A SQUAD of good samaritans will be taking to the streets of Basingstoke at night as part of a new initiative to help people in need.

From tomorrow, a team of volunteers - known as Street Pastors - from churches across the town will be patrolling outside clubs, pubs and bars in the town centre.

Their aim is to make sure revellers do not get into trouble and they also want to help people deal with any late-night crises they may have.

Philip Keeble, who is a pastor with the Melrose Christian Fellowship, in Popley, Basingstoke, is chairman of the Street Pastors committee in Basingstoke and has high hopes for the new service.

"Street Pastors is about reaching out to people in the community when they are most vulnerable," he explained.

He added: "It's all about letting people know there are others around who care for them when they need it most."

There are currently about 20 volunteers from a range of faiths, including Roman Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, the Community Church, Methodist and Baptist, who have signed up to be involved in the project which, it is hoped, will run every Friday night.

Pastor Keeble said: "We want to build up relationships with people and want people to know we are here to help them - that's the essence of this project.

"We are not simply going to refer people to other agencies - we want to try and help immediately."

The idea of introducing Street Pastors in Basingstoke originated from Basingstoke police and the scheme has been developed in partnership with officers and Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council.

The volunteers - who have uniforms and have undergone special training including personal safety and talking to, and helping, vulnerable people - will be out on the streets on Friday from 10pm.

They will be based at the United Reformed Church in London Street, offering advice, help with getting home or simply a listening ear.

Pastor Keeble said that although he believes crime is relatively low in Basingstoke, compared with London for example, there are still areas where he believes Street Pastors can help.

He is also keen to stress that the team is not there as a substitute for the police and the members do not want to get involved if violence does break out.

When asked about the personal safety of the volunteers, Pastor Keeble said: "We want to keep the peace and help people." He pointed out that not one Street Pastor has ever been injured while out on the streets.

Inspector Richard Stowe, who is responsible for public reassurance within the north and east Hampshire operational command unit of Hampshire Constabulary, said: "Hampshire Constabulary welcomes the establishment of the Basingstoke Street Pastors.

"Any attempt by a community-based organisation to assist members of the public who find themselves in a situation where they might need solace or advice in the area of the night-time economy is something we can only encourage."

Insp Stowe added that police officers will provide appropriate support to Street Pastors wherever it is needed.

Street Pastors began in Brixton, London, in 2003, and is based on a Jamaican model. It has since been rolled out in areas across the country, including recent launches in Southampton and Portsmouth.

Anyone interested in joining the Street Pastors team can contact Pastor Keeble on 01256 411441.