They are the ‘Street Pastors’ and they have been doing so every Friday night since July. It has been claimed that their presence on the streets of Fair Oak has resulted in a 20% decrease in incidents of crime & disorder.
I have been invited by coordinator Steve Smallwood to see them in action for myself.
My companions for the night are from different backgrounds and denominations. Howard is a structural engineer, Alan is retired and Eric is a support worker. They insist they are not on a mission to preach or proselytise and tell me they been have motivated by their faith to volunteer to serve the community.
As we prepare to set out the pastors pack their equipment. It’s possible we may find casualties tonight with people suffering from the effects of the cold or a fall, so they take a first aid kit and a phone that connects them directly to the Emergency Services.
They also pack some sweets to give out to youngsters as an ‘Ice breaker’ and oddly enough, pairs of flip-flops.
Nine below zero
It was explained that after a night out in high heels, some women would slip them off and try to walk home barefooted. The thought of anyone attempting to do so tonight causes me to shiver.
It’s almost -10 out there!
As we walk along, the pastors acknowledge every passerby with a smile and a greeting. Some hurry on, others stop to chat. We stop to talk to people working on the pub doors and in the takeaways. All of them seem to appreciate someone taking an interest in their welfare. A doorman reveals how he commutes daily from Chichester to work at the town’s new bowling alley.
Our route takes us through snowy, deserted car parks, playgrounds and service roads. All the while the pastors are looking out for people who may be experiencing a crisis in their lives and are in of need a sympathetic ear or rough sleepers who are just passing through, but may need more practical assistance in the cold weather.
In a service road they stop and point out an area where they say teenagers regularly gather to share booze. While there we are hailed by supermarket shift workers who are unloading a lorry. One tells us how he has seen drunken girls as young as 14 urinating in the vicinity.
“It’s disgusting” he says. “I‘ve got a 17 year old daughter, she doesn’t do things like that.”
As we move on we approached by three youths who politely ask if we have any sweets. As they move off one appears to be drinking from a beer can.
A pastor shakes his head “He won’t get very far with that, the Police will stop him and pour it away.”
Although the town is quiet there are still plenty of people around determined a make a night of it – despite the arctic weather. Dozens of young people are milling around the Town centre dressed in little more than party wear. Youths in short sleeve shirts escort mini-skirted girls, some bare-legged and in flat sole pumps.
In order to look cool in Eastleigh these days, it seems you have to be absolutely freezing.
The behaviour is boisterous but good natured. Its noticeable how many people begin to moderate their language as we approach. This was particularly true of the groups of shivering smokers standing outside the pubs whose conversation would become respectful, almost…reverential.
“Are you here to take us home when we’ve had too much to drink?’ asks a young man genially
“Yes” adds another “and they don’t even get paid! “
All seemed appreciative of the Pastors, if a little confused as to their purpose.
Suddenly there is a shriek of ‘sweeties!’ as a party of teenage girls spot us and attempt to run along the glassy pavement “Don’t run!” Alan warns. The teens pay no heed and resemble discombobulated toddlers as they wobble and slide towards us to claim their prize.
As the sweets are handed round the girls are reminded not to drop the wrappers. Most do not. One girl defiantly throws down her wrapper and moves on.
‘Thats ok, I don’t mind picking it up for you’ Calls out a pastor as he retrieves the discarded wrapping A few minutes later the girl comes back and apologises.
“It’s only a small thing I know” Eric explains back at base over a warming cup of tea. ‘But maybe next time she’ll think again before she drops something in the street. It’s all about encouraging young people to take responsibility for their own actions’
Howard agrees “We sometimes come across a group of young people where perhaps one may have become incapable through drink. We will offer to help get that person home or phone a parent at which point we often find that a couple of youngsters will step forward and offer to take control.”
“Of course,” he added “We won’t leave until we are confident that they are able to return that person home safely.”
In God we trust
Although Police Officers would not contemplate walking the night streets without a stab proof vest and baton for protection – the pastors seem happy to rely on their faith alone.
But are things really that safe?
“Has there ever been any violence towards the pastors?” I wondered.
No, they reply. Some people can be aggressive at first but then quickly calm down although Eric was once pushed and jostled by a particularly angry young man.
Later it transpired the man had been having an awful time having lost a parent to cancer and was unable to come to terms with the loss.
“Often,” observed Eric “It’s the angriest ones that need the most help”.
Anyone interested in becoming a Street Pastor should contact Steve Smallwood at:
Tel: 07538 054483
More info from:
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