By Jamie Gray 21/03 Updated: 22/03 08:37
LIKE many The Observer's Jamie Gray had a night out on Friday, but while many will probably not remember their's owing to the effects of too much alcohol, Jamie will never forget his.
IT'S Friday night and I'm heading out into town. Rather than head straight to the nearest bar, I'm meeting my companions for the night in a nearby office. I'm welcomed in, offered tea, and shake hands with a Bishop. It's 10pm and not my normal crowd for a night on the tiles. These are members of local churches, united together by the Christian faith, and sharing one goal - to bring peace and care towards vulnerable night-time revellers in Rugby town centre.
I meet Bob Reeve, who is co-ordinator for the team of 35 Pastors currently active in the town. He runs me through what I could expect for the night. He reassures me he has done 50 hours of training with the Police, and should I get into difficulty, he is the best person to diffuse the situation. Bob shows me the items the Pastor team take into town, which include flip-flops (for young women seeking respite from killer heels), 'spikeys' (a plastic sleeve to put into bottle necks to stop drinks being spiked) and the most popular of all - lollipops. “People are immediately at ease when we offer them lollipops” Bob explains. “They are a real hit with everybody”.
I sit down with tonight's team of around nine Pastors, as they run through a quick briefing before heading onto the streets.
“The CCTV operators and Police have experienced activity with two groups of gangs late at night. There's been a rise in activity in the last couple of weeks,” explains Rob Hart, team leader for tonight's group.
Rob shows me the ear piece he wears when out. It's linked to the towns Pub Watch network, and it serves as a useful aid to keep the Pastors alert to places to avoid, or even people to avoid. It's quite evident that the Street Pastors take their own safety very seriously. Since its inception in 2010, there have been no serious incidents involving threats or anti social behaviour towards the team of Pastors. With their Police training and connection to the Pub Watch, it's hopeful that record can remain.
“We engage with the town's doormen” Dorn Margett tells me. “I think what they do is fantastic, and I have a lot of respect for their work”.
Unusually for tonight, a special visitor has decided to observe the work of Rugby's Street Pastor team, and blending in with no obvious clue to his position - the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth.
I ask him if he has ever patrolled before, and he replies “I have never done a similar thing at such a late hour." Wrapped up against the cold, with a red scarf covering his dog collar, he is more than willing to become part of the team, with no special privilege towards his status.
After Rob read a short excerpt from the Bible, we step out into the night. The Pastors walk in small groups of two or three, and each group is around 20 yards apart. They never lose sight of each other. The Pastors also don't want to appear to be out in large numbers, and keep their distances at all times. “
When we talk to someone, we don't want to appear to be crowding around them, it can be overwhelming for some, and that's not what we want,” Bob explained.
We walk past Asda, a young girl says 'hello'. She is around 20 years old and gushes that she knows who we are and that a year before, Street Pastors had intervened after she collapsed in town. Her enthusiasm for seeing us heightens when Bob produces a lollipop for her. A brief exchange and a goodbye ensues and we walk on. Buoyed by this encounter it is obvious to see the positive impact the Street Pastors have on the people they meet.
We move towards Vault, one of the town's nightclubs. It's nestled right under the spire of St Andrews church, and despite its noisy neighbour, Bishop Christopher seems delighted to see the venue. We meet co-owner Callum Orzechowski outside, and he invites us in. “This is the first nightclub I've ever entered” exclaims Bishop Christopher. We are lead into the main bar area, and are met with some confused looks by the clientèle. Callum explains to the Bishop how the place has become a meeting place for over 14's, where they can drink non-alcoholic drinks, and perform their own music. Bishop Christopher was impressed.
As the night went by, the team of Street Pastors made their way past most of Rugby's town centre bars and clubs. I witnessed much friendly behaviour towards the team. It seemed reassuring to many pub goers, especially women, that there was a presence on the street which didn't discriminate, or judge. The Street Pastors are not there to spread the word of Jesus, or to turn people away from 'sin', but rather to ensure people are safe, and let them know someone cares about their safety and well-being. It's human nature to reciprocate something good, so maybe the Street Pastors could get a ball rolling within the town.
I was told the Pastors will only talk religion to people if the subject was started by the other person, not the Street Pastor. This is important to stop them from getting a reputation as preachers, and will prevent people avoiding them. From the time I spent with them, it's clear to see their only intention is to spread the word of tolerance, and to engender a positive friendly atmosphere in the town centre.
Earlier that day a new Street Pastor patrol was launched in Caldecott Park.
Bishop Christopher left as impressed as me at the devotion of a team of volunteers, venturing out at one of the darkest times of the week, to shine some light towards vulnerable and impressionable young and old.
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