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Meet the 'angels of the night' keeping revellers in Shoreditch safe this New Year's Eve

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 December 2019

L-R: Street Pastors Olopo Mbelo, Betsy Samuel and Dominy Roe about to start their shift. Picture: Jon King

L-R: Street Pastors Olopo Mbelo, Betsy Samuel and Dominy Roe about to start their shift. Picture: Jon King

Archant

They've been described as "the angels of the night".

The team at work in Shoreditch. Picture: Jon KingThe team at work in Shoreditch. Picture: Jon King

And while revellers are out celebrating this festive season, it's a comfort to know the East End's street pastors team, based at Shoreditch Tabernacle Baptist Church or The Tab for short, will be out and about looking to keep people safe.

Dominy Roe, who along with her fellow volunteers patrols the streets around Brick Lane and Shoreditch, is keen to point out that although there's a religious connection, street pastors are not there to convert people.

"We're not about evangelising or preaching the gospel, but about serving our community and particularly those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.

"A whole range of people from different churches come together to serve, care for people, help anyone in need and listen," Dominy said.

Ascension Trust's Street Pastors scheme was set up by Rev Les Isaac OBE in 2003 with the Tower Hamlets group established in 2010 with government money and the backing of then Poplar and Limehouse MP, Jim Fitzpatrick.

The first patrol was in Chrisp Street, Poplar, and focused on helping keep young people away from gangs.

There are now more than 300 teams across the UK and 20,000 volunteers.

The East End's group benefits from Tower Hamlets Council's late night levy, a charge on club or premises licence holders selling alcohol to get traders to pay for policing the streets at night.

L-R: Street Pastors Olopo Mbelo, Betsy Samuel and Dominy Roe about to start their shift. Picture: Jon KingL-R: Street Pastors Olopo Mbelo, Betsy Samuel and Dominy Roe about to start their shift. Picture: Jon King

The Rev Georgina Stride from Spitalfields got the scheme up and running.

"I love what it is about. It's coming together to forget about your own difficulties and caring for your community.

"It's quite an ask, but people are happy to do it. Our work has a lot of positive effects," she said.

On a typical night, Tower Hamlets' volunteers check in with homeless people and help people get safely home after finding themselves in difficult situations as a result of too much alcohol, drug taking or arguments.

The team at work in Shoreditch. Picture: Jon KingThe team at work in Shoreditch. Picture: Jon King

And during the cold winter nights around Christmas, the street pastors often find themselves just talking to people who have no family to be with.

Volunteers have even helped people on the verge of taking their own lives.

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But one of the challenges is finding people who want to spend their Friday and Saturday nights walking the streets with a shift starting at 9pm and going on until 2am to 4am, the period when the need is greatest.

And while perceptions are changing, some people still need reassuring the uniformed street pastors are not the police. Officers advise the team on routes to take, but otherwise the street pastors act independently.

The rewards, however, outweigh the challenges.

"Sometime we go into bars and people say, 'You guys are like the angels of the night. You guys bring the light'. That's really beautiful," Dominy said.

To become a street pastor, volunteers need to complete eight weeks of training.

Geraldine Miller, who joined Tower Hamlets' street pastors on patrol to get an idea of what it's like, said: "It's just nice and friendly.

"It's not what I thought it would be. It's about talking to people, showing love, smiling. It's good there's somebody who cares. It's heart-warming."

For the Rev Stride, once you become a street pastor, you never stop.

And the 58-year old practises what she preaches.

One night she was returning home after volunteering and found a city worker from Canary Wharf alone and out of her head.

The Rev Stride took her home and called the woman's husband.

"We are looking for people who are willing to serve, who are loving, will listen, be passionate and care for people," she said.

What is also clear is both she and Dominy bring an abundance of life experience to the role.

Community worker Dominy suffered childhood abuse and homelessness before becoming a Christian.

As a Greek growing up in Brick Lane in the 1960s and 70s, the Rev Stride was targeted by racists. A school drop out, she managed to avoid the lure of joining a gang, but battled depression before finding God.

"All of that has added to my passion," she said.

For more information about Tower Hamlets street pastors visit streetpastors.org/locations/tower-hamlets/

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