I wandered through the backstreets of Stalybridge in the dead of night and despite it looking completely different in the dark I arrived at my destination. I confirmed that I was in the right place by asking a policeman “is this where the Street Pastors meet?” Luckily the answer was yes and I was introduced to Judy the head pastor for the evening and two other volunteers Mansell and Elaine. We had a briefing with the police officer while I ate a couple of chocolate biscuits and realised that I felt a bit nervous. I wasn’t sure what the streets would hold as we left for a night helping people on the streets of Tameside. The weather was extremely bad and the streets were quiet so we chatted as we walked. Judy was one of the original team that started the Street Pastors branch in Stalybridge four years ago, Mansell had been volunteering for a couple of years and Elaine was just about to finish her training. We hadn’t been walking for long when we met a group of young people smoking sat on a bench. They asked if they were going to be asked to move and the Street Pastors explained that they were there to talk. The young people chatted with us and after asking if we had a radiator handy we said our goodbyes and headed on our way. I suddenly felt much more relaxed. The group of young people were actually really friendly. This was the theme for the night. Many people out on a night out said hello. A couple of lads looked worried in our direction then asked if their car was alright. We realised the confusion and reassured him that we weren’t traffic wardens and headed to the station.
The station was quiet too and Judy explained that sometimes trouble can start on the train station or people can wake up in the wrong place. One lad had woken up on the train thinking he had arrived in Hull. He hadn’t. The Street Pastors had put him on the right train and got a very thankful message from the boys mum the next day. As we walked back Elaine explained that she had loved the training and had become a Street Pastor because she had seen them at work in Scotland. In order to be a Street Pastor you need to have a reference from your church and do some training which the volunteers said was brilliant but you need to pay for it yourself. It includes first aid, self defence and covered topics from domestic violence to gangs.
As we chatted to bouncers a man selling sea food came out of the bar. He was originally from London and as someone was buying cockles off him the Street Pastors discussed parts of London. It was such a bizarre situation that I had to remind myself where I was. Was this Stalybridge or the East end of London? For a moment it was hard to tell.
As we wandered back to finish the shift Judy convinced me to go out on a Saturday night with her so I did. I met two different volunteers Rodger and Bob. The streets were much livelier. We didn’t see the man with the cockles but we did see a man dressed like a banana. It was like a story played out as we saw faces throughout the evening as they enjoyed their night, appeared in different places in Stalybridge and then finally made their way home. We met Joe who had chatted to a Street Pastor when he was fifteen, as we had chatted to the group of young people sat on the bench, he was very thankful and now older was starting a new life as an apprentice.
I helped the Street Pastors hand out flip flops to girls who couldn’t walk in their shoes, water and sweets to people who wanted them and swept up broken glass until well into the small hours. I have never been hugged or thanked so many times. The friendliness of Stalybridge was clear. Right at the end of the evening we turned a corner to see two girls fighting outside a nightclub. The police arrived and we headed off for the night. I now understand why the Street Pastors were so warmly greeted by the people out in Stalybridge; it must be nice to know that there are people watching out for you at a time when you might be at your most vulnerable.