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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 08:07 GMT 09:07 UK
Pastors plan to tackle disorder
By Nicola McGann
Tayside and Central reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Street pastor
The street pastors wear distinctive uniforms
Street pastors have become a familiar sight in big towns and cities in England and could soon be playing a role on the streets of Scotland.

The aim of the pastors, in their distinctive navy jackets and baseball caps, is to help reduce disorder in troubled areas.

The volunteer patrols tour the bars and clubs until the early hours of the morning, talking to people and providing a calming presence in a bid to quash any trouble and make the areas safer.

Now the scheme is heading north of the border for the first time and Perth could be the first Scottish city to bring in street pastors.

The man behind the drive is retired accountant and apprentice minister Michael Archibald.

There are about four of five gangs in Perth, so it's not the quiet wee backwater that people might think
Michael Archibald

A member of the city's North Church, Mr Archibald first heard about the scheme from a fellow congregation member and felt it was something that was badly needed in Perth.

He said: "People don't automatically think of Perth as being a rough place and it's quite nice during the day but in certain areas it's not very nice at night.

"On the weekends it's thick with people in Mill Street and they're all pouring out of the pubs across the road and the nightclubs and there is a lot of action.

"Apart from that there are about four or five gangs in Perth, so it's not the quiet wee backwater that people might think."

The idea for the street pastors originated in Jamaica when churches joined forces to take their values into the streets and tackle the growing tide of gang culture, guns, drugs and violence.

'No preaching'

It was pioneered in London by the Reverend Les Isaacs in 2003 and since then has been set up in Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Southend and Wrexham with some interesting results.

Figures from the Ascension Trust, which was set up to co-ordinate the project, show a 74% reduction in street crime in Peckham, south London, since the street pastors began their patrols and a 95% reduction in Camberwell.

Mr Archibald is quick to point out that the street pastors are not "God squads", patrolling the pubs and clubs looking for vulnerable people to convert to Christianity. Far from it.

Their role is to make themselves available to listen to people, especially young people, and support them.

Michael Archibald
Michael Archibald believes Perth is the ideal place for street pastors

"The street pastors sit in the back of pubs and generally let people come to them and chat to them," Mr Archibald said.

"They build up trust and can help defuse situations by talking to people before things get out of hand. The idea is that if there's drugs or knives, they might even get handed over to the street pastors.

"It's not about preaching and converting - they talk, we listen."

Volunteers for the street pastor scheme range from 18-year-olds up to elderly grandparents.

The only requirement is that they have to have been committed to a church for more than a year. They also need to provide a reference letter from their church leader or minister.

'Supporting police'

They then undergo a gruelling five-month training course involving lectures from the police on how to defuse situations and how to deal with drugs, as well as talks from the local authority and paramedics.

Only then are they allowed out on to the streets.

In Perth, two parties of two volunteers would carry out patrols on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 2300 BST until 0400 BST.

Mr Archibald said: "Being a street pastor is not about substituting the police, its about supporting them.

"Quite often people who have had a drink just want to talk to someone and that can stop them from getting aggressive.

Mill Street, Perth
Mill Street in Perth can be a different place at night

"We wouldn't be involved in violent confrontations - if it gets violent, you get out."

He said that in the four years the street pastor scheme has been running in England, not one of the 600 volunteers had been injured while patrolling the streets.

Mr Archibald said a recent trial on the streets of Perth was "more or less positive" and he is now hoping to travel down to Wrexham to see how successful the scheme is there.

"The street pastor scheme is inter-denominational. It's not just one church, it is all churches working together to get help fight street crime.

Tayside Police have welcomed the idea in principle.

We are always open to new ideas and would be very keen to discuss it further
Ch Supt Matt Hamilton

Perth-based Ch Supt Matt Hamilton said: "Perth in the evening is a very different place to Perth during the day, just like every other city in the UK.

"People are obviously out at night drinking and having fun. If the street pastors are out there making people more aware and more considerate of others then that would be a definite benefit to the city."

He added: "There are some sensitive issues that would need to be dealt with surrounding drugs and knives but on the whole it's a very promising idea.

"We are always open to new ideas and would be very keen to discuss it further."

Twelve volunteers are needed to set the scheme up in Perth and eight people have already signed up.

Mr Archibald is hoping to have the scheme up and running in the city by March 2008 and, if successful, plans to roll it out to other cities and towns across Scotland.




SEE ALSO
Flip-flops handed out to clubbers
19 Nov 06 |  Leicestershire
Street pastors walk trouble spots
21 Apr 05 |  Leicestershire

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