For many in Stirling, including many of the students, the night life is something for us to enjoy after a stressful week of lectures, seminars, and tiring times in the library, sometimes going out to Spoons before hitting Dusk or Fubar, or maybe heading to Kilted for karaoke on a Thursday night is what we need to relax.
But as we all know, these nights can take a turn for the worse, and maybe having too much to drink, you end up in sitting on a pavement at 2am regretting that last tequila shot.
Stirling City centre is full of police and security staff during the nights and early mornings to ensure that people are kept safe and deal with any trouble, but there is another group of people who patrol the city streets at night to help those who are needing assistance, the Street Pastors.
The Street Pastors are part of Ascension Trust, a Christian organisation whose mission statement reads; “Ascension Trust is a Christian inter-denominational organisation with a passion to mobilise the Church to make a positive contribution to society and to improve the quality of life of the disadvantaged and vulnerable.
“Combining the skills and professional expertise of like-minded Christians and non-Christians, we aim to develop and implement practical and effective strategies to transform lives.
“To continue mobilising and training volunteers to serve communities and work with the marginalised in society is to increase our impact in communities and help create savings for the public purse.”
Street Pastors patrol cities and towns all over the UK, providing aid to vulnerable people on the street, whether they are homeless, or have just had too much to drink, they are there to help, offering cups of tea and coffee, bottles of water, flip-flops to women who can wear them instead of high heels, and even space blankets to care for people who are waiting for assistance by keeping them warm.
The Stirling Street Pastors come under Ascension Trust Scotland, and patrol Stirling every Friday and Saturday night. After hearing about their work, I asked about observation patrols, and after finding a day, I decided to join them on their Friday night patrol in the city centre.
The night started at the Allan Park South Church, where the pastor team, three pastors, packed bags with space blankets, gloves, flip-flops, a first aid kit, and flasks of tea and coffee.
The pastors then reviewed the reports from the previous night, and spent a moment in prayer, praying for a safe night, for everyone who was out in the city, and for all the people working in the city that night.
We left the church and headed to the first stop of the night, The Kilted Kangaroo, where we had a chat with their bouncer, who knew the pastors and has a good relationship with them, this was a common theme throughout the night, as door staff at clubs and bars such as Fubar, Dusk, and Katie’s all spoke with us as we passed by, and respected the work that they do.
Malcolm spoke about how he has seen the relationship between the Street Pastors and door staff develop and improve over the years that there has been a pastor group in Stirling.
“At first they kind of wanted us to let them get on with their job, but now they talk to us every night we’re out.”
This respect extended beyond door staff and even within the emergency services. Police officers who walked past us said hello and asked us how our night was going, and any police vehicle that drove past us officers would either stop to chat or wave. I spoke with a police officer whilst they were manning a safety stall at Freshers’ week, and when I asked her about the Street Pastors, she had nothing but praise for them;
“They are absolutely brilliant, and they really help us [the police] out on busy nights in the city centre. People react really well to them, a lot better than they react to us sometimes (she said laughing), and they have the patience of a saint when they are helping people.”
Throughout the night I witnessed exactly what this officer was talking about, people who had previous experience with the pastors stopped to say hi, one woman walked past us outside of Dusk and said; “Street Pastors, you guys are sound, really good guys.”
Although despite their presence in the city, many are unaware of the pastors and what they do, and some people approach the pastors and ask them who they are, and what they do. Some people see the blue uniforms marked ‘Street Pastor’ and assume that they are preaching their beliefs to the public, but that is not the case. The pastors are not there to preach, although some people did want to have a conversation about religion, some people spoke about how they had lost faith, about never being religious, the bad experiences in their lives causing them to lose faith, and even following the Church of Satan.
The team leader for the patrol, Malcolm, said; “We don’t preach to people, but if people want to talk to us about religion then we will.”
A major thing that I noticed about the work of the pastors is that talking to people is the biggest part of their work, people see them and approach them to talk.
Many people spoke to us and asked us how our night was going, people who knew the pastors approached me and asked why I was out with them, one person even thought that my black jacket and hi-vis Street Pastor vest was a police uniform, that was an interesting conversation. The pastors on patrol in the city make themselves very approachable, tell people to take care as they walk past, and will stop for a chat with anyone. Over the course of the night we had some very interesting conversations with people about a lot of different topics, serious life moments to funny stories about the end of a night out. My time with the pastors taught me one thing about them; they get to see different parts of all walks of life.
