The Good Samaritans of Cardiff

Street Pastor Peter Joyce

Street Pastor Peter Joyce

St Mary Street is strangely quiet as Friday night becomes Saturday morning in Cardiff city centre. Most of the bars are open and music is blaring from within, but the bouncers standing outside have no queues to handle and cast regular glances at their over-sized watches. Even the sticks of doner meat spinning in the fast-food joints on ‘chippy lane’ are looking plumper than they should at this time of day.

While New Year’s resolutions and the bitter January cold may be keeping most people indoors, I am out with five faces you can count on to be in town every Friday, and as usual they are looking for trouble. Luckily for everyone else, they are the Street Pastors and they are trying to solve problems rather than cause them.

Street Pastors is an inter-denominational Christian initiative which aims to make city streets safer by engaging young people who are out for the night. The scheme was pioneered in London by Rev Les Isaac in 2003, and volunteers now head out at weekends in around 80 locations across the UK. The Cardiff branch has been up and running on Friday evenings since its full launch last November.

I join Pete Joyce, 27, a founding member of the Cardiff Street Pastors, and Claire Russell-Jones, 50, who is making her Pastors debut. Before we set off, a route comprising St Mary Street, Greyfriars Road, Caroline Street, Mill Lane and Queen Street is agreed with the other group of three Pastors.

Pete Joyce delivers a message to the other Street Pastors before they head out into the city centre on Friday 09/01/09.

A young woman is reunited with her friends

A young woman is reunited with her friends

The Street Pastors give out bottles of water to help people sober up, and also carry several pairs of flip flops in case high heels are proving too tricky for anyone at the end of the night. Pete summarises their role: “Its not rocket science. It’s about giving out bottles of water. It’s about giving out flip flops. It’s about putting vulnerable people in taxis. We are taking them out of the equation so they are less likely to be victims of crime.”

On the weekend before Christmas last year, the Cardiff Pastors handed out 63 bottles of water and 96 pairs of flip flops, and disposed of over 200 bottles and glasses. Tonight has been nowhere near as busy, but the Pastors have safely binned several broken bottles, reunited a tearful and drunken young girl with her friends, and helped another woman salvage her dropped change from the floor.

As well as the practical help provided by the Pastors, Pete claims they have a significant effect just by talking to revellers: “Some of the big success stories are the conversations we have had when people are a bit wound up and there are arguments going on.

“When the police move in to situations it tends to escalate them. That’s not a criticism of them, people just have pre-conceptions of the police. When we go in we tend to calm situations down and resolve them rather than them ending up in a police van.”

Street Pastor Claire Russell-Jones

Street Pastor Claire Russell-Jones

Gary Smith, Director of Cardiff Street Pastors, has said: “In setting up Street Pastors in Cardiff we wanted to develop an Urban Trinity between the church, the police and the local authority.” I ask Pete how this is progressing, and he says that after overcoming early concerns, the police in Cardiff are supportive of the scheme.

“I think we had to build a relationship with them. Generally, officers that we meet on the ground – once we explain it to them, once we have done a shift with them – are very positive. I guess their initial fear was another load of people to look after. I think they have seen that we’re not here to cause trouble or preach at people.”

And preach they do not. The Pastors will engage in conversations about religion if prompted, but will never initiate them. They do not carry Bibles but instead carry cards with links to their website, where further details can be accessed should people be interested. As Pete says: “I personally believe that Christianity is relevant for everybody. I just don’t believe it is my place to push that down people’s throats.”

While their faith is not something the Pastors try to impress on people when on the streets, it is certainly what motivates them to be out there. Claire, whose husband Gethin is the pastor of Rhiwbina Baptist Church, says: “I wanted to do something out of the box. I didn’t want to just be the pastor’s wife listening to people’s problems in church. I wanted to help people’s problems out in the world.”

There are currently 19 active Street Pastors in Cardiff. By the end of Spring this year a second wave of volunteers will have finished training, allowing the team to take to the streets on Saturday nights as well as Friday nights.

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~ by seanbradbury on January 14, 2009.

4 Responses to “The Good Samaritans of Cardiff”

  1. I really like your article Sean, good build up at the beginning. Who would have known the Street Pastors exist? I obviously just don’t get out enough!

  2. Nice one Sean. I’ve just linked to it from the Cardiff page of the Street Pastors website. And you’re a fellow John Martyn fan – can’t be bad!

  3. well done thanks for saving me from utter pain it nearly spoilt my nite untill u came along, i didnt no u exsisted thanks again x

  4. Very inspiring to read about the work of the Street Pastors on the city streets.
    Hopefully, a group will start sometime in the early part of 2010 on the streets of Port Talbot. Please pray that this mission will become possible.

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