Is it Friday or Saturday night? If you are stuck for things to do, volunteer yourself as a Street Pastor, it’s a fascinating, compassionate, caring and phenomenal thing to do. What a way to spend 6 hours throughout the night.
Monday the 24th, Christmas Eve, marked the 17th month anniversary of my t-total mission. It’s almost been 18 months since I’ve had a full beer, shot, bottle of lager, or anything like that of an alcoholic nature.
I am very proud of myself; and so are friends and family. It has been a very surreal journey, especially as I went ‘Cold Turkey’ and just stopped one fine day back in July 2017, but the days, weeks and months went past and I haven’t looked back since.
Ever since I was helped on the streets of Shrewsbury, by a Street Pastor, back in the days of getting drunk, being paralytic and probably (most definitely!) being a massive pain in the arse, I have wandered what it would be like to see things from the ‘other side’ of the bridge.
A few weeks ago. I was driving back through town late at night, when I saw the Street Pastor van. I decided to park up and speak to them about my passion for helping people and wanting to demonstrate how I felt I could help the local community by offering my compassionate and caring nature to those in desperate need of help.
So, last Friday, I volunteered myself to help the Street Pastor volunteers and parade around the streets of Shrewsbury caring, looking after and being compassionate with the people who would be inevitably be drunk, depressed or in need of some urgent attention. I am stating these ‘issues’ quite clearly because from the age of 18-29 I was a normal ‘lad’ who went into town with my friends, did the usual drink thing and then ended up somewhere I either didn’t know, didn’t want to be or didn’t like.
The night started at 10am where we met in the office, had coffee, tea and a chat for about 45 minutes about how the night was going to pan out. I first thought we would be jumping straight into the action and I would soon be covered in blood, guts and sick, but then reality took over and I realised we were in Shrewsbury, not the computer game Grand Theft Auto.
Being a Street Pastor, to my understanding, is a Christian-based volunteer group which was setup to provide those with a caring, compassionate and dedicated nature to help those who are in need of the utmost delicate and urgent attention, when out in town on a Friday & Saturday night when they are having this so-called ‘fun’; something which I now like to think about as hell. The hangovers are just the start of the beginning of my long list of ‘Why I hate drinking alcohol to the excess’.
We comprised of two teams, one was foot patrol and the other was in ‘The Donkey’, the name of the vehicle which carried all of the gear for the night out; defrib, coffee machine, blankets, flip-flops and lollipops etc.
I started on foot patrol, alongside 3 others, (sorry guys, I can’t remember everybody’s names at the moment!) and we started to edge around town. First port of call was The Alb, where we liaised with the doorman to see how the evening was panning out for him and to see if he any ‘action’; this, being trouble.
We then moved along Smithfield Road and greeted passers by, making our presence known to the locals or visitors to Shrewsbury, basically, anybody and everybody. I noticed that the Pastors have a well-known presence in Shrewsbury, even before I started my shift, going back many months & years, I had heard of there existing and the great work that they do.
We started seeing a lot of people around Albert Shed, so we walked towards that end of town as a 4-person group. All of a sudden, this moderately drunk woman came across and told us what a great job we were doing, she rambled on for a little bit, but it was nice to hear. We were just about to move on when she told us about her abusive partner, how he called her a *@&% on a regular basis, made her feel so so small and was horrible to their kids. This was a shock, as I didn’t think people we this upfront with their feelings and emotions especially to total strangers, but I guess this was for 2 reasons:
This lady needed and wanted somebody to talk to, and the Street Pastors were there. Secondly, she had been drinking, this gives people the confidence to come out of their shells and speak the truth about what they are ‘passionate’ about. In this case, the woman was passionate about leaving her husband in the new year, finding a new lease of life and leaving all of her ”shit’ behind her.
We solemnly wandered further and headed up into the town, where we scanned the main streets and back alleys for people who may be in need; this could range from people who are fighting, those who are intoxicated and unable to walk / stand up straight, those who look down and depressed or those who were simply on their own. We’d quite often say:
Hi mate, how you doing? You having a good night? What’s been happening?
This was simply to start a conversation. Now, if you were to say this to a randomer in a supermarket, they would probably look at you all weird and want you to leave them alone, but drinkers, they become your best friends and you can’t stop them talking once they start!
Oh! I forgot to mention this! The Street Pastors have 2-way radios, and they are linked to the same channel as those who monitor the town’s CCTV, SAR (River Search & Rescue), the Police, doormen/women and other volunteer groups, so if in danger, or in need of any type of assistance, you can radio through with a certain phrase and people will come to your aid – Pretty cool!
There is genuinely too much to write about from this night, but the one main thing I want to write about is a man we come across about 11 o’clock. His name, I will keep anonymous, because disclosing this might reveal his identity, somehow.
What I will say is when we were called to a certain fast-food shop, we were informed of a young chap who had told the doorman that he felt suicidal. I didn’t know this information, until after I had seen him, but as soon as I saw him, I knew that he wasn’t drunk, or sick, I knew he was depressed. Whether it was a sixth-sense, or just the way he looked, or maybe because I have suffered from this before, but somehow knew what was wrong with him.
A couple of the more experienced Pastors attended to this chap, and I was in the background talking to another of my colleagues about this and that. We didn’t like to overcrowd him, because when you feel that way, talking is the last thing you want to do, especially when there are many unknown faces around you!
We ended up taking this chap to the Sanctuary, in Abbey Foregate, which is a 24-hour mental health type support centre. We ensured he was taken care of in here and then left and headed back into town. That was our job done. We intercepted this man at a key time in the night, any later and something much more serious could have happened to him. Although we found him in a really down and what looked like to be a depressed state, he could have acted on his thoughts a lot earlier. It felt very good to look after this man and take him to a place of safety. We prayed for him in ‘The Donkey’ and wished him a speedy and healthy recovery.
The best thing about then night, by a long way, was the very last person we looked after. He was severely intoxicated, paralytic and hadn’t a clue what was going on around him; he only had alcohol to blame. He has been carried from near the Shrewsbury Hotel by two very kind gentlemen all the way to Efes Kebab house. He had then been slouching on the bus shelter seat for some time, and had attracted quite a crowd.
We tried for a while to get his name, get something which meant we could identify him and just tried so hard to get him to speak, but it was no good, he was gone, just in a world of alcohol. The lads which has brought him all the way from the pub decided to search his pockets… keys, tobacco, rolling papers, loose change… everything but an ID.
I don’t know how, I really have no idea why, but someone all of a sudden shouted out the name ‘Sam Edwards’; as this is my full name, I was quick to respond with a “Yes?” – But nobody replied back to me, it turned out that this paralytic guy had the same name as me! Not only this, but his sister was also called Kirsty, again, the same as mine, and last of all, we found out from his sister (through contacting her on Social Media) that his Dad was actually on his way to pick Sam up from his drunken state.
“Woah woah woah! What the hell is going on here? How can this be happening to me? I don’t know if we are born and supposed to be in certain places at certain times, and I don’t know if the person who created us has a unique plan for all, but this was too much to be a coincidence!”
This was all too familiar! My dad used to do this for me when I was in my early 20’s, just like Sam was. All sorts of things were racing through my mind and if I am honest, I was just in complete shock as to how many things I shared with this person, especially the name. This doesn’t happen a lot, if at all, in Shrewsbury. To have the same name as somebody, is fairly uncommon, but to be looking after them, when they are doing what you used to do, and have the same sisters’ name as you and have their Dad pick them up, just like mine used to do for me is just unreal!