A welcome ear, a lollipop, and a pair of flipflops

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A determined band of local churchgoers will be on the streets of the Borders by the end of May.

Street Pastors has been very much a city phenomenon so far, where they aid people coming out of pubs and nightclubs perhaps the worse for wear, lend a welcome ear, and basically ensure they have the ability to get home safely.

Back row, Sandy Scrimgeour of the Ascension Trust (Scotland), Cllr Donald Moffat, Chief Inspector Andy McLean; front row street pastors Wilma Hembling, Justin Lanyon-Olver, Louise Johnston and Linda Farrer.

Back row, Sandy Scrimgeour of the Ascension Trust (Scotland), Cllr Donald Moffat, Chief Inspector Andy McLean; front row street pastors Wilma Hembling, Justin Lanyon-Olver, Louise Johnston and Linda Farrer.

They are famous for handing out flipflops to ladies who are tottering home on high heels without the required amount of balance required, and lollipops to anyone as a bit of an icebreaker.

They also take away the possibility of injury from glass by picking up discarded drinks bottles or glasses.

At a launch event on Monday at SBC headquarters – where it was revealed that training of local Street Pastors will being on April 23 and last a month – it was claimed that they are so much more than flipflops and lollipops.

Sandy Scrimgeour, of the Ascension Trust (Scotland) – which will provide the training for the Street Pastors – said: “The way Street Pastors work is very simple.

“Trained Street Pastors demonstrate the Christian ethos in a very practical way by being there to care, listen and help.

“It’s not just anyone who can become a Street Pastor. For instance, if we think a person would be judgemental, they would not be accepted.”

Justin Lanyon-Olber, a trained Street Pastor who volunteers on the streets of Edinburgh, said that most people they help just want to talk.

He said: “I think a lot of people who are out drinking are trying to find something at the bottom of a bottle.

“And when they get to the bottom of the bottle, they find there’s nothing there.

“Maybe there are people who have just had a horrendous night. Maybe they are just sitting on their own on the street.

“What we can offer them is time – it’s such a big thing because talking to the police, it’s one thing they are incredibly short on.

“We can be there for an hour, or longer. Let’s talk it out. Let’s offer our ears.”

While you have to be a church-goer to be a Street Pastor, religion will never come into any of their conversations, says Rev. Arthur Hembling, unless it is mentioned first by a member of the public.

He said: “We will not raise the question of faith, until they raise it with us.”

The service operates with the support what they like to call the “Urban Trinity” – which is the police, local churches and the local authority.

Mr Scrimgeour said: “I am pleased both Scottish Borders Council and the Police are supportive, along with a number of churches.”

Councillor Donald Moffat, SBC’s executive member for community safety, enthused: “It has been proven in a number of areas across the United Kingdom that Street Pastors operate that they help to reduce crime by a significant percentage. I look forward to the scheme hopefully spreading to other communities of the Borders.”

And Chief Inspector Andy McLean, local area commander for the Borders, who used to work with Street Pastors in the capital, said: “I am absolutely delighted. I can’t emphasise enough the impact Street Pastors have.

“From a selfish point of view, the workload that they take from police officers by dealing with people who may have been over-exuberant with drink is massive.

“It’s not that the people don’t want police officers to deal with them, but up to now we have been the only people who could.

“And sometimes we would end up arresting them if they were incapable of looking after themselves, and is a custody centre an appropriate place for them? Probably not.

“The amount of work the Street Pastors do is fantastic. I wholeheartedly welcome them and I have a list of events as long as my arm that I would like to invite you to!”

Galashiels will be the first town to “go live” with the scheme, closely followed by Hawick, but it is hoped that it will be opened up Borders-wide before too long.

Borders Street Pastors secretary, Duncan Cameron, who was widely thanked for the work he has done in bringing the scheme to fruition, said: “The main centres of population in Galashiels and Hawick is where the regular operations will be, but we all know that things go on in the Borders throughout the year, with festivals, common ridings and sevens tournaments, and we hope to eventually be able to support these event in other towns, that’s the long game.”

Mr Cameron said the service needs more people to volunteer their services.

He added: “When Street Pastors go out, we will be in teams of three or four. We would ask Street Pastors to commit to going out once a month, not every week.

“So, we would be looking for at least 16 people in each town. We have quite a number of people who have come forward and said they would be interested, and that’s super, but we need more.

“So, if you are 18 or over, no upper age limit – in Perth there is an 86-year-old volunteer – and have been a regular attender in any church in the Borders over the last 12 months, we would love to hear from you.”

If you are interested, you can email borders@streetpastors.org.uk or telephone 07708 060918.