A scheme that helps drunken clubbers is gearing up for the Christmas party season and preparing to expand beyond Brighton.
Safe Space, which is based in St Paul’s Church in West Street, Brighton, said that in previous years the number of people given help had soared over the festive period.
Last year the numbers doubled on Christmas Eve while on New Year’s Eve the figure was five times higher than a normal clubbing night.
Safe Space said that its volunteers helped to look after the “vulnerable, injured or distressed often as a result of drinking too much or drug use”.
Despite this, its funding is not yet secured beyond April.
Next month the Safe Space service is being extended to Eastbourne and Hastings.
The trial will take place in the two towns on Friday 10 December, Saturday 11 December, the following Friday and Saturday and again on New Year’s Eve.
On the basis that prevention is better than cure, Safe Space co-ordinator Gemma Doughty said: “We will be handing out leaflets and goodie bags to help prevent people getting too drunk.
“We want people to understand that they do overdo it during the festive period and that they need to help look after their friends.”
Laura Teale, 22, from Nottingham, was impressed by the Safe Space scheme. She said: “I was about to find an ambulance for my friend but then I saw the sign and thought I’d see what they could do to help.
“We sat down for a while, had a chat and then they helped us get a taxi home.
“Much better than being stuck in A&E all night.”
Safe Space gives free help to people who are incapable of looking after themselves, with the intention of sending them home safely.
Gemma said: “It’s not our place to preach.”
The Safe Space area has three medically trained unpaid Red Cross volunteers and two YMCA members staffing it.
They offer a quiet place to sit down and sober up or a steady hand to hold a sick pan and offer a glass of water.
YMCA staff member Paul Truluck praised the volunteers. He said that they were “very dedicated working a graveyard shift for free”.
He added: “I am always amazed by how calm they are when confronted with difficult situations.
“Last new year it looked like a war zone in here and we expect the same this time round.”
The initiative is run by Sussex Central YMCA and the Red Cross, using St Paul’s Church – “a willing partner who our thanks must go to” – as its base.
It is open from 10.45pm to 3.45 am every Friday and Saturday and has been running for five years after initial trials during festive periods.
The volunteers there don’t just care for those who have had too much to drink.
The Red Cross volunteers have, for example, responded quickly to someone having a serious asthma attack near by.
The service offers medical cover up and down West Street and the Safe Space crew works closely with police, clubs, bars, taxi firms and door security companies.
John Patience, from the Brighton and Hove City Council Drug and Alcohol Action Team, said: “It provides a security net for those that get into difficulty.
“It is such an important scheme and one which we hope we will be able to continue to support. “
His team and Brighton and Hove City Teaching Primary Care Trust (PCT) provide the funding.
The PCT’s 2010-11 annual report said that it hoped for an “increase in numbers diverted from A&E and prevented from ambulance use or police intervention as a result of accessing Safe Space”.
It is estimated that nationally 70 per cent of accident and emergency admissions are drink related.
Money is in place until next April although the PCT – also known as NHS Brighton and Hove – has yet to decide whether to continue funding the scheme in the next financial year.