Milestone Celebration for Southampton Street Pastors

Milestone Celebration for Southampton Street Pastors

Southampton Street Pastors have celebrated 15 years of offering help, care and a listening ear to people in the city.

Street Pastors is an initiative of Ascension Trust and was pioneered in London in 2003.  In Southampton there are currently 123 street pastors, from more than 60 local churches, along with 28 prayer pastors who provide support and prayer while the street pastors are on duty.

Street Pastors take part in regular night time patrols in the city centre, engaging with people out in clubs and pubs, staff working in the night time economy, rough sleepers, and others who just want a chat.   

Jenny Coleman, Coordinator at Southampton Street Pastors said: “I think it started because there were youngsters out on the streets and in the venues who were getting themselves into difficulty or falling unwell and people thought there had to be a way that the church could step in and help protect these youngsters by circulating around the area, ensuring that if someone is looking a bit lost that they could help them and see them home safely.”

In the last 15 years Southampton Street Pastors have clocked up over 76,000 hours on patrol, offering a reassuring presence and providing support for those in need.  They are linked by radio with door staff, CCTV operators and the police and are regularly called upon for help. This could be calming emotional situations or helping those who are lost, alone, upset or unwell.  In their rucksacks, street pastors carry hot drinks and water, foil blankets, first aid, flip flops as well as fruit pastilles for energy and the sweets are often a conversation starter too. 

In the last 15 years, night time Southampton Street Pastor patrols have:

  • Calmed 1,219 situations that were getting aggressive
  • Cared for 4,151 who were seriously intoxicated or affected by drugs
  • Supported 3,730 distressed, alone or vulnerable people, getting them to safety
  • Called an ambulance 389 times
  • Cared for 18,260 street/homeless people
  • Given out 7,431 pairs of flip flops, 17,212 hot drinks and 5,844 bottles of water

A special event has been held to mark the 15th anniversary of Southampton Street Pastors led by Acting Bishop of Southampton Right Reverend Geoff Annas, who has been involved with the initiative since the start.  It included worship, prayers and the commissioning of 19 new street pastors, having completed their training, and 3 new prayer pastors.  Bishop Geoff was joined by Southampton Chief Inspector Marcus Kennedy and Chair of Trustees Rev Simon Orton to share thoughts and encouragement with the volunteers.  The event also celebrated 7 volunteers who have given 1000 hours of service.

I remember at the start how we sat and had a coffee and we just talked about what we could do to reach out to the hundreds of people who come into the city of Southampton at night and who wouldn’t normally have any contact with the church.  We got in touch with the police and with the council and soon after we started, it became obvious that it was going to be an asset to the city.  The police became very supportive as did the city council, and the churches rallied around and supplied volunteers.  It’s tremendous how it’s grown and it’s a real sign of the Holy Spirit at work.  God has really blessed the whole project and it’s fantastic to celebrate these 15 years.

Bishop Geoff

Southampton Street Pastors are funded by regular donations from local churches and individuals as well as a grant from Southampton City Council.

Since street pastors have been operating in Southampton, there has been a reduction in violent crime at night and admissions to A&E.   As well as night time duties, there are day time and early evening patrols in the local parks and in communities including Portswood, Millbrook and Thornhill. 

Southampton Street Pastors have also been invited to help local schools, overseeing youngsters as they leave the school gates and head home or to the bus stop, following concerns about bullying and drug pushing problems.

Jenny said: “There are two secondary schools that we patrol and very close by are two junior schools, so they visit the secondary school and then make their way down to the primary school and they have lots of conversations, not just with the youngsters but also with the teachers and the parents.  Parents really enjoy having someone to talk to, sharing what they’re going through, maybe with their child or with life in general and the difficulties they face with affording life.  I think we sit in a very privileged place, we’re a stranger but we’re a safe stranger, so they can feel they can talk to us and unburden.  We do a lot of listening and many street pastors really enjoy that aspect of it, feeling that they made a difference.”

Prayer is at the heart of the street pastors.  When out on patrol, they keep in regular phone contact with the prayer pastors, who then lift up to God those encountered in the city centre and the situations they are facing. 

There are many stories about how God is moving on the streets of Southampton.  How God will lead their footsteps to the places they are needed.  How giving practical help can lead to deep conversations about faith. The young man who wanted to know God’s will for his life.  The young woman who asked for directions and, after a conversation, asked how she could turn in Jesus.  The man threatening suicide, who decided to live a life of faith.

Jenny adds “I think there have been a lot of moments where you think wow, they came out to party and have a great time, and God was probably the last thing on their mind, and yet they end up going home with God in their heart.   Sometimes we have incredibly deep conversations and we have people asking for prayer for their lives.  We had a community patrol in Millbrook and we prayed for a few people at The Saints pub.  After a while, the locals knew that the street pastors came around every Saturday evening, and there were people waiting in the car park for prayer.   I think that shows that we’re having an impact and people like the fact that we’re effectively like a mobile church and that they can come to us not just for a listening ear, but they can come to us for prayer.”

Street Pastors is part of the school curriculum for RE.  So, many young people are aware of their role and the help they can provide.  The street pastor uniform often triggers conversations about why they do it. 

Bishop Geoff adds: “The first question you often get asked is how much are you getting paid for doing this and when you say, we’re not getting paid anything, the reply is why are you here? We say we’re all Christians, we go to church, we believe in Jesus and we think this is what Jesus would want us to do and we think Jesus is here on the streets with us.  

“Sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning you have some of the most profound theological questions and opportunities.  I’ve learned over these past 15 years that young people have a deep spirituality and a deep spiritual awareness. It may not be lived out in context of organised religion, they may not be in the pews on a Sunday morning, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t got any faith and it certainly doesn’t mean they haven’t got any spiritual beliefs, so it’s really good to go out and meet them where they are. I’m sure that’s what Jesus did, and what he wants us to do too.”

Southampton Street Pastors have plans to expand patrols and locations as demand for their presence increases.  New volunteers are always welcome!