Christians to help late-night revellers
DOZENS of street pastors are set to aid clubbers on the streets of Cheltenham.
Up to 40 volunteers will be a common sight outside the town's clubs and bars every Saturday night from December.
They will dress in high-visibility jackets and offer a helping hand to people in distress between 10pm and 4am.
As well as helping drunken and disorientated people find taxis and buses home, they will hand out bottles of water, and flip-flops to women struggling in high heels.
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The scheme has already been successfully introduced at more than 80 towns and cities following a pilot scheme in Brixton in 2003. According to Christian group The Ascension Trust it has helped crime levels drop.
Earlier this year, plans were made for the project to be launched in Cheltenham.
Six churches, from different denominations, are now on board and 15 people have already volunteered to be pastors.
A campaign advertising for more help will soon be started in the town's churches.
Pastors will undergo thorough training in October and November before taking on the new roles.
Nigel Bennett, who is chairman of the management committee for Cheltenham Street Pastors, said: "I think it is a wonderful project. It's the sort of thing that a person who cares for others would really wish to be part of.
"We're not trying to convert people to Christianity or anything else. We're trying to be the good Samaritan on the street. We're there to help. If people don't want that help, then fine. We will walk away and go elsewhere."
The Cheltenham churches which have got on board include the Salvation Army in Bath Road, Cambray Baptist Church, St Mary with St Matthew C of E Church and Methodist churches in Bishop's Cleeve and Winchcombe.
Mr Bennett said volunteers will receive thorough training in 16 different modules before they start. This will include instruction in how to act if confronted with a weapon and how to interact with the police and emergency services.
While many will take to the streets others will be required to stay in a base at a church to pray for the safety of their fellow pastors as they tackle the Cheltenham nightlife. They will also be in radio contact.
It is hoped another 40 pastors can be recruited for the second year of the scheme so they can cover both Friday and Saturday nights in the town.
Graham Ledger, from Springbank, who wanted to see the project started up in Cheltenham, said: "I'm just so impressed by the way the churches are working together to put in place what is a caring ministry on the streets.
"It's a real pulling together not only within the church but with the police and local authority. Everyone is working in the same direction."
Martin Quantock, Cheltenham business partnership manager, said: "In any given situation these people will be trained to look for people in a vulnerable situation and be able to offer them help and advice."
Derek Barnes, who is the landlord of St Georges Vaults in St Georges Place, added: "This is the sort of country where people do tend to help others out a great deal.
"It's a good idea to help people who could become the victims of crime."
Inspector Jon Roberts, of the Cheltenham Town Centre Police Safer Community Team, said it was a "beneficial step" for the town centre on busy evenings.
"An initiative such as this will further help us to keep vulnerable people safe when leaving nightclubs and in doing so can prevent people becoming the victims of crime," he said.