I can’t believe I’ve only just got round to writing this blog post considering I observed a Saturday night through the eyes of Stoke’s Street Chaplains way back in early September, but university has a way of taking over and numerous essays and a few reading lists later, here we are.
Spending the early hours of a Sunday morning with Street Chaplains actually came about through the Winter Night Shelter project. We needed to gather some evidence that there was a real need for a night shelter in Stoke and accompanying Street Chaplains as they provided a peaceful presence in the city centre late at night gave us the opportunity to encounter some of those sleeping rough.
In light of this, my mind was predominantly focusing on the questions that we should ask on the off chance we did find any rough sleepers and how we might be able to help them there and then. However, within a few minutes of leaving The Lounge, Gitana Street (which Street Chaplains use as their base) my attention turned to the rapport that they had clearly been building with those working weekends on Trinity Street. Every promotions team member and bouncer gave Street Chaplains a smile and a “hello”- a very surprising gesture considering the majority of security staff I have interacted with have got a face like a smacked bottom. What’s more, they clearly have the respect of the local police force too, as they also stopped for a chat when they saw us.
After having completed a loop around Hanley, binning glass bottles as we went so as to reduce the potential for injuries, we came back to The Lounge for a brief hot drink and then headed back out on to Trinity Street. This time they brought the backpacks which were filled with bottles of water, flipflops and sweets and we gave them out to anyone that wanted one. Admittedly, the flipflops did confuse me to begin with but Rob (the Team Lead for that evening) explained that they offered them to any of the women who were struggling in their heels. This has got to be one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of- who wouldn’t want a free pair of flipflops if their feet were sore and achey?- and in practical terms, think how many sprained ankles and grazed knees have likely been prevented!
Perhaps the biggest testament to the work of Street Chaplains is the response they receive from the revellers who are out and about the town. Out of the hundreds of people we walked past, I only saw one lady try and challenge the work that Street Chaplains, and she was so inebriated she would have picked a fight with a jacket potato. Everyone else exchanged pleasantries, asked for hugs and expressed their gratitude for the free lollies.
I experienced first-hand the wonderful work that Street Chaplains are doing and there is no doubt that they are providing the reassurance and peaceful presence that they aimed to give.
Stoke Street Chaplains Website: http://www.streetchaplains.org.uk/
Stoke Street Chaplains Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Street-Chaplains-654749871279259/?fref=ts