WHITSTABLE is, by the Revd Helen Letley's admission, a "safe"
place. When the 20 Street Pastors she helps to manage undertake
their patrols, it is "not about law-enforcement" but offering a
"ministry of presence".
It is now nine years since the Revd Les Isaac OBE, director of
the Ascension Trust, launched Street Pastors as a response to gun
and knife crime in Britain's urban areas. There are now about
10,000 trained volunteers in 250 teams around the United Kingdom,
patrolling the streets, getting to know their community, and
providing practical support - from finding someone a taxi home, to
clearing broken glass, and administering first aid.
The Whitstable team, which patrols from 7 p.m. to midnight, was
commissioned in July after members of Tankerton Evangelical
Church, in conversation with the police, identified a particular
need in the beach areas.
"One thing that does happen, particularly in the evening and
summer, is that young peope tend to congregate on the beaches," Mrs
Letley, the minister at St John's Methodist Church, said. "Nobody
wants them to not have a good time, but what was happening was some
incidence of anti-social behaviour, including people of all ages
drinking on the beach."
Mrs Letley said that the initiative had enabled the churches in
the town - all 14 are involved - to show people that they could
work together to do something "positive, purposeful, and
"We do very basic things like pick up glass bottles which are a
common form of weapon," she said. "We have helped with a number of
domestic incidents, arguing in the street. One young woman in a pub
was separated from her friends and didn't have money for the train
home, and we managed to reunite her with her friends. There is a
sense of having a presence around and being a friend."
Pastors receive 12 days of training, which includes sea safety.
Mrs Letley said that the project was "offering something practical,
not to convert people", but that it was "grounded in prayer" and
that "the door is not shut" on conversations about faith with the
community. The Ascension Trust states that the role of a Street
Pastor is "one of listening, caring and helping - working in an