Reading Street Pastors have been supporting people in the town centre since 2009 to chaperone revellers and provide a layer of support for police, ambulance staff and venues.
A typical shift can involve sweeping up smashed bottles, handing out flip-flops to women struggling with their high heels and looking after people who’ve had too much to drink.
The town centre is a popular destination for revellers, particularly during the busy Christmas and New Year period.
After midnight on a Friday before Christmas, festivities were in full swing, with huge queues for the Purple Turtle and Sub89, and big groups seen gathered outside Be at One, Popworld and Wild Lime.
Beyond the crowds of revellers, rough sleepers and beggars were also on the streets at night when the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) visited the town centre on Friday, December 15.
The LDRS spoke with organiser Sally Leonard about the work the pastors do.
Mrs Leonard said: “We meet at 9.30pm and we have an hour of fellowship and time of prayer and we go out at 10.30pm with our bags, where we have flip flops, water, vomit bowls, a dustpan and brush, tissues, hairbands, wet wipes and lollipops to help people sober up.
“Generally there are two teams, one team will go down Oxford Road, and engage with people there, and the other team will be walking round the town centre.
“They will generally come back around midnight and have a break for half an hour. But often we’ll get called over the radio to help with people.
“Last Saturday night we didn’t finish until 4am. There was a lot of drunkenness and Christmas parties.”
The pastors are connected to a radio system which includes the police and the town’s venues.
Mrs Leonard said: “Talking to one of the venues, people are going out, but they are not drinking as much, so the footfall is fairly the same, but not so much spending.
“And it’s not just drunkenness, lots of people have anxiety, on Saturday we came across someone who was having a panic attack. We were able to bring them back to see a paramedic.
“There are all sorts of things affecting peoples’ lives that we are able to help with.”
The pastors work out of The Safe Hub next to Bill’s restaurant in St Mary’s Butts partnership with First Stop, a service run by paramedics in the town centre where people are treated for injuries, limiting the need for ambulances.
First Stop moved to The Safe Hub on Thursday, October 5 on a five-year lease from the Church of England Diocese of Oxford.
Previously located in Reading Minster, Mrs Leonard stated that the move for First Stop has been a big positive.
She said: “The arrangement is much better, it’s really really good, and it means that we’re all together, because First Stop comes under Street Pastors it means we are all in one space together.
“There’s really good partnership working here.”
The Safe Hub is spread across two floors. The ground floor contains First Stop facilities, including a triage room and a waiting room for patients.
The street pastors are based upstairs, with a meeting room for fellowship and prayers, a training room and an interview room which can be used by police.
Planning permission is currently being sought to remove the flower bed at the entrance of the Safe Hub to provide greater accessibility.
The pastors engage with beggars and rough sleepers by giving them lists of food handouts, the CIRDIC drop-in centre where people can get showers, and St Mungos homeless charity.
Since the first lockdown in March 2020, the Street Pastors also patrol the town during the day as well.
Mrs Leonard said: “The police inspector at the time Natalie Cox said ‘could you come out during the day time’ and just signpost people to the right place and make sure there is nobody who doesn’t know what’s going on and it’s blossomed from that.
“During that time we made a lot of good relationships.”
The day patrols take place from 10am to 2pm.
Mrs Leonard and volunteer Pat Almond spoke with a police community support officer, a town centre security officer and shoppers.
Volunteers come from 40 different churches in Reading.
Potential volunteers will need a reference from their church leader, and can then undergo training. You can apply to volunteer by using the street pastors website and calling 07970 710080.