Eastleigh Street Pastor Co-ordinator Steve Smallwood tells Eastleigh News how things have changed after a decade on Eastleigh's night-time streets.
Eastleigh’s Street Pastors will be celebrating their 10th Anniversary with a Thanksgiving and Commissioning Service at Eastleigh Baptist Church at 7.30pm on Friday 12th July 2019. The keynote speaker at the event will be the Rev Les Isaacs, Director of the Ascension Trust, which set up the initiative around sixteen years ago- there will also be endorsements from the Borough Council and Hampshire Police.
Street Pastors are unpaid volunteers, drawn from across church congregations in Eastleigh who give up their time to patrol the town centre streets on a Friday night ready to offer practical help and advice to anyone who might need it. All pastors receive training to enable them to care for people who may be in vulnerable or intoxicated state or who may be experiencing a crisis.
Since the Eastleigh Street Pastor scheme was launched in January 2009, volunteers have spent around 7,800 hours of their time caring, listening and helping where they can.The teams also remove around 200 bottles and glasses a year from the streets that might otherwise be potential weapons and hazards. Street Pastors often stay out until around 4 am when town is peaceful and there is no one at risk.
Eastleigh News spoke to Steve Smallwood, Co-ordinator for the Eastleigh Street Pastors’ team to ask some questions on his experiences over the last ten years.
EN Did you ever expect the Eastleigh pastors to last this long?:
“When a new initiative starts you can never be sure how long it will last. The whole Street Pastor movement had only started 6 years or so before we began. The patrols over the last 10 years have shown the need is clearly there and the overall growth of the Street Pastor movement both across the country and the world suggests Street Pastors will be around for some time to come”
EN: Over the last ten years the street pastors’ team have become very different than they were when they once started but have the issues on the streets changed?
“Many of the issues have remained the same. Eastleigh does not have a major homeless problem but there has been a steady stream of people that we have been able to interact with and help. There has been a noticeable decline in the number of police officers available to patrol, although I am very impressed with the way Hampshire Police are making the most of their resources to minimise the effect. When we started the latest opening hours for the pubs in Eastleigh was 2am. This moved to 3am a few years ago and is now occasionally 4am – this means we are out on the streets for longer on a Friday night. We have also noticed fewer younger people out in the earlier evening, probably a combination of more electronic distractions (social media means you can socialise without leaving your house) and maybe parents being more wary about children being out”
Do you you think Eastleigh’s streets are safer than they were ten years ago?
“Eastleigh is essentially a safe place, even on a Friday night. We have seen patches over the 10 years where there seems to be an upsurge in anger and resulting violence – mainly at closing time – but it is hard to pinpoint why. Many of the issues are often between people who know each other and may revolve around broken relationships or are groups from outside the area.”
Finally, when we asked Mr Smallwood his opinion on whether the streets of Eastleigh had fewer disorderly individuals on the streets, he stated
“This is difficult to say, increasingly people are ‘preloading’ drinking before going out. Although it is rare for us to directly come into contact with drug taking, I feel that there are possible more drugs around, particularly cannabis – we often smell it around the town. There is a greater risk from the newer synthetic drugs, where people’s behaviour can be more erratic as they are a combination of uppers and downers, but to my knowledge we have only encountered one person who may have been affected by this”
Steve Smallwood was also keen to point out that the Street Pastors initiative is only one example of how Churches in Eastleigh are playing a part in the wider community.
Along with the three other Street Pastor groups in the area, Eastleigh Street Pastors was recognised in January 2019 for its work by the Eastleigh Community Safety partnership. A certificate of recognition was given in recognition of outstanding service helping to keep the local community safe at night. The volunteers were also recognised at the recent Eastleigh volunteer week awards.