A service to protect vulnerable people in Reading town centre is hoping the property community can help it find a central location for its work.

First Stop Reading, a joint initiative between Reading Street Pastors and South Central Ambulance Service, has operated on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Minster Church for around five years, tending to people who are vulnerable, distressed or hurt. Before that it used a bus parked in the town centre.

Now First Stop wants a permanent, more central base where it can operate from late evening each Friday and Saturday until 3.30am but has had difficulty tracking down and contacting landlords. Reading BID has been trying to help the service reach landlords of empty shop units.

Sally Leonard, who co-ordinates Reading Street Pastors and line manages the First Stop service, told Thames Tap: “Minster Church has been great but it’s not central enough really. And you have to go into the church to go to First Stop and so it’s not that visible. Also some people don’t want to go into a church.

“What we want is a shopfront where we can have banners and flags.”

She said Queen Victoria Street or central areas of Broad Street or Friar Street would be the preferred areas and hopes any landlord seeking to improve its environmental social & governance (ESG) or corporate social responsibility might offer favourable terms. She said the service is looking to stay in a new base for the long term.

In July, Thames Tap highlighted the plans for a hub for the young, driven by the No 5 charity, and First Stop has said it would be interested in being part of that scheme if a suitable site were found. First Stop needs a ground floor space along with a room for medical treatment and could share with an occupier which needs the space during the day.

Mrs Leonard said the First Stop service has reduced the numbers of people calling ambulances and attending A&E. It will have a major presence at Reading Festival and also operates during Freshers’ Week and New Year’s Eve.

She said: “At Freshers’ Week, the freshers may never have been away from home. They all come out and get drunk but they might not have done that before. Sometimes they get too drunk.

“It’s about keeping people safe. It’s not to say Reading is unsafe, it’s just about having a safe hub. What’s not to like about that?”

She said since Covid, many who used First Stop have done so because they experienced loneliness and just wanted to chat with someone other than a friend or family member.

She added: “What we want to be saying is ‘come on guys, this is a great community initiative. Help us work together to help make Reading a better place’.”

Mrs Leonard can be contacted on 07970 710080.

See also View from the riverbank.

Image shows part of Broad Street where First Stop would like to be.

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