When she was handed a brew on a cold night, Sarah had no idea how important it would be.

In fact, that simple gesture may just have saved her life.

A crack and heroin addiction, coupled with mental health issues, had led Sarah to sex work.

READ MORE: The horrific night a sex worker and a rough sleeper caught a sadistic rapist - and became heroes

It’s a risky job, but there’s one place women are guaranteed safety.

The campervan used by Manchester Action for Street Health (MASH) as a mobile clinic offers women a friendly face and a temporary respite from a tough job.

That night, they handed Sarah* a hot cup of coffee that would make all the difference.

“A cup of coffee was so much more than a hot drink,” she says.

“In fact, one of those coffees once saved me from being raped. I was able to throw it in my attacker’s face and flee.

“That night MASH may have saved my life.”

The MASH team offer advice and support five nights a week

On another lonely night on the streets of Manchester, Sarah was able to defend herself again after MASH armed her with vital knowledge about a dangerous client.

Moments after reading the charity’s ‘dodgy punter’ report, Sarah came across one of the men on the list.

“Lo and behold a car I’d read about pulled up that night,” she says.

“If it wasn’t for that report from MASH I 100% would have got into the car. But thankfully I didn’t.

“When I saw the driver a bit closer it was definitely the man described. He was extremely violent and dangerous.

“MASH saved me that night too, I’m sure of it.”

Sarah says she had a “bright future” in her early twenties and had started a university degree. But she struggled with her mental health, was suffering from trauma and had been sexually abused.

She turned to drugs as a way to cope and ‘quickly’ became addicted to heroin and crack cocaine.

“Looking back I’d never found a way to talk about the things that had happened to me,” she says. “I’d suppressed a lot and had almost become numb.”

As her addiction took hold, Sarah became detached from friends and family and started sex working to pay for drugs. She says she had ‘opted out of life”.

“For me it was either drugs or ending my life,” she says.

“In my mind I needed the drugs to stay alive.”

Not long after, she noticed the lights on inside a small white campervan parked up in Manchester city centre.

The first time she clambered up the steps of the van, she didn’t know what to expect.

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“I used to work on the beat near Piccadilly station,” she says.

“I remember seeing the MASH van, and I didn’t understand who they were at first and why they were being nice. I assumed they must want something from me.

“But I quickly came to see the MASH team as the single light in my darkest times. MASH was the only friendliness I had in my life.

“At the time, I don’t think I quite realised the impact they had on me. They gave me free condoms, hot brews and sweets. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it really was.

“I wouldn’t have spent my own money on condoms, so they made sure I was safer.”

A young woman is given a Covid test by a MASH worker

This year, MASH is marking its 30th anniversary.

The charity’s specially adapted outreach van is currently taken out onto the ‘beat’ areas of Manchester five nights a week.

Women can access condoms, food and drink and speak to friendly and non-judgemental caseworkers and volunteers about anything going on in their lives.

MASH also runs a drop-in centre, its own specialist sexual health clinic, which offers counselling and supports women with everything from finding a home to reporting violent crimes and navigating the criminal justice system.

Sarah has since been through rehab, is free from drugs, and in paid work.

She is currently completing a counselling degree at university.

“A while ago, I contacted MASH to say a belated thank you for everything they did for me in years gone by,” she says.

“It was amazing to connect with the team again and hear more about the amazing work they do now to support women who are experiencing homelessness, trauma, mental ill-health and addictions. I ended up sharing some of my story and experiences.”

On board the van, women can enjoy a hot drink and a friendly chat

To celebrate three decades, MASH has released a film by Firecask using Sarah’s story as an example of the difference they can make.

The charity is also asking people to donate £30, which can fund hot drinks on the van for a month.

Alternatively supporters can take part in the ’30 for 30’ challenge, taking on a personal challenges related to the number 30.

CEO Annie Emery has teamed up with her son to take on a challenge every day of September.

We were so thrilled when Sarah got back in touch just to hear how well she is doing,” Annie says.

“One little email turned into this amazing story.

MASH provides a variety of services and support to Manchester's street sex workers

“We’re so grateful to her for sharing her story and helping to show just how vital MASH is, even 30 years since we started.

“I’m in constant awe of the women we work with – their strength and their resilience. I’m also incredibly proud of our staff and volunteer team, who consistently show up for women. Every so often, we get to see how MASH’s expert support helped a woman to change her life, and Sarah is just one example.

“It would be the cherry on our birthday cake if this helps more people to learn about what we do and make a donation to support our vital work.”

You can donate to MASH here or learn more about their work here.