Sheffield’s Street Pastors are guardian angels of nighttime economy
Those looking to let their hair down at the weekend often decide to hit the town.
Sheffield is famous for its nightlife, which is worth more than £600 million.
It’s made up of more than 1,600 businesses, 101 of which serve customers after midnight.
And if you are said person wanting to let your hair down on a Saturday night, you’re probably heading to one of these 101 premises.
I spent my Saturday night last weekend with Sheffield’s Street Pastors to see the part they have to play in maintaining safety in the centre.
Sheffield’s 53 street pastors work together to watch over those who have maybe had a little too much to drink, lost their friends or even found themselves in a bit of trouble.
These nightlife angels work in teams on a monthly rota, one team covering the city centre, and the other Burngreave.
I followed Tricia Watts, Bobbie Walker, Andy Marshall, Viv Chikaviro and Godfrey Chikaviro, who have 18 years of experience between them.
The group meets at St Matthews church on Calver Street to pray and pack before the night begins. It’s a long day for the team - they’re busy getting bags together to go out at 10.15, preparing to stay out until at least 3am.
The pastors’ bags are packed for every eventuality- water, flip-flops, hand warmers, blankets, first aid supplies, hair bobbles, phone chargers and even sweets.
Once out and about I quickly realised why all of this was so necessary.
It didn’t take long for people to recognise the group and come over and thank them for their work.
As we walk there’s the odd terrible joke of ‘street pastors? I want some pasta!’ which yes - they’ve heard a million times before.
Andy Marshall has been on patrol for a year now. “My son is a police officer,” He tells me. “Sometimes when we hear reports that an officer has been assaulted, and I do get worried it’s him.”
Pastors receive these reports through a radio, which is tuned into those of Sheffield’s doormen and the city centre CCTV room.
It wasn’t long before a call came in from a doorman- reports of a student who had partied a little too hard.
When we arrived, the girl in her early twenties was sitting on the curb outside the club, head in hands.
Her friend told me: “She’s just finished her dissertation, she only wanted to have a good time.”
The pastors tied the girl’s hair back and put a foil blanket over her shoulders.
They stayed with her, keeping her awake and giving her water until a taxi arrived. The team made sure a friend travelled with them and took the car's registration.
Between calls the group patrols the street and throws away any glass, checks on the welfare of the homeless and chats with the bouncers.They offer a sweet treat to all they come across, which is very much appreciated.
One bouncer tells me: “The work the pastors do is absolutely amazing. They’re our first port of call for those who clearly can’t look after themselves to make sure they get home safe and sound.”
The next call was to tend to an older woman, who looked to be in her 50s.
Once again collapsed on the floor, the woman was struggling to stay conscious. This time there wasn’t a clear solution. The woman was too drunk to be accepted into a taxi and too drunk to go back into the club.
The pastors worked to look after her and organise her friends. After around half an hour, the group had no other choice but to advise the friends on how to look after her until she was well enough to get into a cab.
Street Pastor Tricia told me: “The worst times are those when you can’t fully help someone.
“Sometimes there’s just no more we can do or the situation is too dangerous.”
It’s clear that the pastor’s work is not only vital in the moment, but also works as a preventative against drink related theft and violence.
One person that sticks out in my mind was a young man, sitting alone beside a pile of his own sick, unable to respond to questions or stand independently.
The street pastors were in the right place at the right time- it seemed a man was trying to steal his phone when they found him.
This time, a family member was close enough to pick him up and take him home.
Another young woman we met going into the early hours of Sunday morning had lost the group she was out with and her partner was refusing to help her. He had all of her money and had left her to fend for herself.
One change of events and this girl was left outside a closed venue, alone, with no money to get home.
The pastors ended up putting money together to get her home.
It costs around £11,000 every year to keep the pastors going and looking after people such as the young woman.
Funding comes from those who have paid to train up as a pastor, government grants and fundraising, mainly done by the churches involved.
Sheffield received Purple Flag status for the seventh successive year in 2018, an accreditation given to places that meet police standards in managing the evening and night time economy.
It’s thanks to groups like the Street Pastors that Sheffield continues to receive this accolade.
To find out more about the pastors, call 07931562442.