Vomit, VKs, and volunteers: A night with the Student Safety Walk

We surveyed the chaos


The Student Safety Walk is designed to decrease the number of assaults on Cardiff streets.

Third-year Alastair Babington’s scheme operates around the Students’ Union on Wednesday and Saturday nights, offering assistance to people in need. Throughout the course of Freshers’ Week it is estimated that the team have helped over 60 people. Alastair briefs the team and it’s clear the double murder in the city centre the previous night added an uncertain edge.

During the quiet start to the night, Alastair explains how his idea came as a response to horrific statistics detailing the ratio of crimes and imprisonment.

This week I tagged along to see Cardiff from the sober side. I’m greeted by bright white lights, a smattering of hi-vis jackets, and about fifty bottles of water.

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Gearing up for action in the nerve centre

The student revellers don’t seem to know who the Safety Walk are yet. We’re greeted with screams of “My friend loves a man in uniform! Can you give her a happy ending?”, “Get your tits out”, “Cycling proficiency”, and often “Christian Union”.

Cases of mistaken identity are common, says Alastair. He tells me of one student who became distressed after the team took his student number, and convinced they were the police. “’You’re not in trouble’ we had to tell him, but of course, when a minivan turns up with a police officer inside…” says Alastair, “he started to cry and say ‘please don’t get me kicked out of uni’.”

Early on in the night, it’s only people who have gone far too hard at pres walking away from the SU. Accompanied by self-sacrificing mates, they struggle to move their mouths quickly enough to reassure us that ‘no, really..I’m…I’m fiiine.’ We get to draw on plenty of t-shirts, adding adverts for the scheme alongside a gallery of RIP Harambe, I’m a ladyboy, and – it’s 2016, guys – a fair few swastikas.

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Surveying the chaos.

Staggering down the stairs at 11:30 is a girl who’s obviously wandered from a pub-golf social. Shot-put swinging – and bandages covering up her bloody knees. Although she’s limping, she’s in costume. However the blood is not. She reveals a gash on her knee – the result of a piggyback gone wrong. She tells us she intends on hobbling to Heath alone. Let’s say this is overly ambitious, despite how well she reels off her student number when asked. Alastair calls the Student Safety Bus, manned by a volunteer and a police officer who help the girl home. As she leaves, she is incredibly grateful to the team.

Such gratitude is not rare. People often come up to the team, telling them with a sincerity only drunk people can muster that they “‘really, truly, are the best people in the world, giving up your time like this”. To the drunken queues, missing a Wednesday night at the SU is an unthinkable act of altruism.

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A dry, hydrated, and grateful student.

This positive reception extends to companies too. Where many beautiful adventures in Cardiff end, Alastair began a partnership in Family Fish Bar. He said: “I was handing out flyers in there and the guy working there told me Tesco’s across the road were looking to help with community projects.” Tesco donated supplies. Wet wipes are useful if too many VK-soaked hands grasp the lads, and the lollies help with conflict management, says Alastair: “It’s a lot harder to be gobby when you’ve got a lolly.” Safeguard Medical Services provide first aid and conflict management training, as well as equipment. Endsleigh provided the scheme with £3000.

A lot of the assistance is helping people through those uneasy moments when a fun night can turn into an ordeal – finding friends, calling taxis, giving directions and taking a few minutes to sober up without collapsing. At 02:15 we encounter perhaps the drunkest guy so far. Alastair calls the safety bus for him, and the police and volunteer manning the bus literally pick him up.

Throughout the night we overhear the weird and wonderful. From the efforts of many overly insistent boys we find out precisely how not to pull, and stumble into a couple of awkward arguments between couples, where attempts to offer peace with a bottle of water and a smile are less useful than a hasty retreat.

At one point a coach pulls up outside the SU, dropping off a cohort of wide-eyed tourists. Greeted by the carnage that is Park Place on a Wednesday night, many have an unmistakable look of disgust and regret cast upon their faces as they dodge piles of vomit.

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Volunteers are expected to give up just one night per month, and in return receive First Aid and Conflict Management training. However, with more volunteers, more people could be helped. Especially sought after are female volunteers, as it’s often so much easier to help a girl when it’s another girl approaching them, and it’s usually lone girls who need, and appreciate, assistance more.

Junha speaks of “camaraderie, you enjoy being around the people. Everyone’s really nice and you feel welcome from your first night.”

Alastair added: “Everyone finds it better than they thought. You’re recognised and appreciated, and don’t wake up with a hangover. Sometimes it’s far better than a night out.”

If you’d like to find out more about the Safety Walk Scheme, or are interested in becoming a volunteer, you can like the Facebook page  or visit their website.