TWO weeks ago I had the privilege of spending Friday night out in Newport with the street pastors.
For those of you used to frequenting the city centre at night these are the people you might have seen in blue jackets helping revellers who might be in need of a kind word, a bottle of water or even a pair of flip flops.
For those of you who haven’t encountered these unsung heroes the street pastors are members of churches (of all denominations) who are trained as volunteers to help people on our streets late at night.
The street pastors is a national scheme, set up in 2003 in London, which has grown dramatically over the last couple of years.
There are now more than 250 groups operating in UK cities and Newport is lucky enough to have one, as are other towns in Gwent.
The volunteers have to undergo a rigorous training programme before being rostered to do one night every three weeks in our city centre between 10pm-4am. Helping a girl find a safe taxi home, giving water to someone who’s had one too many, picking up glass bottles, talking to young people often in distress – the job is to listen and help, be a friend but not to preach.
It was heartening to witness on my night out with them just how well known the street pastors are and how they were well received.
“You’re amazing” was a common refrain, with one man clearly incredulous that these were volunteers giving up their own time to help perfect strangers.
The police in Newport will tell you just how valuable a service the street pastors provide. The distinction is clear – street pastors have no powers or official status but work alongside the police and the businesses offering a helping hand.
And all the work in the city centre is certainly paying off. As the Argus reported in July, city centre crime has seen a dramatic drop – with 800 less incidents in the past year.
The team work between the police and their partners is working, and volunteers like the street pastors are playing their part in making things better.
So a very big thank you to Les, Lynn, Hugh and the team for inviting me out – you provide a wonderful service and in my experience one that is much appreciated by those who might find themselves alone and in need of support.
Keep up the good work.