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STROUD STREET PASTORS

I have to confess, my enthusiasm for going out with Stroud’s Street Pastors was slightly tempered by a fear that I would not be able to stay awake long enough! A quick check with my husband confirmed that it has been years and years since I went out until 4am in the morning. Yet, the Pastors do this every single Saturday regardless of the weather so I gave myself a bit of a talking to.

Street Pastors were first pioneered in 2003 and are continuing to grow throughout the UK and across the world. The Stroud team started in October 2015. They are well known and loved in Stroud so it was a real privilege to be invited to spend time with them.

I met the team at 9.30pm near St Laurence’s church. We had a briefing about how to stay safe, talked about any reports of missing people and existing issues to watch out for before discussing a review of the previous weekend. They have all been trained to cope and help in difficult situations, which can range from drunkenness, people being lost and arguments, to fights and accidents. No two nights are ever the same.

Once we were out on the streets, the team have a well organised choreography to ensure they go to speak to all door staff, security guards and check in with police around the town. Their experience means that they know where to be when bars or the club is kicking out and later on, the fast food shops and taxi queues become points of focus.

Something I had not expected was the role the Pastors play in preventing potential issues throughout the night. While moving around, we conducted a constant sweep of the town to remove *broken glass or bottles that could be used for weapons. Later on, when we saw people at 2am sit down on the street or in doorways (some happy, some not so happy drunks) and women with their heels off walking along (I have so done this a fair few times myself…) – I realised just how valuable all their earlier actions are.

Committed Christians, the Pastors provide a Christian presence on the Streets of Stroud. They are trained and ready to step in and help where there are problems but also to talk about their faith where appropriate or when asked. The Pastors are under no illusions that most Saturday night revellers are not ‘out out’ to talk about faith and they are not there to ‘convert’ anybody. Being asked about why they are a Street Pastor is a natural time to briefly talk about faith and giving back to the community. Similarly, drawing on their own experiences to comfort people who are distressed sparks interesting conversations. The Pastors have moving stories about how they have helped people around the town. For me, they are like modern day missionaries.

My favourite thing was the warmth and affection we received from a wide range of people. It made me feel pretty old to see how young the clubbers were (!) but it was incredible how often young people came to find the Pastors to ask for help or just to have a chat. The Pastors were called ‘angels of the night’ and ’street pastels’ and ’the nicest people in Stroud’ while being hugged and invited to talk to their friends.

I learned a lot during the evening. Like most places, Stroud is more vulnerable at night but most of us never see that side of the town. The incidents that we came across and people that required help would have been missed by door security staff as they are busy doing their own important job. The **police are too stretched and answering reports around the county to be everywhere. Over the years, the commitment from these church volunteers means they play a trusted role in the area’s nightlife.

This is an experience I will not forget and I look forward to finding ways I can support the Pastors in the future.

If you would like more information or to get involved, their website is here: https://streetpastors.org/locations/stroud/

Siobhan

*I picked up some council case work as the team were explaining that bins had been removed from the town centre. The bins I saw were completely overflowing due to a busy day in the town. This means more mess for the street cleaning teams as everything gets strewn everywhere and the Pastors cannot safely get rid of the broken glass. I have raised this with a town councillor.

** I am well aware of the need for more Police in Gloucestershire. I will campaign for more funding and equipment, together with supporting the new recruitment drive. There has been significant investment into the police recently but we do need more focus here.



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