This is the transcript of a talk given to the parish at Parish Communion at St John’s Itchen Abbas on Sunday 14th December 2014
I’d just like to introduce you to Stephen Foster. Welcome Steve and your wife Pamela to the Itchen Valley. Steve and I are both Street Pastors in Winchester see Winchester Street Pastors.
So, just to give you a little background -:
Who are we?
- Street Pastors was pioneered in London, just over 10 years ago, in 2003 by Les Isaac. There are now over 12,000 street pastors, who play an active part in more than 270 towns and cities around the UK.
- Street pastors are trained volunteers from all the local churches who care about their community.
When, where and what?
We patrol in teams of men and women, usually from around 10 o’clock at night to 3 o’clock in the morning on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, in Winchester city centre, engaging with people on the streets bringing reassurance, safety and support through listening, caring and helping where we can. Each team goes out for one night a month and we all have a uniform like this telling everyone who we are. We give out water, hot drinks, flip flops, lollies and basic 1st Aid.
Why do we do it?
- There are many lost ‘people’ out at night and we can see the need.
- We believe the church has something unique to offer – the churches involved in the initiative are across the denominations and so if you like we act together as the wider church on the streets.
- Winchester Street Pastors began about 3 ½ years ago after the Police asked us to get involved over several years. We work together with the Police and other partners, such as the Ambulance Service and the city surveillance CCTV team to make the night-time economy a safer place.
I must say that I have found the whole experience so far utterly fascinating as well as very rewarding. I have certainly had my eyes opened to what happens in the night time economy. My experience has also been that the nights patrolling the city seem to go very quickly and I always come home with a story to tell Alex which is often hugely encouraging despite sometimes difficult circumstances.
One night that had an impact for me was when we found a 2nd Year University student lying on the pavement outside a Winchester nightclub. At first we thought he had blacked out from having drunk too much. We tried to bring him round (they usually do come round after a little encouragement). He could mutter a few words but he just couldn’t sit up let alone get up on his feet.
After a little while we realised we weren’t getting anywhere so we put him in the recovery position and stayed with him. There was a long queue outside the night club so I asked a few people waiting if they knew this boy. We had managed to find his wallet and student ID card, so had his name – it was Chris. No one seemed to know him. Then one young woman said that she worked for the Ambulance Service, and she would help us if we needed it. I asked a few more people in the queue if they knew him, but to no avail and then this other lovely young girl asked if we had his ID card and his mobile phone. She didn’t know him but she left her friends in the queue and came to help us.
She worked out what his pin code was for his phone by guessing it from his ID card! She got into his phone and looked at his contacts and who he had spoken to last and we called that number. We were trying to locate his friends to see what had happened to him. Eventually we got hold of a friend who said he would get out of bed and come down to town to help. By the time his friend arrived he had gathered a few more along the way, but none of them had been with Chris all night.
Meanwhile he didn’t seem to be sobering up and was getting more lifeless. We couldn’t revive him. So I went and found the girl in the queue who worked for the Ambulance Service and she came and tried her training on him, but he still wouldn’t wake up. By this time it was getting colder, he was getting very cold lying on the pavement and so we called the emergency services. They sent a first response unit. (The emergency services try to keep people who have just had too much to drink out of A&E). The first response team tried to revive him for some time, but they were getting no response either, so eventually an ambulance was called. They too tried to revive him on the street but it then seemed pretty clear that he would have to be taken to hospital.
What struck me about the evening was that not only was there a whole network of organisations working together to help this young man, but that also there were other people on the streets who were willing to sacrifice their own evenings to help this person that they didn’t know.
Nearly everyone who goes out in Winchester late at the weekends knows about the Street Pastors and knows what we do. We have lots of great conversations with people and sometimes they ask for a selfie! It struck me that night that it’s as if the fact of us being on the streets encourages people to look out for and care for others, whether they are friends, neighbours or strangers.
So how can you help?
- Pray for the well-being of the city.
- Give financially eg. £10 per month.
- Become a Street Pastor perhaps? Age is no restriction – we have a range from 20s to 70s.
If you are interested in the work of the Street Pastors or think you might like to join us, whether for the night-time patrols or for the new early evening shifts during the warmer months, we have some leaflets that we will be handing out at the front of the church. The next training will begin in February.