WHEN you are having 'one last shot' before you head home after a Christmas party, you don't really think about the repercussions it can have.

After all, it's the season to be jolly. But what happens when it's just one shot too many – that leads to a vulnerable situation when you leave the pub, swaying as you walk along Weymouth harbour or a confrontation with someone?

That's where Weymouth Street Pastors have been community saviours. They won't like to be praised – however, it's the least they deserve this festive season.

How many of us would give up our Friday and Saturday nights, from 10pm to 3am each week to walk the streets of Weymouth to help drunken strangers – or teenagers out in the middle of the night?

Since they started in 2008, the Weymouth pastors, today organised by Ken Crafer, have volunteered 20,323 hours of their time, helped 1209 unwell or upset people, picked up 10,283 bottles and given out 4005 pairs of flip flops.

Spending a cold wintery evening with Weymouth Street Pastors to learn more about their work, I was struck by their kindness and generosity – and how and why they don't consider any of us strangers. Their faith in humanity is admirable and clearly a lot stronger than my own.

Walking the streets, it's hard not to judge what you see when it's 11pm and people are already crying in the streets outside pubs, and 13-year-olds with no coats on are aimlessly wandering around town on a bitterly cold night.

Where are their parents?

The teenagers come running up to the street pastors asking for lollipops – which have proved a saving grace for the pastors.

I'm with Richard Allen, Claire Davis and Carol Crafer tonight.

Meeting at Weymouth Baptist Church, the three pastors are busy packing bags for the night ahead.

Claire, a nurse practitioner from Weymouth, said: "We take bottles of water, flip flops, first aid kits, a dust pan and brush to clear up any glass and space blankets for cold weather."

Richard adds: "Donuts, sweets and lollipops are just a method to engage people. We find they are very useful for defusing situations."

After the bags are packed, the pastors sit down to pray before heading out into the cold night.

Leader the prayer, Richard asks God to watch over everyone in town tonight.

Richard, Claire and Carol are all Christians and attend Weymouth Family Church.

Richard said: "We feel that as Christians, when Jesus was on earth he was just meeting ordinary people. We want to represent the church and the community and just offer a helping hand in the night time when people can be in vulnerable situations."

I ask Richard why he wants to help – but it seems 'help' is the wrong word.

Richard replies: "Help is a subjective work. We just do what we can do with people out tonight."

The team don't only look out for the 'drunk and disorderly'.

Richard said: "The homeless often blend into the background – society often avoids them. But we have built relationships with them and we just have a friendly chat, give them a Kit Kat, bottle of water or anything they need really.

"We are very much part of the community. The door staff on the clubs are very protective of us and look out for us too.

"Some weeks we walk around and wonder what we are doing, but other nights we will be running around."

Carol says on the whole, people are usually in a good mood that the pastors come across. But sometimes, they can see people that are in a seriously vulnerable situation.

Since 2008, the team of pastors have accompanied 155 people for safety reasons and engaged with 137 'at risk young people'. It doesn't bear thinking about the dangerous situations the pastors may have helped prevent.

Claire said: "On the whole it's jolly and many folks work hard all week and in some way it's nice to see people enjoying themselves responsibly, so long as it doesn't go overboard."

Richard said: "It's seeing people who are putting themselves in vulnerable situations, particularly young women who drink too much and can't look after themselves who may be slumped down by themselves."

Carol adds: "We have seen predatory males, and you see people walking around looking."

It's a sobering thought. That's why it's important the pastor teams are always made up of men and women Richard says.

"If we come across an incident involving all women, it's just safeguarding for them and us."

Claire adds: "We are always together we are never on our own."

While the pastors walk the streets, sometimes they have a team back in the church also volunteering through the night.

Claire says: "Prayer Pastors usually tend to work alongside us. They don't go out in the streets – they pray and support us in that way.

"We will call them and let them know what is going on and if there is a situation, they will pray about it."

Claire's faith is the reason she got involved with the pastor scheme.

She said: "I got involved as I felt challenged by God and felt maybe this was something I can do.

"We all come from different walks of life and it helps having such a diverse team."

But it isn't the only satisfaction the team get.

Carol adds: "You couldn't do it if you didn't enjoy it, we meet some lovely people."

As we walk through town, you can already hear rowdy crowds in the pubs and clubs. Chants and cheers echo all the way down Maiden and Mitchell Street from the Skittles League in the Working Mens Club.

We walk further on and a woman crying in the street outside a pub shouts out to us 'I want some flip flops. Ah go on give us a lollipop'.

The pastors smile and oblige. As we turn a corner, a group of five or six young men approach us – cracking a joke and asking once again for lollipops.

After a brief conversation, one of the boys passes a fleeting comment that the lollies 'go great with cocaine'. He can't be much older than 17.

I'm shocked. I question Richard about his reaction, but he shrugs it off.

Richard said: "There's a lot of bravado, many of them aren't taking drugs but it's part of the culture. But alcohol is the freely circulated drug in our society."

He goes on to say that the boy could be being serious though, and that while the pastors can't change that, they can be a presence here in the community, trying to help in ways that they can.

A homeless woman sleeping rough on the streets approaches us on the next road near Rendezvous.

She says: "I'm freezing, it's bitterly cold tonight."

Richard and Carol give her some water and chocolate.

The group that alarm me most that we encounter are a group of young teenagers.

It's 11.30pm and one boy tells me he is just 13-years-old. He high fives the street pastors as Richard tells the group to stick together, and suggests to the boy to head home out of the cold.

Richard said while the pastors can't take the teenagers back to their parents, they can suggest for them to stay safe.

Before they leave, I ask the 13-year-old what he thinks of the street pastors.

He replies: "They are guardian angels. They're here to help people."

* The street pastors are looking for more people to join their team. They start training early in January to get recruits ready for when the 'season' starts in Easter. All street team members have to undergo 40+ hours of training prior to becoming a member of a team. For more information, visit streetpastors.org


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