Out and about with the pastors

Three of Southend's street pastors

Three of Southend’s street pastors

On Friday I spent a couple of hours accompanying Southend’s street pastors as they went about their work. I joined them just after 10pm. My first impression was just how cold it was. I am generally an outdoors person but have no liking for windy weather. If I join them again I will be wearing warmer clothing. We did a tour of the High Street and adjoining roads as well a part of the seafront.

I now know there are three strip clubs in the town centre (I think all three are in Kursaal ward), and which of the nightclubs are the most popular. I am also aware of a couple of places where rough sleepers spend the night.

I was accompanied by five street pastors. Del Thomas, who issued me with the invitation to join them, is the coordinator, and he was accompanied by Judy, Paul, Peter and Phil. All are volunteers (there is a total of twenty-four in the team) and usually three of them are out each Friday and Saturday night, all year round, until the small hours. I left just after midnight. They are all Christian, although do not evangelise unless those they speak to ask about it.

Whilst with them I saw quite a number of conversations: with clubbers, beggars, the homeless, and one or two in distress. They also have a rapport with the night traders and bouncers.

Despite the cold the revellers appeared dressed for summer – clearly alcohol has a warming or anaesthetising effect. Most were happy and well behaved, although there were tears, and a little aggression on display.

The street pastors pick up glass bottles they come across (and put them in the bins). They dispense flip-flops (ladies who drink become quite unsteady in high heels and often resort to walking barefoot – flip-flops are offered to protect their feet), water (to assist in sobering up), and carry tissues and first aid equipment.

The pastors began their work in 2005, and from my limited exposure are doing valuable work in keeping clubbers and the homeless safe, and making the town centre a friendlier place to spend weekend evenings in.

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