They work anonymously, have become an important part in ensuring safety on our city streets and many people depend on them. Their organisation began with the aim of fighting UK street violence and continues to watch out for the wellbeing of our citizens.
Every day, from ten at night to four in the morning, they go out to scour the streets, paying little attention to the weather, forming groups of three to five people, all of different ages, and wear a blue uniform with the words ‘Street Pastor’ across their backs.
They carry with them a number of basic objects to help others: sandals, blankets, painkillers, water, etc.
Despite praying before they set off and carrying their faith as a kind of protective shield, their aim is not to preach or evangelise, but instead keep watch over and help solve the urban problems of society: in other words, stopping violence and neglect.
Their organisation is rooted in Christian charity and was started through the religious group ‘Ascension Trust’, which was itself founded in 1993 and is linked to other churches in the UK , Germany, Norway and France.
The organisation felt that it was time to make the public aware of the problems of street violence.
With this in mind, they developed a report looking into possible strategies to improve the situation in disadvantaged areas and create solutions to fight violence in the UK.
Parents, young people, Police officers, local MPs, community and religious leaders, and other official bodies worked together on the report. These efforts resulted in ‘Street Pastors’, an organisation set up by the Reverend Lec Isaac in Bristol, in January 2003. His primary interest was in positively contributing to society and improving the quality of life for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.
The initiative took its first steps in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Hackney with 18 volunteers, and today covers 18 of the 32 boroughs of London with the help of more than 9,000 volunteers in the UK and abroad.
Recruits arrive at the programme through their churches, either through nomination or by volunteering, and pay three hundred pounds to cover the costs of their enrolment, uniform and training.
Their training lasts for 5 months and 12 days, and consists of being taught basic criminology, sociology, first aid and self defence.
Each team is made up of a minimum of three groups of four people, in which each person must work a minimum of one night a month.
Every week, these nocturnal street patrols tend to whoever needs help.
Amongst the other activities that they carry out, they also distribute food to the homeless, return lost children to their homes, console or mediate in aggressive situations and at times, simply pick up discarded bottles. Each interaction can be as simple as a kind word or a friendly chat.
There are currently around 250 projects linked to ‘Street Pastor’ in various cities, towns and villages around the world.
One of these is ‘Street Pastors International’, an organisation that tries to extend the work carried out here in the UK to other parts of the world.
Their objective has been to make the community and church aware of antisocial behaviour in young people and look for a solution to the ever increasing number of guns in British society.
Even today, these projects are growing. In 2012, they installed new recycling containers for guns in Croydon, Newham and Hackney, and in the main streets in the borough of Hounslow.
At 13 bases in the capital, these volunteers provided assistance and collaborated with the public services.
They helped people in underground tube and bus stations, and in airports.
At London Bridge they found a man who had been driving all night and was involved in an accident, in which both his wife and child had died.
He was blaming himself for the death of his family, but after spending a few hours with him, the pastors managed to calm him down and offer him emotional support.
This organisation’s work was so positive during the event, that the programme ‘Games Pastors’ became a model for future prominent sporting events, such as the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Río in 2016.
There are so many different situations in which they provided help and assistance: from helping a woman who was lost, to offering to help a student who had caught the wrong train, to helping an inebriated woman get home, to handing out clothes to a cold passer-by at night time.
This charitable organisation receives financial help from the government and donations. Furthermore, there are currently 107 charities registered under the name ‘Street Pastors’, according to the Charity Commission database.
The number of organisations supporting the community and helping citizens is growing by the day, both nationally and internationally, in places such as California, Ireland, Australia, and even in Trinidad and Tobago.
One of the great defenders of this movement is David Cameron, who believes that the Police are in need of a certain level of outside help if we are to overcome antisocial behaviour. Equally, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, believes that this kind of activity plays a key part in reducing street violence.
A field of work greatly affected by cuts, these charitable organisations, or the ‘third sector’, undoubtedly play an indispensible role in covering the areas of public life that the government simply cannot reach.
(Translated by C. Tucker)