Halfway through the Saturday night shift the shout goes out over the radio: “Street Pastors to Friar Street, please!” I am on patrol with Sally Leonard (Reading Street Pastors co-ordinator) and her team. So far the night has been quiet, but this is about to change.
Every Friday and Saturday night thousands of people of all ages flock to Reading. The town’s Street Pastors – along with the police, CCTV operators and its many doormen – provide an integrated network in radio contact with each other to ensure their safety. This time the request for assistance has come from a nightclub doorman. When Sally Leonard and her team arrive at the scene, they meet a doorman, Craig, who has noticed a young woman sitting on a bench in some distress. Craig leaves the Street Pastors to deal with her and gets back to his post at the nightclub. From past experience he knows the woman will be well looked after. His admiration is obvious: ‘They help us massively,’ he says.
The young woman’s name is Ali, and she is obviously distressed. It is not clear if she has been out with friends, but she has certainly been drinking and is alone now. She says she is very upset about circumstances at home and she doesn’t want her mother contacted to give her a lift. It takes some time before Sally and fellow Street Pastor Suzanne East have calmed her down sufficiently to walk her to a nearby taxi rank. Eventually she is in a cab and safely on her way home.
Suzanne offers Ali a lollipop, good for boosting sugar levels, which counteracts some of the effects of alcohol
We move on to continue our patrol around the streets. Wherever we go the team are welcomed with greetings and smiles – from doormen, the police, and members of the public. The Street Pastors’ practice of distributing lollipops, which help counter the effects of a heavy night as well as engendering an atmosphere of goodwill, is well-known. What is less well-known is that wherever they go they are on the lookout for glass bottles. Each one found is deposited in the nearest bin where it can do no harm. Two Street Pastor teams (a minimum of 3 people per team) patrol throughout the night and it has become a matter of pride as to which team ends the evening with the highest bottle count.
Street Pastor Ashvin Jacinth sweeps up a broken bottle outside one of Reading’s many nightspots
As well as lollipops, they also carry bottles of water, flip-flops – a blessing when you have spent the night dancing on “killer heels”! – and thermal blankets.
Later we come across another solitary young person. Darren also seems heavily under the influence of alcohol. A passer-by noticed him in a doorway and has brought him to a seat in a bus stop. Sally and Suzanne sit with the young man and gently coax him into telling them where he lives and how he can get home. Reading to Slough is an expensive journey by black cab – one that he can’t afford – so Sally helps him phone a minicab firm who agree to make the journey for a fixed price.
Sally wraps Darren in a thermal blanket to protect him from the cold night air: clubbers tend to arrive in Reading dressed for the nightclub rather than the journey home!
Once the taxi arrives, it seems that everything is sorted. But when Darren gets in the car he is sick, so there is more work for Sally and her team clearing up the mess. Under normal circumstances, the driver would surely at this point have nothing more to do with Darren but he too is aware of the invaluable role that Street Pastors play. So, to his credit, he accepts his allotted role as ‘Good Samaritan’, and even helps with the mopping up. Finally, Darren too is on his way home.
Since commencing their operation in 2009, Reading Street Pastors have played a key role in the town’s nightlife, ensuring people remain happy and safe. By providing assistance – a friendly chat or a hug, simple first aid, or calming a potentially unpleasant situation – they free up police and other services’ time to concentrate on the issues which only they can deal with. A special constable echoes the comment of the doorman earlier; ‘Street Pastors do an amazing job,’ is her verdict.
What struck me throughout my evening with the Street Pastors was their entirely non-judgemental attitude and their wholehearted commitment to the welfare of the people they meet. As Sally says, this is a movement born of the Christian faith and made up of Christians who are ‘doing what Jesus would do’. They underpin their operation with prayer – every patrol is supported by ‘Prayer Pastors’ who pray throughout the evening and also provide the teams with hot drinks and buns – but they are also utterly practical in their approach to their task.
If you are interested in learning more – perhaps you would like to be a Street Pastor yourself, or are interested in supporting them financially – you can find out more about them via the links below or contact Sally Leonard by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Street Pastors are wholly reliant on donations for their funding. Sally always welcomes the opportunity to speak to churches or other organisations about their work.
*Some of the names in this article have been changed for reasons of confidentiality.