Feature by Dawn Robinson-Walsh:
What kind of person goes out on a challenging Saturday night expedition in the centre of town while most of us are asleep? What kind of person sees it as their mission to care for people, to help and to listen to anyone in need?
Bude, like any other town, has its problems, not least relating to alcohol consumption, though apparently, this isn’t as bad as it used to be.
It also has its answers.
One of these is the Street Pastors, known affectionately by some young people as the ‘street pasties’ (they don’t mind; many young people have quite an affection for them). They are in Bude on Saturday nights doing what they can to help the young people who are out and about.
A Street Pastor is someone from the Christian community, from any church, who has trained to work with people out on the streets. In Bude, the age range of Pastors is early twenties to seventies. They get to know people in their community on their own patch in order to find out their needs and how they can help anyone who is vulnerable at a particular time, such as someone who is feeling unwell, has had too much to drink, or is in need of a listening ear.
In Bude, the Street Pastors were founded by Kevin Hogarth and Roger Rowland. The Pastors are keen to explain that they are not the Police. They do not get involved in breaking up fights (though may help to prevent them happening in the first place) and have no legal power. They have been in Bude for 9 years now. Although perhaps viewed with suspicion, to begin with by young people and the Police, they now have a good relationship, are respected and viewed as a valuable resource. They are trained in areas such as safeguarding and are all DBS checked.
On an ideal night, they work in groups of four, ideally equal males/females, and back at base they have three Prayer Pastors who will pray for those in need. The Pastors do not go out without this back up of prayer, cups of tea, and walkie-talkie contact. Each Pastor carries a backpack containing vital supplies: flip flops, their famous lollipops, first aid kit, bottles of water and space blankets for warmth. The lollipops have started many a conversation and some young people will ask for one. Some of them really love the Street Pastors and will tell them stories. The Pastors do not carry money and do not have cars but what they have in spades is compassion and a desire to help young people who may find themselves incapacitated or feeling worried/upset. For example, if wanted they will call the family of a young person to collect him/her or find a taxi to take someone home.
They are very clear that the only authority they have is that given by the person they are trying to help. If someone wants them to call home, they will, but only if the person agrees. Over time, the empathetic pastors have become experienced in knowing when people want to talk and when they don’t. They are regularly seen by the pubs and clubs and also the Castle Grounds where youngsters are usually only too happy to have a lollipop and a chat. They hope that their mere presence makes young people feel safer on the streets, and perhaps deters anti-social behaviour.
Do they have an impact? Well, Bude CCTV suggests that the town is much quieter when the Pastors are out. They rely very much on their training, the Prayer Pastors back at base (don’t worry, they won’t talk to you about faith unless you ask) and each other.
I asked one Street Pastor what is involved and what drew him to the role. He explained that coming from a background in agricultural training, he always loved working with young people and seemed to have a good rapport with them. He has a passion for church-based youth work, believing he can make a difference by talking to youngsters if they wish to, and offering vital supplies if needed such as the sugar-rush lollies and the flip flops for sore feet.
He said: I hope the Street Pastors are looked upon as a completely non-judgemental organisation which tries to look after the welfare and wellbeing of those out on the streets. They help people who may have had too much to drink (for example) make decisions that are best for their wellbeing and welfare, thereby helping to keep them safe.
The Bude Street Pastors would love to be able to be out on Friday nights too but they need more volunteers. If you are interested (and a practising Christian) you can try it out as an observer, to see whether it is for you. Check out and make contact via their Facebook page.
Street Pastors exist in many towns and cities, not just Bude. The movement was started by the Reverend Les Isaac who responded to problems of antisocial behaviour on the troubled streets of his neighbourhood by caring, listening, dialogue and offering practical help and support for those at risk, offering quality time to help them within their own community.
Share the love in Bude and help the Pastors to be available on Friday nights too by joining them.
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