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By Tristan Harris Monday 17 December 2012 Updated: 17/12 16:07
BROMSGROVE'S Street Pastors have been out in the town centre on Friday nights since July.
Since then, there has been an 18 per cent drop in the amount of anti-social behaviour on Friday nights, compared with the same days last year.
And, with the festive season upon us, the Street Pastors will also be out in Bromsgrove on Friday (December 21), tomorrow (December 22), Christmas Eve (December 24) and New Year's Eve (December 31).
Ahead of the extra pre and post-Christmas appearances, on December 7, Standard editor Tristan Harris went out with the Street Pastors to see how they were received by Bromsgrove's revellers.
IT STARTED just before 10pm at Bromsgrove Baptist Church, where the Street Pastors are based.
Every Friday begins with a briefing, a few words and prayers at the church, before four pastors head out in two pairs (ideally a man and a woman in each).
After donning their Street Pastor jackets and caps, the volunteers fill their pockets with lollipops and fill the rucksacks with a first aid kit, resuscitation masks, foil blankets, rubber gloves, containers for sharps (needles) and a dustpan and brush.
Before we leave, the pastors call the CCTV operators to let them know they will be out and about.
The first part of the evening, from 10pm to 12midnight, sees the pastors walk a town centre route - tonight we go up to the Texaco garage on Birmingham Road, back to the High Street, via the bus station, and then down Worcester Road. We then walk down to near South Bromsgrove High School and back to base, via Pig Alley.
Norman, my chaperone for the first part of the evening, tells me about the Street Pastors' 30 hours of training, which sees them educated in police protocol and about drugs and alcohol, so they know what to look for in those who are under the influence.
He speaks of the importance of the Street Pastors being non-judgemental and tells me how their role, encompassing three main elements - 'listening, caring, helping' - is completely different from the police's.
"The best way to describe it is - if a bottle comes through the air, we sweep up the pieces and the police go in and find out who threw it," he said,
During those first two hours, the pastors removed litter from the streets, such as bottles, broken glass and pieces of wood, which could injure people, either by causing them to fall or by being used as missiles.
Some good-natured banter is exchanged with teenagers hanging around in the bus station, who seem happy to chat to the Street Pastors and even more happy to accept free lollipops.
Next the pastors call a taxi for a Birmingham man who is struggling to get back home.
After that, a woman stops the pastors and asks if it is true they hand out flip-flops to women struggling with their high heels. The pastors explain how it prevents them from going barefoot and treading on broken glass. Her partner, from New Zealand, comments it wouldn't happen over there.
Others we see in that first two hours include two people smoking cigarettes outside the Golden Cross and some more teenagers, who appear to be drinking in Hill Lane. Once again, lollipops are given out and the pastors are well-received. On being told what the pastors do, one of the smokers speaks of his admiration for them.
En route back to the church, there are three men in their 20s drinking alcohol in Pig Alley, where it is pitch black. They are all clearly intoxicated and the first thing they ask is: 'Are you police?' When they ascertain who the pastors are, they ask them if they can use their torches to help them find their way out of the alley, which they do, with two of the trio chatting happily as they go. The third one walks behind, confiding in them about problems he has in his life. They give him advice and tell him there is help out there for him.
As we exit Pig Alley, the Pastors try to convince them to go home, but they say 'we are only just beginning' and wander off into the night.
At 12midnight it is back to base for some well-earned coffee and sandwiches, before we head out again at 12.30am.
At this time a lot of the pubs on Bromsgrove High Street have closed and the revellers are making their way down to Worcester Road - to either B61 or Love2Love.
Aside from handing out lollipops and more good-natured chat, not much happened in the next hour, so it was back to base again at 1.30am (half-an-hour earlier than scheduled) for more coffee and snacks.
On our way back, two people were hanging out of one of the windows on Worcester Road - one was shouting to the pastors to thank them for helping her last time she was out, by giving water and lollipops, while the other was hurling abuse, telling them to 'jog on'.
I can't believe we have been out for three-and-a-half hours - the time has gone quick and there have certainly been some interesting conversations.
Back out there, the Street Pastors position themselves in Worcester Road, ready for 2.30am - that is when B61 closes and many from there head to Love2Love, which is open until 3.30am.
One woman spots my fluorescent vest and, obviously under the influence, mistakes me for a police officer and tries to talk to me about 'an assault she reported to my mates earlier'. I tell her I'm not a police officer and she staggers off. Nearby, three lads are getting rowdy, one particularly vociferous about losing his moblie. The alcohol or whatever else has been consumed by now is clearly having an impact.
The first real need for the pastors is at 2.50am when a girl lies herself down on the freezing pavement after, undoubtedly, consuming too much alcohol. The pastors help her, check she is OK, and she goes off with her friends.
At 3am, there is the startling sound of broken glass. Luckily, this time, it is just a bottle that has been dropped, but the pastors tell me they have seen plenty of bottles thrown in anger. Mike, one of the pastors, sweeps up the glass, exclaiming: "There's no point in giving people flip-flops if you don't clear the glass as well."
Between 3.20am and 3.30am there are a couple of verbal disagreements, which the pastors help resolve and then, at 3.30am, people stream out of the club in their droves.
Up until now it has been a calm night (the pastors refrain from using the word 'quiet' in case it tempts fate).
But, at this point, the atmosphere feels more intense and then, five minutes later, after a couple of raised voices and some pushing, a full-scale street brawl breaks out.
People are punching each other, with at least four or five fights breaking out. The doormen from Love2Love go in to break up the different confrontations and usher people away. It is truly frightening at how quickly the trouble escalates and I am stood with my back to a shop doorway, trying to avoid being caught up in the melee. One man falls to the floor and I wince as I see him kicked in the head and hear the thud of the foot making contact.
Another has a suspected broken ankle after a fall caused by the scrapping. The victim, whether through shock or what he has consumed, wants to get a taxi. But the pastors, along with his friends, convince him he needs an ambulance Jane, another of the pastors, calls the service.
While she does, more lollipops are handed out and more women are swapping heels for flip-flops.
By the time the police arrive, the trouble has fizzled out, but you can still feel some tension. The ambulance arrives and the man is helped by the paramedics and the police talk to some of those who have witnessed the trouble.
It seems crazy that we've been out for six hours and seen little or no trouble until one flashpoint which led to several fights and, even worse, a catalogue of injuries.
The crowd slowly disperses into the waiting taxis and the Street Pastors and I head back to base.
Having seen them in action for myself, I can see how their presence has helped bring about an anti-social behaviour reduction.
As we walk back through the now calm town centre, I'm thinking back to that frightening flashpoint and how many more there might've been if it wasn't for lollipops and flip-flops.
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