A horde of women in fancy dress pounding the pavements of Hemel Hempstead town centre may not be a familiar sight to everyone, but a band of volunteers who have made it their mission to help those slightly the worse for wear say nothing surprises them now.
Back in March Gazette reporter Victoria Bull joined the inaugural batch of street pastors on their very first Friday night patrol in the town – they were a new and unfamiliar sight, but welcomed questions from the inebriated pub-goers who passed them. Now, almost seven months after its successful launch, the Christian teams are well-recognised and appreciated for the work they do.
Sue Griffin led her team of four on a patrol through Marlowes’ strip of bars and takeaways on a crisp October Friday. She said: “We do this because we live here, we are members of the town and we want to make it a safer place.”
The pastors on patrol are there for almost every eventuality – from helping inebriated lads rejoin their mates to get a taxi home, to helping provide medical assistance if someone is in need.
Teams have a treasure trove of useful goodies to give out to those who have had one too many – lollipops to give that re-invigorating sugar rush, colourful bottle toppers to prevent drink-spiking, and now even flip-flops for when five-inch heels seem less like a fashion statement and more a short-cut to a twisted ankle.
Sue’s husband Kevin, part of the same patrol, says they have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction.
“You expect people to take the mickey and start throwing fruit and vegetables at you, but they don’t,” he said. “If anything, we get people wanting to come up, shake our hands and say they respect what we are doing.”
The journey, however, still has some way to go. The management committee’s deputy chairman Mike Wallis is keen to see a brand new squad of Good Samaritans supporting the veteran pastors, so that Saturday night patrols – currently done at the start of each month – become a regular occurrence.
Mike said: “We are really pleased with the way the project is going, but it is still early days. Going into next year we want to have another recruitment exercise and get more pastors on the streets.”
Another husband and wife duo lending their services to the scheme are Nigel and Jane Couch.
Jane describes the project as “the best thing the churches have ever done – meeting people in their own comfort zones.” She agrees with Nigel that street pastors could one day have a bigger presence in the town generally.
Nigel said: “There are a lot of possibilities for the future.
“Kids are only aware of us when they turn 18 and go out in pubs. We are using this as a learning curve so that we can one day reach all areas.”