High Sheriff of West Sussex goes on patrol with Street Pastors as pubs reopen

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing on projects in the county, talks about street pastors and goes out with them on the streets as the pubs reopen.

On July 4, the pubs were free to open, once again, to a thirsty West Sussex public.

After four and a half months of enforced pub and restaurant closure, there was much discussion as to whether we were about to witness a collapse in the caution which has marked the West Sussex population’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

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Booking systems and social distance measures, usually unheard of in your average pub, were carefully put in place. And, at the same time, in a village in the centre of West Sussex, a very special group of volunteers also prepared for a potentially busy evening – these were the Billingshurst Street Pastors.

Checking in at The Six Bells in Billingshurst, where Lewis the landlord and partner Hannah gave a warm welcome

The Street Pastor (SP) movement was pioneered in Brixton by Les Isaacs in 2003. Since then, more than 12,000 street and prayer pastors have been trained so they are able to play an active part in strengthening community life and working for safer streets.

Currently, more than 300 towns and cities around the UK have a SP team. Four of these are in West Sussex: Worthing, Crawley, East Grinstead and Billingshurst. The Billingshurst team has been active in this rural setting since May 2013.

The police are supportive of the SP teams and they help deliver some of their training but the Street Pastors do not work as part of the police presence in a community. Instead, applying their motto ‘Caring, Listening, Helping’, their aims are to come alongside those in distress and to be a friendly and approachable presence on the streets.

Nationwide, some SP teams provide daytime support to schools and colleges and others, the Response Pastors, are able to provide emotional support during times of severe crisis. And, although SPs come from the church community, they do not talk about their faith with those they help, unless they are asked to do so.

The Street Pastor uniform

On this important opening night for the local pubs and restaurants, it was therefore a great pleasure to be invited to join the Billingshurst Street Pastors. And, appropriately attired in a yellow guest vest, I set out with Emma, Mary, Brenda and Andrew at 7pm to see what was ‘going on’.

Our first stop was at the popular Six Bells, in High Street, where Lewis the landlord, his partner Hannah and a regular customer welcomed us warmly. The evening was going well and Lewis was very keen to thank the SPs for their supportive role in the village. As he said, ‘you make such a difference, it’s just great!’.

We moved on making our way to Station Road gardens and there met with a large group of young people making their own entertainment. The team stopped to chat – and collect up glass bottles and cans that surrounded the youthful gathering.

Several good conversations started up and as we talked about the importance of friendships and the future, I was reminded how this time of Covid has proved especially challenging to young people.

Billingshurst Street Pastors Emma, Mary, Brenda and Andrew

For the next three hours I observed how the Street Pastors gently and intelligently engaged with those that were out and about. And whoever they spoke to, it was clear that their presence was welcomed and respected.

Therefore, despite the concerns among some commentators that ‘the great re-opening’ of the pubs might prove difficult, the people of Billingshurst simply seemed to have enjoyed the restoration of this slice of normality.

However, if there had been need of assistance, the Street Pastors would have been there to care, to listen and to help.

Our communities are indeed safer and stronger as a result of their work.

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