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NightSafe fighting to return to city centre

YUSU sabbs clash over NightSafe's return to town

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Image Credit: NightSafe

Returning to activity on campus at the beginning of this term, volunteer group NightSafe have proven they have the determination and the ability to operate within the COVID-19 restrictions. Ensuring students stay safe and get the first-aid and mental health support they may need on a night out, NightSafe can become a crucial part of any night out in York. Despite this, they have been told by YUSU they will not be allowed to resume activity in town despite sabbatical officers Patrick O’Donnell, YUSU President, and Brain Terry, YUSU Activities Officer, disagreeing with each other over this decision.

Formed in 2014, NightSafe have been helping students in town, in particular around the river, and have had a huge impact for student wellbeing. Despite the coronavirus pandemic NightSafe were adamant that, like many student groups, they weren’t going to be putting their activity on hold. In an interview with Nouse, Christopher Oldnall, NightSafe press and publicity officer, explained their reasons for wanting to continue: “Covid is an additional risk, it's not the risk. Students are still students and students will still carry out their usual activities, they will still drink and they will still go out, whether that’s to the pub, to the Forest or to Nisa - people are still going to do that. There’s this perception that students make themselves vulnerable on a night out but it’s very much my perception that they don’t; students go out vulnerable and the alcohol doesn’t help with that. That’s why we’re continuing our activity, and also because we love the project so much and we love doing what we do.”

Alex Beaven, NightSafe project coordinator, added that “even before Covid there is an ongoing student mental health crisis, it’s always going to be there and the dangers of the city, the river, they’re all still there. Covid is an additional risk but it’s really important to be cautious on the indirect effects it will have on projects like this.”

The project has adapted to incorporate full PPE with aprons, new coats, facemasks and everything they need to run the project safely. Despite demonstrating it can adapt to run safely during the pandemic and showing this clear enthusiasm to get back to their normal operations, Nightsafe has been restricted to campus-only activity. They have been patrolling both campuses in order to look after anyone in need.

NightSafe are, however, eager to return to operations in town and have become increasingly frustrated with YUSU’s decisions around this. Annabel McMahon, NightSafe’s Secretary, told Nouse that “everytime we ask them a question they throw back a term which floats around our question and doesn’t answer it directly.”

Alex added that “the Union hasn’t been transparent at all in this decision. We sent a detailed letter on 02 September but we weren’t satisfied with the response - it left a lot of questions unanswered.”

A key issue raised in their letter was that “given that it seems likely that large numbers of students will be present in the City centre night-time economy, we strongly feel that YUSU, as an organisation that exists to advance the interests and welfare of all its members, whether on-campus or off, should allow us to continue our usual activity in the City in order to provide critical support to our student peers.” This was, however, left unanswered in their response. It is clear NightSafe feels that their services are not best placed on campus. Christopher Oldnall told us that “we’re not seeing people staggering out of clubs being ill or being on their own - people are being ‘night safe’. There were two bottles of water handed out over seven shifts. Alex Beaven added that “NightSafe can operate in a Covid-secure manner. We know it’s possible, we know it’s insurable, and we know it’s legal but YUSU isn’t interested.”

As a result of these concerns, which Nighstafe has articulated, Brian Terry, Activities Officer, has stated he is calling a trustee meeting to discuss this.

There is however a split within the sabbs. Patrick O’Donnell told Nouse this week that “we have a duty of care to all of our students - which includes NightSafe volunteers - and we take our responsibility in keeping our student community safe very seriously. Without a door staff presence in the city centre for health and safety support, no agreements with clubs and YorkParties and a vastly different picture in York’s night time economy, it would be irresponsible of YUSU to permit NightSafe teams to operate as normal. This fundamentally stands against our governance responsibilities.

“We’re encouraging students to socialise on campus, where it is safest to do so. We actively advise against gatherings in town and the latest Government restrictions, requiring licensed venues to close at 10pm, means that most night time activity will be occurring in residential areas. That’s exactly why we have increased our provisions to socialise safely on campus across our YUSUBars venues. Furthermore, without YUSU club nights, there are no dedicated door staff in the city centre to assist in an emergency, nor are there specific areas for York students to congregate. The view of health and safety professionals within the Union is that current risks cannot be mitigated within the current proposed framework.”

NightSafe are, however, insistent that they “can operate in a covid-secure manor, it can follow all the relevant guidelines, it’s insurable. We know this because NightSafe has sister projects across the country and some of these have returned to activity. We know it’s possible, we know it’s insurable, we know it’s legal but the union isn’t interested.”

Brain also disagreed with YUSU’s official stance telling Nouse: “I agree with Patrick that the ideal is to have as many students within our venues,” he explains “however, the reality of the situation is that we can’t have all of our students in our venues even if we tried. Law-abiding students can and are heading into town and are following government regulations but still may find themselves in dangerous situations, through no fault of their own, where Nightsafe would be able to help them.

I call on both parties, YUSU and Nightsafe, to restart discussions to find a way forward. YUSU needs to develop a nuanced framework which is safe but still allows Nightsafe to operate within the city centre as a priority. As the Government lays out it’s three-tiered approach to the localised control of Coronavirus, we can also look to develop flexible solutions that can be deployed as York’s status changes.”

NightSafe commented to Nouse that “It is disappointing to see sabb division on student welfare.” and that the split “acts as a reminder that this is nothing but a political issue for the union.”

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