Jessica Dyer spends a Friday night with Brixton’s Street Pastors
If you are out on a Friday night in Brixton you may well encounter the Street Pastors, a church-based group, who have been patrolling in the area for the last 15 years providing advice, kind words, help and comfort to those out on the town. The Bugle was fortunate enough to attend a patrol this month, which, by all accounts, was a surprisingly “quiet night”.
Patrols take place from 10pm to 4am, allowing the pastors to visit all the venues at the beginning of the evening, talk to the bouncers and members of the public in the queue before helping those vulnerable people who have lost friends, are having trouble getting home or need a little comforting following a drink-fuelled disagreement with friends at the end of the night.
“It puts the bouncers at ease to see us,” Cherie Thomas, Lambeth Street Pastors coordinator, tells me, “We go around and see them at the beginning of the night so they know we are out, and they can call us if they need to.” When out, the pastors are on the radio network used by all the door staff so they are aware of any incidents, can ask for assistance themselves or can be called to a specific venue.
“Sometimes door staff will call us on the radio because they have a vulnerable girl, who has had too much to drink and is trying to go home with a guy she has just met. We will speak to her, let her know that if at any point she changes her mind No always means No.”
A minimum of three pastors are on patrol in Brixton and Clapham on the same Fridays. The pastors also patrol in Streatham and Vauxhall once a month.
They check in with homeless people in the area, offering them water, blankets, scarves, hats and time.
During the patrol most of the homeless people we spoke to were hoping for change, but the pastors do not give out food or money as they cannot afford to set up dependency. What they offer is company and a listening ear, “Last month we had a quiet night, so we could spend an hour with a homeless woman and give her more attention,” Cherie tells me.
When on patrol in Brixton the Pastors do not have a hub, so once they leave their base in Angell Town they are out all night. Luckily McDonald’s have reopened their seating area and toilet, so those out for the night shift can get a hot drink and refuel. When I catch up with those “out”, they are filling in their hot drink sticker cards – “We like being able to give them to a homeless person to get a warm drink.”
Recent Brixton BID (Business Improvement District) funding has allowed for first aid training for Street Pastors, which they appreciate very much.
“Incidents of crime and antisocial behaviour go down when the Street Pastors are out,” Cherie says.
“Members of the public say ‘I’m glad you are here because it means I can have a drink and if I have a problem I know you will help me get home!’”
While we are out the radio comes through with a message about a disturbance at the Dogstar, so the Pastors divert from their route to check on the incident. When they arrive, they discover the problem has been dealt with, but the bouncers are very happy to see the Pastors and grateful that they came over to help.
While out the Pastors also collect glass bottles that have been dumped along the streets, in plant pots or on the top of bins and put them in the recycling bins. By the end of the night most of the orange bins on the main road are full and they struggle to find space. “We have been asking for bigger recycling bins for a long time,” they tell me. During the patrol they collected 45 glass bottles.
Lambeth Street Pastors became a registered charity in March this year. Cherie is hoping to use this opportunity to offer more daytime activities for the local community alongside their existing provision. Currently Pastors serve as both School Pastors (currently working with St Martin’s Academy) and/or Street Pastors on alternate weeks.
Cherie intends to work with more community groups: “It’s about finding out what needs are out there and looking at what we can do to help.”
The Street Pastors participate in Faith Together in Lambeth, an independent, borough-wide, multi-faith group who meet to discuss concerns in the local community including mental health, violent crime and policing.
“We are asking what we, as a community of faith groups, can do to help with community issues.” It is from these discussions as well as a close relationship with Brixton BID and the local community that the reach of the Street Pastors can grow.
While the work they do is difficult and challenging in many different ways, the Street Pastors remain joyful and upbeat. “I’m known as the dancing pastor!” Cherie says, “If a good song comes on, I get us to pause and have a little dance.”
During the patrol a young man stops the pastors to hug them and thank them for their work. He is not alone, most of the door staff have a similar reaction.
The greatest gift the Street Pastors give to the community is their time: they can spare more than a brief smile for a homeless person, they can bring joy to the night staff who have a long shift ahead of them and they help make sure those who have overindulged can get home safely.
Helping others without any immediate reward or gratification often seems forgotten in our fast-paced society, the Street Pastors are providing care and kindness to the Brixton community.
Lambeth Street Pastors are always looking for new pastors and partners to assist them in their mission of “caring, listening and helping”, see streetpastors.org/locations/lambeth.