MORE than 150 Street Pastors from around the world took to the
streets of Manchester city centre last Friday night for the Big
Night Out, the movement's biggest ever deployment. It was part of
an international Street Pastors Practitioners' Conference held at
Manchester Cathedral. The conference attracted about 500
The founder of the Street Pastors movement, the Revd Les Isaacs,
described the large-scale patrol as "a really delightful moment",
and "a major boost for Manchester city centre".
At a briefing before the Street Pastors took to the streets, he
joked: "The police are saying, 'Flipping heck, we didn't realise
that there were so many of you.' With over 11,000 people, every
weekend there must be around 3000 people going out on the streets.
We are not on our own. Tonight we are saying this is just a glimpse
of some of us."
The Street Pastors were also given a briefing from Sgt Ronnie
Nelson, of Greater Manchester Police, who described the city as
"the commercial and cultural hub for 2.5 million people".
The city centre, he said, was 2.2 square miles, in which 23,000
people lived, and which had more than 500 licensed premises. "We
have a large student and gay community here, and a vibrant
night-time economy, which you are about to experience. But, if you
are on the Cinderella shift, finishing at midnight, you won't
actually see a lot of it."
He said that more than 50 police officers were on the ground
that night to deal with alcohol-related crime, anti-social
behaviour, and a new trend of robberies committed on bicycles.
The issues facing the police in Manchester were "much like any
other city", he told the Church Times. "We have problems
with alcohol misuse, shoplifting, thefts, and people struggling to
get by and who fall between gaps within society come to our
"Street Pastors are great, because they provide us with another
way of approaching a problem. We know, as the police, that we are
not a one-stop solution to every problem. . . What we are is a
first line, where people will call us; and whatever problems we
come across, the criminal-justice system, a court appearance,
prison, isn't always the answer.
"What we are looking at are different ways of sorting out
problems which, traditionally, haven't been the way [we've done
things], but now we are working smarter - we think about what we
do, and we look at organisations and people that are willing to
help, and it's great to see such large numbers here tonight that
want to come on board with that. We welcome it. . . It's a fabulous
addition to the city."
Those taking part in the Big Night Out were split into groups of
about ten people, with an experienced team-leader. All those who
had previously completed the compulsory training, provided by the
Ascension Trust, wore distinctive blue uniforms, clearly marking
them out as Street Pastors. Others wore high-visibility tabards
marked with the word "Observer".
After the briefing and a short prayer, they were sent to their
designated areas to patrol. Members of one group had not walked 100
yards from the temporary "Cathedral on the Streets" building
outside the cathedral before they received their first approach
from a member of the public.
Two Street Pastors stopped to talk to the man, who asked for
prayer, while the others moved just far enough away to provide
privacy, but close enough to offer support.
Across the road, the group walked along Dean Street, where there
were two more encounters. One was a person asking for directions;
another was one of several homeless people sheltering in doorways
that the team would encounter that evening.
"We always stop and offer to talk to homeless people," a team
leader, Graham Radcliffe, from the Oldham South Street Pastors,
said. "We are often the only people prepared to do so."
Oldham South was one of several Street Pastors' groups operating
in the Greater Manchester area; but the city-centre group was
small. "We are hoping that this initiative will be a boost, and
kick-start the Manchester city-centre group," Mr Radcliffe
A short time into the patrol, the group was approached by a best
man on a stag night, who said that he had lost the groom. A chat
followed, and the group was soon joined by the husband-to-be.
As the Street Pastors walked past the many bars on Deansgate,
the doormen were happy to see them, shaking the hand of all the
team members, knowing that they play a big part in helping to ease
"Many doormen will call on the Street Pastors if they're going
to eject somebody from the premises," Mr Radcliffe explained. "They
know that if they simply throw somebody out, the problem doesn't go
away; but if we can assist, even if it's just helping them to find
a taxi, then that makes a difference."
One of the members of Mr Radcliffe's group was the treasurer of
the Antigua and Barbuda Street Pastors, Lestroy Samuel. "We operate
in St John's, the capital city of Antigua," he said. "The problems
we face are the same as here: alcohol, drugs, and so on; but there
is a lot of poverty in Antigua. We also see a lot of street
gambling, with people playing for quite large amounts of
He was impressed by the strong links between the Street Pastors
and the police in the UK, and hoped to develop the links when he
returned to the Caribbean. "We met the police chief when we started
the group, and he was very receptive to what we were going to do.
But that was five years ago. . . We don't relate in the way the
police here do," he said. "We're not that close."
The strong connection between the police and Street Pastors was
demonstrated by the involvement of the Assistant Commissioner of
the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, who told delegates on
Friday that the founder of the police service, Sir Robert Peel,
would have approved of Street Pastors.
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, said on
Saturday morning that the Street Pastors were like a "viral
mission" that, like the Early Church, spreads, because people see
how good it is, and want to be a part of it. "You don't need a
degree in theology; you don't need a social work qualification; any
committed Christian with a desire to find some role within a Street
Pastors team can do it. "Too many services, too many social
services, too many public services are only available at the
convenience of the person who is providing them. . . That's not the
attitude of Street Pastors. You are out on the streets where the
people are. You are not there at 11 o'clock on a Monday morning
because that's convenient; you're there at 11 o'clock on a Friday
night, because that's when the need arises. It is a service that is
accessible. It is there at the point of need."
Last week's international conference was the second such event
held since Street Pastors began operating in Brixton, south London,
in 2003. There are 11,000 Street Pastors in the UK, and the
movement now operates in places as diverse as Chico, in California,
and Badagry, in Nigeria. This year, a group began operating for the
first time in Jamaica.
Ros Davies, a spokesperson for the Ascension Trust, which
co-ordinates the Street Pastors movement, said that the ministry is
now expanding to provide "Retail Pastors - an invited presence in
shopping centres; and Schools Pastors - providing a presence in and
around schools, and taking assemblies."