support of several Blackpool church communities and had a growing team of volunteers.
“We launched with a reception attended by local authority, police, church leaders and pub and club owners. We started out with the basics of a street patrol team and ruck-sacks with flip-flops, bottles of water, first aid kit and sick bowls.
“Very quickly we saw other needs, especially around homelessness and addiction.”
Paul set out to raise money for a vehicle that could be used as a base and for wider work to address some of those who are homeless and have addiction issues. A minibus was purchased in 2014 with support from local business, friends and the Police and Crime Commissioner. This enabled the team to utilise the minibus as a safe place and an outreach tool.
Paul continues the story, “With a growing number of volunteers, especially those who had worked within homelessness and addiction support, we believed God was calling us to expand our work in this area.
“The CNI Network model allowed us to be adaptable and we were offered a building to use as a place for this new aspect of our work which we have called Angels Rest.
“St John’s Church Blackpool worked with us to set up a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol provision which we run on behalf of Blackpool Council, and offers a safe space for genuine rough sleepers who otherwise would be out on the streets in the very worst of Blackpool’s weather conditions.”
This work is now in its fourth year and at the end of 2019 the Council offered Blackpool and the Fylde Street Angels the opportunity to manage an Emergency Bed Unit (EBU) year round in the town.
A partnership with Blackpool Fulfilling Lives has led to the restoration of a former Crazy Golf Course on Blackpool’s seafront.
Paul explains, “The Princess Parade Crazy Golf Course was a popular attraction in the 1960s and 70s but in recent years had closed and had become neglected.
“With teams of people we support through the homeless and addiction services we gave an opportunity for them to become involved in this restoration work.
“Gaining self-worth and work experience the team have started to restore the course and it is due to re-open for the 2020 summer season.
“A social enterprise will be set up and any income generated will be invested back into continuing work within the most vulnerable of Blackpool’s community.”
The Angels Rest base is currently undergoing work to make it more fit for purpose and plans include furniture restoration to continue to up-skill those the group work with. The groups have a vision for 24 hour care and support with an aim to see more lives turned around. A Monday Night Outreach on the promenade offers food, support and love to around sixty people each week.
Paul concludes, “Blackpool may well be known for its lights, Pleasure Beach, donkeys, the tower, ballroom and sea front but beyond the bright lights and attraction is a resort that is amongst the most deprived in the country.
“Over the last two years partnership work between the church, Street Angels, local authority, drug and alcohol services, Police and other organisations is turning the tide and bringing about change that we hope will be the difference that Blackpool needs.”
Blackpool and the Fylde Street Angels still continue to offer a safe place and patrols on Saturday evenings which together with the Crazy Golf course, emergency housing provision and support and welfare to the homeless and addicted communities the amazing volunteer team will be kept busy for years to come.