Manchester's legendary night-time guardians are expanding into Soho - and you could help...
Since she joined Manchester's legendary night-time guardians, the Village Angels, Heather Devine has seen plenty of things and helped plenty of people. But it is the man attempting to take his own life by jumping into a canal who still stands out.
"When you're helping someone like that, you're just doing what you've been trained for," the 27-year-old says. "But, maybe, later, you do start to think about it: maybe that person's still alive because we were there. Maybe we gave someone a second chance."
The Village Angels - an initiative of LGBT Foundation - have been patrolling Manchester's Gay Village since 2011. Instantly recognisable in their neon pink high-vis vests and stylish uniforms, they are volunteers who walk Manchester's thriving gay district on a Friday and Saturday from 9pm to 3am helping keep revellers safe and help anyone who may become vulnerable on a night out.
Among those they help are people who need first aid, who have been separated from friends, who need help getting home and who, in the midst of late-night anxiety, have felt the world has become too much. Just like the man who was spotted climbing the canal barriers.
"We got a call from a club bouncer saying he could see someone alone near the water and was worried," explains Heather, a university project officer by day. "Fortunately, we were on the next street along and we got there just as he was starting to climb the barrier."
"One of my colleagues pulled him away. He was upset, saying to just leave him. But we kept talking to him, telling him this wasn't a decision to make after a few drinks. Manchester's canals already have a terrible reputation for people ending up in them so I'm glad that night, he didn't become one of them."
Now, the whole concept of the Angels - which includes the accompanying Village Haven where people can go for water, phone charging and support - is expanding to the capital.
LGBT Foundation and Westminster City Council have announced that, with support from Smirnoff, they are to create the Soho Angels and Soho Night Hub for this vibrant London neighbourhood.
"Whether you need water, support, or just a person to talk to, the Angels will be helping people to end the night right and get home safely," says a spokesperson for the council. "If you need to escape the bustle of Soho for a quiet minute, our Night Hub will be a safe place to sober up, get help, or simply charge your phone."
As in Manchester, the London initiative - which was first trialled in December - aims to make the area safer and more inclusive, while reflecting Soho's roots as an important place for the city's LGBT communities.
"I couldn't recommend volunteering highly enough," says Heather, who is from Oldham. "I got involved because I'd accessed other services provided by LGBT Foundation - essentially, I had some counselling a couple of years ago - and I wanted to give something back. But whatever your reason, it's such a good thing to be part of."
The Soho Angels are helping make nights out more inclusive.
Those who do volunteer are fully trained in a variety of key areas for their work. Volunteers from the programme say it's a great way to support the community, make friends and enhance the old CV by improving a range of skills like team work and communication. Being on first name terms with nearly everyone in the Gay Village is good for the social side of things. Oh, and it's great for your health too.
"I walk about 17,000 steps every night I'm on," says Heather. "That's pretty much better than a session at the gym."
Volunteers are asked to do one shift a month, although in Manchester many enjoy it so much they choose to do more. The age, gender and social range of those who give up their time is incredibly diverse - from 18-year-old students to retirees in their 60s - and counts amongst their ranks a barrister, a barista, a truck driver, a traffic warden and a nurse to name a few.
Amidst some of the more serious stuff, there is a light-hearted side of the programme too. Volunteers have regular socials, and are always very warmly received by the community. Some night out revellers even stop the Angels and ask for selfies with them.
Ultimately, the key thing for Heather is how rewarding she finds volunteering with Angels to be. "A couple of weeks ago, just as we were finishing, an older chap saw us and was saying hi and thanks us for being in the Village - people do that a lot actually," she recalls. "Then he literally collapsed right in front of us. He was having a fit. We called 999 and the ambulance was there so quick. The paramedics were treating him, saying it's a good job someone was here with him otherwise it could have been worse."
She thinks for a moment. "When something like that happens," she concludes, "it makes being part of the Angels so worthwhile."