A bouncer from Fubar had approached us and informed us of a man sitting on the pavement alone a couple of streets away from the club and asked if we could go and check on him, so as we headed down past Molly Malones we saw the man sitting on his own. One of the pastors approached him and sat beside him on the pavement and asked him if he was OK and how he was getting home and offered to help him get a taxi.
The pastor spoke sat with the man and spoke with him about his life and what he had done in the past for 15 minutes while the rest of us stayed close, to avoid crowding the man and keeping an eye out for any other people in the area.
After the man had left the team leader praised the pastor who had spoken with him, “She is really good with people,” he said.
As we returned to Fubar to let the door staff know that we had spoken to the man. I spoke with the pastor who was with the man, and she said that us stopping to talk to him and helping him get home OK was the best thing for everyone, as otherwise he would just be wandering around the city and was at risk of being arrested.
They recalled an occasion where they walked a person back to their flat at the end of their night.
The three pastors who were out on patrol that night had all that various experiences when talking to people in the city, they told me about the things that are brought up in their conversations.
Some people just like to chat, whilst others have had more serious and personal conversations on issues such as a personal loss, mental health, and their relationships with family. Malcolm, who has been a street pastor in Stirling for nine years spoke about how he feels when talking to people;
“People will talk to you about all sorts, but you can always tell when they are about to talk about something more serious or personal, when they are going to move away from the superficial stuff and onto something deeper.”
We had a great conversation with some patrons outside Katie’s Bar, we were just chatting away with them and talking about many different things – one of these patrons even approached us to have a chat later in the night, just showing how big this part of their job is.
The pastors also have their regulars, members of the public who know them well. One such person is the busker who plays his guitar on Friars Street every weekend, we stopped by to speak with him and gave him a cup of coffee. He told me that the pastors were “great guys,” showing the good impact that they have on people.
We continued to walk the streets, talking to people about their night, one of the pastors, Cindy, told me, “It’s really interesting talking to people, you see a different side to the night.”
As we were walking towards Dusk, we heard from Malcolm’s radio and from a member of the public that the police had been called to a fight at the house next to Dusk. As we made our way towards Dusk more members of the public spoke about what had happened, one said; “It’s crazy up there.”
As we arrived we saw a police van outside the house, Malcolm and the other pastors spoke with the bouncers about the incident. The pastors then cleaned up the broken glass from the fight and we then made our way back towards the city centre. As we left Dusk we saw a woman walk past us, wearing a pair of flip-flops that she had been given by pastors on a different night.
On our way down Baker Street a man approached us and said that there was a girl who was very drunk with her friends. When we arrived, we asked if their friend was OK, and helped her friends keep her warm by giving them a space blanket and gave her some bottles of water.
The pastors suggested that an ambulance be called and that the girl should be laid down in the street until paramedics could arrive. The police stopped to check on the girl and asked us if everything was OK. One of the pastors sat with the girl’s friend after she began to get upset after worrying about her friend. The girl woke up and said that she didn’t need an ambulance and went home. Her friends then called and cancelled the ambulance. The pastors gave the girl and her friend pairs of flip-flops as they walked home.
We returned to the church after getting something to eat from a chip shop on Friars St, where I asked the Pastors about their time doing their work in the city.
Malcolm spoke about his nine years as a Pastor, and how when they first decided to set up a group in Stirling they had to go to Perth to receive their training.
I asked Malcolm what he thought the best thing about being a Street Pastor was, he told me;
“I love meeting interesting people, you can meet the whole spectrum of different people in one night.”
Cindy said that she “loved meeting people who would talk to them about real life situations that they could help with.” Cindy spoke about joining the Pastors a little over a year ago, telling me that before attending the church she had no idea that the Street Pastors existed.
Another member of the team Ross has been a Street Pastor for the past three and a half years. He told me; “I enjoy talking to people, hearing their stories and learning how they got to that point in their life.”
Malcolm spoke about how the first Street Pastors were set up in a rough area in London, and how the organisation has just grown since then. He spoke about how he admired that Street Pastor groups are not “strategically placed,” but are started by volunteers in their local area.
The Stirling Street Pastors continue to patrol Stirling’s streets every Friday and Saturday night, carrying out their dedicated and selfless work in their community. If you’re ever out in the city centre and see the Pastors, have a chat with them and ask them how their night’s going. After my night on patrol with the Street Pastors I stop and have a chat with them every time I see them, and I even still talk to the busker anytime I walk down Friars Street.
Stirling Street Pastors have been serving Stirling for almost 10 years, and it was a pleasure to join them and witness the work that they do.