19 December 2017

S5M-08404 Street Pastors Scotland (10th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08404, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on the 10th anniversary of Street Pastors Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the 10th anniversary of Street Pastors Scotland; notes that the initiative was pioneered in London in 2003 by Les Isaac and that, since then, over 14,000 street pastors have been trained, with over 20,000 volunteers now associated with the organisation; understands that, in 2010, the Ascension Trust (Scotland) was launched in the Parliament to take responsibility for the street pastor teams across Scotland; notes that there are around 600 street pastors in 23 Scottish communities, major cities and large and small towns in the Mid Scotland and Fife parliamentary region, as well as in Orkney and Lewis; believes that Street Pastors Scotland puts its Christian faith to good use in order to improve community relations and the safety of the night-time economy, and wishes the movement and the street pastors all the best.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Murdo Fraser for the opportunity to highlight an important initiative that has been going for 10 years, and to say that we wish it to continue for many years.

Like other members, I have street pastors in my constituency. Earlier this year, I attended the induction of new pastors in Peterhead. I have not been out on the street with street pastors, but I have certainly been out on a Saturday night with the police on three occasions for approximately five hours, so I know the environment into which street pastors go.

One of the interesting things that I have heard from those street pastors is that their mere presence changes the character of what is going on. In a place like Peterhead, we might wonder why that should be so. Peterhead has a population of 19,000, but the odds are that the street pastor knows your mum. Being able to walk up to somebody who is just a little bit off the proper behaviour and asking, “Will I call your mum? You are obviously needing a wee bit of help” is sometimes enough to nudge people back to proper behaviour. It is a very practical thing. We are talking about practical, polite, pastoral support. Getting support is the very meaning of the word “pastoral”.

Last Saturday, the Peterhead street pastors Facebook page, which has a huge following, had a simple thing on it:

“Remember to wrap up warm the temperature is going to be 1-2 deg. Remember to have a plan for getting home. ie taxi, getting picked up. Please take note that the pavements around the town centre are very slippery.”

Nothing in that is anything other than quite obvious, but it is precisely the sort of thing that those who are focused on having a good night out might sometimes neglect. The pastors give practical advice and help that will make a real difference to people in places like Peterhead.

Peterhead is a diverse community. The academy has 28 languages spoken in it. There are therefore plenty of opportunities for confusion and misunderstandings between different parts of the community. The presence of street pastors can help to deal with that. They can help to identify vulnerable people and connect them to support and sources of help.

It is interesting to read what some other people say about street pastors. The Spectator put it rather well when it described street pastors as having “weirdly effective unworldliness”. In other words, it was saying, “This is pretty good stuff, but we don’t quite know how it works. It is not quite within our normal experience.”

Street pastors are a return to the roots of much of what Christian faith is about: supporting other people and being non-judgmental. My grandfather was probably one of the judgmental ones—he was a member of the Independent Order of Rechabites and definitely would not have approved of the carousing and the consumption of alcohol on a Saturday night. I know that he persuaded his nephew, who was in Lloyd George’s Government, to nationalise the one drinking den in Cromarty so that it would be brought under control. That approach does not really work in the modern world. What the street pastors are doing is highly personal, highly effective and deserving of our continuing support.


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