Saturday, 24 October 2009

Richard McKenzie's First Night as a Street Pasty

Spent my first evening as a Street Pastor out on the wet and slightly dank streets of Reading last night.

The Churches of Reading have got together to try and minister to the "Nighttime Economy". To do this you have to be in it, so at 9.30 we all met up for a cup of coffee and a briefing from the Police about what to watch out for.

A prayer session then a kitting out, don't we all look lovely. We hit the streets at about 10.00 or 10.30. Two parties of street pastors armed only with lollipops, yes really it is true what you've read in the papers, good humour and the desire to look out for people, took to the streets. Now we are based at St Lawrence's church and were not due back in to base for a break and further coffee stop until 12.30. How much of the town did you think my team covered. We managed to walk from the church to the corner of Queen Victoria Street and then to the Station and back in that time. This is probably 1/2 a mile. What did we do to fill the time? We chatted to the door staff, asked them how their evenings were, chatted to punters, gave out lollipops. It was very wet and payday is not until next week so the town was reletively quiet, but we still had people coming up to us saying they had heard about what we were doing on the radio and did we have any lollipops?

We didn't encounter any hostility, however we still have some work to do with some of the doorstaff. We also have a lot to learn. However we were in the town, part of that community and fitting in quite well. We wandered throught he station and talked to the security staff their about their problems. They told us that people get quite violent when would be passengers have missed the last train home. I noticed that they were all wearing stab vests so they must have some serious concerns.

On the second session we went as far as Gun Street, an talked to the staff at Sekura and the Purple Turtle. It was heaving here and I think we got in the way a bit, especially when people started asking for lollipops. We will have to find a way of dealing with this. We did find a couple of women here who had decided that their shoes hurt too much and had taken their high heals off. As they had a fair trot to go home we gave them the "famous" street pastors flip flops. By now it was 1am and we headed uptowards Friar St. Everywhere else we had been the atmosphere was very jovial and extremely friendly, Friar St was more agressive and nervous. Infact this is where we saw or first, and only punch up. A seriousish punch up developed over a man who was dressed as a woman in a food shop, you had to be there. We kept out of the way and engaged with a bunch of lads while the Police cooled the fight off and sent a couple of lads away to the Police Station.

So its 2.30am or 3.00pm by then so we walked smartly as far as the cab rank in Station Rd, talking to groups of people and finished off talking to a couple of bar workers who were on their way home for the evening. We discovered that they both went to local churches and had heard about what we were doing. They were pretty positive about seeing members of the church in town so late in the evening. We gave them our last lollies and finished off at St Lawrences for  a debrief. I was utterly knackered. My leg hurt and I could hardly stay awake, but I felt we had made a start at trying to understand how the Night Time economy works. Not on for another month so I hope I can catch up on my kip by then.

I am sure that some will question what we are doing, however if the Church, Politicians and those who pontificate about Reading's Nightlife don't engage with what is happening we have no chance of understanding the town and how it works.