SPENDING a Friday night traipsing around Basingstoke town centre chatting to teenagers - some of whom are the worse for wear - may not be everybody's idea of fun. But for one group of good samaritans, who sacrifice the start of their weekend, that is the norm.

As previously reported in The Gazette, a team of Street Pastors is now taking to the town's busy streets every Friday night to mingle with revellers and be on hand to offer support and guidance to anyone who needs it.

Shouts of "hi, street pastors" and knowing nods greet the team of volunteers - many of whom are over the age of 50 - as they make their way through the streets at the Top of the Town.

"Much of our work is talking to young boys and girls who have had rows with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and calming everyone down," explained Philip Keeble, who is responsible for setting up Street Pastors in Basingstoke.

"But we are also there for more serious matters," he added. "We always have people at the church base who will pray for people and are willing to talk to them about their spiritual needs."

Street Pastors has been running in the town for four weeks now and is based at the United Reformed Church, in London Street, Basingstoke.

The team is made up of volunteers from a range of churches, including Roman Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, the Community Church, Methodist and Baptist, and aims to reach out to people when they are most vulnerable.

The volunteers work in teams of four to six people and patrol the streets to offer support to people in a variety of ways.

They hand out comfy flip-flops to girls, who have overdone it on their killer heels, and lollipops to diffuse potentially explosive situations - and they are available just to listen as well.

A total of four teams were out patrolling the streets when I joined them on their regular Friday night walk.

Click here to view the Gazette's video report It was a relatively quiet night, despite thousands of youngsters receiving their A-level results just the day before, but the teams still came across their "regulars".

Pastor Keeble, who is a pastor with the Melrose Christian Fellowship, in Popley, said many people just like to see a familiar face.

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

"Our presence out on the streets may make some people feel safer when they are out and about," he said.

The team, that myself and Gazette photographer Ben Stevens were with, came across a group of the so-called "regulars" relatively early-on in the evening.

Several of the group of young men - all aged about 18 or 19 - had clearly seen the Street Pastors before and were keen to talk to them, albeit many of the youths were a little bit the worse for wear.

Luke Charlton, from Oakridge, said he hadn't heard of the Street Pastors before and thought they were a good idea, although he did have some reservations.

"If you went up to the wrong group, it could be a bit dodgy," he explained.

The Street Pastors remind the group that it is illegal to drink on the streets in Basingstoke and the youths soon disposed of their cans of cider and carry on chatting to the group about a range of matters, from career plans to their plans for that evening to their views about religion.

Pastor Keeble is keen to assure people that the purpose of Street Pastors is not to preach at people - just to be there if they need help in any shape or form.

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.