Street Angels was started by Paul and Jean Blakey in November 2005 as a response to issues in the night-time economy in Halifax town centre. The town was known as the ‘Wild West of West Yorkshire’; on weekend-evenings between 8-12,000 people would be out and about in the town centre – with violence, sexual assaults and binge and under-age drinking common place. Paul and Jean believed as Christians that the town deserved better, and made plans to open a safe drop-in at a cafe owned by the local Churches Together and the YMCA. This great vision has grown to include Club Angels and Festival Angels.
Street Pastors was pioneered by Rev Les Isaac in 2003. On that first night, 18 volunteers took to the streets of Brixton in London – 15 women and 3 men. Since then, they have trained over 12,000 Street and Prayer Pastors, who have played an active part in strengthening community life and working for safer streets.
What is a Street Pastor?
Churches can, and do, play a crucial role in helping promote safety in the night-time economy.
Street Pastors are trained volunteers from local churches who care about their community. They patrol in teams of men and women, usually from 10pm to 4am on a Friday and Saturday night; caring, listening and helping people who are out on the streets. They often get to know key stakeholders in the night-time economy and build good relationships with local businesses.
A Street Pastor is:
- a Christian and part of a local church;
- concerned for society and their local community;
- willing to engage with people, whatever their perspective on life and wherever they hang out;
- happy to work in a team and in collaboration with other agencies and projects, both statutory and voluntary.
Street Pastors in Winchester
One great examples of a local Street Pastor group can be found in Winchester (there are many others – this is simply a snap shot).
In 2008, the local Crime Reduction Partnership became convinced that the establishment of a Street Pastors Scheme in Winchester would change the experience of the night-time economy.
Police Sergeant Andy Fisher was asked to approach the church leaders and arranged to meet the ministers of Churches Together in Winchester, under the chair of David Williams, a local vicar. The church leaders were very struck by the request and committed to responding to it. Among the factors in the decision was a deep appreciation that the request had originated from the city.
With the support of Ascension Trust (the Christian organisation behind Street Pastors), a training programme and strategy was agreed. A total of 15 local churches produced 45 volunteers to be trained as Street Pastors, and a further 20 to be commissioned as Prayer Pastors.
Facilities were provided by a number of local churches and a co-ordinator was employed. The bulk of the funding came from the local churches – but there was also significant support from the local Business Improvement District (BID) and the Police Authority.
Mark Hibbert-Hingston, the co-ordinator of Winchester Street pastors, tells us more:
I have often heard it said that Winchester is unusual in how closely churches work together, and here it was in action! Our first Street Pastors trustees represented five of our city’s churches, with one of my interviewers for the role of Street Pastors being a lay catholic. Our license agreement with the Ascension Trust, our parent body, was signed by leaders of 13 different congregations, and we were set to go.
Following our public launch, I was given office space and IT support in a Church of England church (and am still there almost 10 years later) and our first operating base was in City Church (Pentecostal). When that church moved outside the city centre, we moved into the wonderful new pastoral centre of St Peter’s (Roman Catholic) church, where we remain.
Whenever I thank either one of the priests or a volunteer for the support we receive, the reply is always the same ‘Not at all, you are a blessing to us!’
When asked by people we meet on patrol on the streets which church we belong to, I ask ‘Who do you mean?’ which surprises the questioner, as does my eventual response, which is to say ‘He’s a Catholic, she’s a Baptist, etc’. People are invariably surprised that churches work together, so I believe we are a practical demonstration of unity – the Church on the streets and not a Church …
Our trustees have inevitably changed over our nine years, and currently represent six different congregations. I worship at Winchester Vineyard. Each year I present a report to the Churches Together in Winchester AGM, as we remain one of their initiatives. I have spoken in churches of all strands, and it is our joy that our volunteers currently represent 13 congregations.
Working with believers from other parts of the Body has enriched my own faith and opened my eyes to how the Lord uses us in all our glorious variety! I believe most (if not all) our volunteers over the life of Winchester Street Pastors would agree.
Since we started we have received the Mayor’s Award for community service, and largely due to our presence in the city, Winchester was moved into the Excellent/Outstanding category in the Purple Flag award scheme as a place for a good night out.