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Feature: A night out with Grantham’s dedicated Street Pastors

The Rev Andy Scholes clears away glass with help from Debbie Napier-Reynolds.

The Rev Andy Scholes clears away glass with help from Debbie Napier-Reynolds.

When I met up with Grantham Street Pastors co-ordinator the Rev Andy Scholes it was just after midnight and he was leaving the scene of a fight outside Barcode in Westgate - although you wouldn’t have thought it from the relaxed demeanour of the Rev Scholes or his fellow volunteers pastors John Ferguson, Deborah and Sally Napier-Reynolds.

But after spending more than two years regularly walking the streets of the town centre on a Saturday night, I guess they’ve seen far worse.

“There was an incident at Barcode a few minutes ago,” Andy said.

“There was one guy in particular with a cut nose. We went along and offered some anti-septic wet wipes.

“It has been quite a jovial atmosphere apart from that one incident. It was some people fighting and I think it spilled out onto the street.”

The Street Pastors hit the streets just after 10pm on a wet and cold night and had already given out a bottle of water to someone who had been throwing up in the street and a pair of flip flops to a young woman walking barefoot carrying her heels.

“They take them off and then forget that there’s always broken glass on the floor,” said Debbie.

As well as water and flip flops, the Pastors also have a secret weapon - lollipops.

Sally Napier-Reynolds: “We hand out lollipops - they usually go down well and help diffuse a situation.

“We once had a gang of girls fighting so we said ‘do you want a lollipop?’

“They were so shocked that they stopped fighting. I think they thought we were crazy but if it works...”

If there’s a serious incident such as a fight the Street Pastors - a group of Grantham volunteer Christians from various different churches across the town - will stand back and help with the aftermath.

But they also help ensure the general safety of the night, cleaning up broken bottles and helping ensure people a little worse for wear make it home safely.

But the Street Pastors are not alone in their work. They have support, as I discover on returning to their HQ - Grantham Baptist Church in Wharf Road.

There, as the Street Pastors grab a half-time cup of tea, they are greeted by their Prayer Team. This back-up group offer support over the phone and on the walkie-talkie, as well as via prayer.

Clive Smith of the Prayer Team said: “Our goal is for there to be peace on the streets and people being respectful and sensible to each other and to use God’s power to help bring that about. A successful night is a night with little or no incidents.

“We have been praying for a long time and I really understand the power of prayer by being on this Prayer Team. It really does have an impact on the streets.”

Fellow member of the Prayer Team Steve de Visme agrees. He said: “We know this because we know what it was like when we started. When we started we had something happening every ten minutes but now we often find the Pastors are saying ‘it’s busy but nothing’s happening’. A total change.

“Now we are into this there’s no way we can stop because if we stopped it would go backwards.”

It may seem that the Prayer Team have got the better end of the deal, safely ensconced within the church, but the pastors are unequivocal in the importance of the Prayer Team’s contribution.

Andy said: “I don’t think I would go out at all if there was not people here praying for us.”

The pastors clearly feel safer with the support of the Prayer Team but what about their families? Do they worry about being out on the street late at night surrounded by the inebriated?

Mr Ferguson said: “My wife would be a bit uneasy. She was at the start but we’ve now had a couple of years of it.

“I think she got the impression we would be getting in the middle of something to try and sort it out but that’s not our role.

“My nature is to get in there but I have to fight that because it could inflame a situation.”

As we return to the streets the bars, pubs and clubs are even busier than before with people spilling out of Late Lounge and Ra Ra.

Unnoticed the pastors sweep the ground, clearing away glass nobody knew was there.

“People ask us ‘how much are you getting paid?’ said Sally.

“When we tell them we’re not being paid anything they ask why we do it and I say ‘it’s because we care about people’.”

The Street Pastors say they are “not here to bash people over the head with the bible” but if people raise religion they will talk to them about it.

Debbie said: “It’s amazing how many people have had problems in their lives and say ‘can you pray for us?’

“We had a young man who wanted us to pray with him in the street and asked that all his mates gather round and pray too.

“Really nice young men.”

I said goodnight and left the Street Pastors to finish their shift and was heartened by the positive reaction they received from passers-by many of whom, I’m sure, could tell a tale about how they or a friend had once been helped after a drink too many.

As I head home the Pastors head on another lap of the town, checking to make sure everyone is safe as they celebrate Christmas early.

 

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