Armed with chocolate and water Town Pastors have been patrolling the streets of Suffolk at weekends for 14 years. Now they are about to hit the national festival circuit too. Anne Gould talks to Canon Paul Daltry about the project
It’s that time of year when young people start counting their pennies and thinking about the summer festival circuit. Co-incidentally Canon Paul Daltry and an army of more than 300 Town Pastors from Suffolk will also be thinking about the same thing too. They’ve been at Latitude, invited by the Henham Park organisers, for the last three years but now news of their good work has spread and they’ve been asked to help at Leeds and Reading, V Festival, the Isle of Wight and Bestival as well.
It’s something that Paul, Chairman of Ipswich Town Pastors and co-ordinator of eight other schemes across the country is clearly delighted to be involved with and not least because it’s Christianity in action. “At Latitude we have a tent which offers a safe place to go where people can talk and relax and get tea and coffee at a very reasonable price.” There are also team patrols - Festival Pastors wearing high visibility jackets - who offer water, sweets, offer community safety advice or aid for those who might have overdone the revelry. “Last year we had 60 people at Latitude and it was the first year we did patrols at night. Previously the festival had relied solely on their security teams for the night work but they have a different job to do than us. However the organisers were blown away by what we did because we operate in a different manner. Our presence, it seems helps to reduce crime.”
The Town Pastor scheme has been in operation in Ipswich since Christmas 2005 when Paul was asked by Sgt Neil Boast, who has recently been awarded an MBE, to help in the run up to Christmas. “They had introduced a hard-hitting zero tolerance policy for alcohol offences and were going to lock people up for the night for getting drunk. We were asked in to see if we could make a difference. There were three teams of us and we went out on four nights and it was a great success.”
As a result they decided to set up a proper charity, recruited scores of volunteers and started training so since May 2006 Town Pastors became a regular feature in Ipswich every weekend. Subsequently the Town Pastor scheme has spread to Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Woodbridge, Stowmarket, Sudbury and Woodbridge. Clearly being involved is a big commitment - volunteers work one night a month from 9.30pm - 4am. There are two teams, based in Great Coleman Street - says Paul. The first goes out on patrol - usually three groups of two people who walk the streets wearing high visibility jackets simply look for people who have overdone the partying. Back at base there’s also a prayer team boosted by other volunteers who pray at home for one hour slots through the night. “They listen out on the radio to alert us in case there are any problems, make sure refreshments are available when pastors have their break and of course pray as well.”
Obviously they encounter people with all sorts of problems - some have clearly drunk too much and have lost their money and phone and need help to get home. “We may call a parent or someone to come and help them and on occasion we’ve had taxi drivers take them home.” Others may be in need of help from emergency services and other vulnerable people can be helped out of tricky situations. “Amazing things happen every week though and we believe the prayer teams really make a difference. For instance, one night I was out on patrol in Upper Brook Street and we saw a young woman who looked quite distressed. We approached her but she didn’t want any help - then we heard over the radio that the Ipswich Security CCTV person was also concerned about her. Some guys started to bother her so we intervened. It turned out she was completely lost, was drunk and emotional. She’d come to Ipswich with her brother and a friend from Romford. Her phone was out of charge, she’d been drinking, her brother had been arrested and the friend had just disappeared. Also she couldn’t remember her home phone number so we couldn’t get any help from there. All of a sudden a taxi pulls up and inside is her other brother who had come from Romford looking for her. How did that happaen?”
Paul says that most of the people they deal with are in the 18-30 age group who have simply drunk too much but on occasion there are older people in need too. Although the Town Pastors are all volunteers running this service comes at a cost - £21,000 a year for Ipswich but £100,000 across the county. “We are funded through grants and donations but like many organisations in the current economic climate we are about to do a major review of what we spend.” It’s an excellent service and has been shown to reduce crime and help people in real need but funding and creating a business plan is now necessary, he says.
If you’d like to get involved visit www.townpastors.org.uk