Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 13:28 UK

Street pastors offer helping hand

By Denise Glass
Tayside reporter, BBC Scotland news website

The Perth street pastors
There are 16 pastors in Perth and more are being recruited

Flip flops and the chance to talk about life's problems are being offered to more and more weary party-goers across Scotland.

The advice and footwear is being dished out by the increasing number of street pastors.

The volunteers wear distinctive blue jackets and baseball caps with STREET PASTOR emblazoned across them and are already working in Aberdeen, Inverness and Perth.

And there are thought to be plans to introduce them in 20 other towns and cities in the country.

The Perth team have been working for six months and believe they are having great success.

Mike Archibald who is in charge of the group explained what they do.

He said: "We kind of lean against a wall near a pub and we talk to the door people, we talk to the people who have come out with a cigarette and if it's late at night, towards 3 o'clock in the morning when we finish, maybe the cigarette and the match don't meet so we light their cigarettes for them.

"We give out flip-flops to the girls who come out of nightclubs in bare feet and can't walk on their high heels.

A pastor hands out flip flops
The pastors hand out flip flops and offer a listening ear

"That's only the surface of it really, because what we do is we have deep conversations with these people and we probably sort out a lot of their problems on the street."

Mr Archibald estimates the number of street pastors in Scotland has risen from only one 10 months ago, to 250 today.

There are 16 in Perth who patrol the area, and that number is expected to rise by another 10 or 12 during a coming training session.

They are all Christians from different churches in the town and include policemen, teachers, engineers, secretaries, NHS workers and more.

Volunteers undergo 12 weeks of training in subjects such as psychology, how to approach people, listening, anger management, first aid and drugs and alcohol.

The team has also been praised by politicians. Recently Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser spent a Saturday night with them.

A pastor receives a kiss
The Perth pastors say the public have been very welcoming to them

He said: "The street pastors are not there to preach to people, but to be a resource for those who might require assistance on the streets late at night.

"It is clear from the conversations that I had, or witnessed, that their work is greatly appreciated by folk who are out and about in town at night."

And Perth MSP Roseanna Cunningham has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the work they do.

The street pastor scheme has been running in England since 2003 and it is estimated that in some areas where they operate crime has fallen by 84%.

Mr Archibald believes their offer of a helping hand and listening ear is proving popular.

He said: "We're not judgemental at all, we don't judge people.

"We make sure they're having a good time. We're out to allow them to enjoy their evening and when they want conversation we're there to have this deep conversation with them."


SEE ALSO
Town gets 12 new street pastors
17 May 08 |  Leicestershire
City to get more street pastors
14 Mar 08 |  Lincolnshire
Street pastors patrol town centre
08 Mar 08 |  Tayside and Central
Street pastors mark first weekend
08 Oct 07 |  Lincolnshire

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