A young girl walks home through the city, alone, in the early hours of the morning. She feels vulnerable – there are a group of young men who may or may not be following her – either way she feels scared.
Who will come alongside her, to give her peace of mind and to make sure she does get home safely?
A first year student sits on the pavement in Orange Grove, as taxis speed around the corner a few feet from where he sits. This is his first time in Bath on a Friday night, and he’s had way too much to drink. His friends are nowhere to be found.
Who will keep him safe, help him to get sober, to find his way to the bus and to get back up the hill to University?
A young man leaves a nightclub at 3 in the morning. Not drunk but not sober either. Recently attempted suicide, around the anniversary of his father’s death. He feels guilty because of unresolved issues between himself and his father. The nightclub is 100 yards from the river Avon.
Who will get alongside this young man, listen to his story, make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish?
Two rival gangs are involved in a stand off at the railway station. The police are trying to disperse them but getting nowhere – their approach is making things worse.
Who will step in and speak to these young people in a calming, non-threatening way?
These are all stories of real people and real situations on the streets of Bath on a Friday night. And the answer to the question in each case is and was: Street Pastors.
Bath Street Pastors is part of an international network, overseen by the Ascension Trust, comprising teams of Christians who take to the streets of towns and cities throughout the UK (and beyond). The project originally began as response to gun crime in south London but has broadened its scope as it has developed. The Street Pastors strap-line is ‘listening, caring, helping’, which is a very good summary of what the work involves. It’s about being where people are and responding to the needs we encounter in those places.
Bath SP was launched in 2008, after some months of discussion, prayer and research. After a launch event at the Guildhall, a series of training events were held and the first team went out on patrol at the end of September 2008. Initially, we focused on Friday but it soon became clear that we could and should put teams out on Saturday nights too, which we have done since January 2009.
We currently have a team of around 40 active volunteers, drawn from 28 churches in and around Bath. Teams of 3-5 people patrol the streets from 10pm to around 3am on a Friday and Saturday. All new recruits undertake a training programme and there are regular ongoing training sessions which tackle the issues we face as we walk the streets.
Street Pastors comes under the auspices of Genesis Trust, and is overseen by a small Management Team drawn from churches in and around Bath. Bath SP has the strong support of the police, local authority and other agencies involved in the ‘night-time economy’.
A typical shift
So what do Street Pastors actually do? In some ways, there is no straight answer to that question, because every shift is different.
But typically, the shift begins when the team arrives at the base just before 10pm. After a brief time of sharing any personal news and concerns, we pray together then take to the streets. During the first patrol (which tends to be quieter), we often make contact with door staff, street marshals and police, picking up on any particular concerns they have for the night in question. We follow a route which aims to take in all the main bars and night clubs. We are in radio contact with the other agencies working on the streets and will aim to respond to any reports we hear or direct requests for our help. Otherwise, we aim to be led by the Lord to the places where we need to be. Through the night, we usually return to the base once or twice for a break.
The team on patrol is on the look-out for anyone who might need help. This help might include giving flip-flops to a woman whose high heels have been abandoned in favour of bare feet (not a good idea when there is broken glass around!), or giving a blanket to someone sleeping rough. It might include giving directions to the taxi ranks or train station, or helping someone who’s had too much to drink to sober up enough to get home. It might involve comforting someone who’s just had a row with their partner, or helping someone who’s got separated from their friends to track them down. It might mean a casual conversation, or a lengthy chat with someone who is suicidal. It might mean calling the ambulance for someone who is injured, or talking with those who have been involved in or witnessed a fight.
Each of the stories outlined at the beginning relate to real incidents:
• We were able to talk to the suicidal man, and discovered a mutual connection with one of our team members – he was in much better shape by the time he had walked through town with us!
• The girl got home safely and was grateful for the support.
• The drunk student sobered up enough (after a while!) to get to the bus stop, where we discovered one of his friends waiting for the bus.
• One of the gangs dispersed after some calming words from one of our team members.