It’s been a busy year for the Newtownabbey Street Pastors - a group of local churchgoers who walk the borough’s streets on Friday and Saturday nights offering a helping hand to anyone in need of assistance.
The first Street Pastors, easily recognised by their blue uniforms and baseball caps, hit the streets of Glengormley 12 months ago. Since then they have grown in number and extended their patrols into parks and residential areas, as far as Rathcoole and New Mossley.
The Newtownabbey Street Pastors are a voluntary group of people who are nominated by their respective churches. Each Street Pastor goes through a 50-hour training programme before they can go out on the streets at weekends as part of a team of three or four.
Around a dozen local churches are currently involved in the cross-community venture, with some 40 trained Street Pastors actively working in the Newtownabbey area.
Brian Mullan, treasurer of the group, stressed that the Street Pastors aren’t there to police the streets, rather their role is about “listening and caring”.
“The role of the Street Pastors is to engage with the community, young and old, and to care for and to listen to people who ask for help and to help get them home safe.
“We work to help improve the safety and wellbeing of the community in all areas and help reduce anti-social behaviour, fear of crime and older people’s concerns,” he explained.
Brian, who also serves as vice-chair of Newtownabbey Policing and Community Safety Partnership, added: “From the reports and feedback we have had from local businesses, the council, councillors and the community it is clear that we have contributed positively and helped the local community.”
Mark Welsh, chairman of Newtownabbey Street Pastors, continued: “As churches we want to be helping the community. We go out and help make sure that people are safe and feel safe when they are walking about the streets or in our parks.”
The Street Pastors, funded by the PSNI, the council and local churches, have played a key role in helping to reduce anti-social behaviour by building up relationships with young people and providing diversionary activities for local youths.
“This isn’t some big ecumenical push,” Mr Welsh insisted. “We are just churchgoers coming together to try to help their local community.”
With the initiative having proved a great success, plans are now being drawn up to extend it into Ballyclare.
With that in mind, the organisation is hoping to recruit and train another 30 Street Pastors over the next year.
“We are always looking for more volunteers and people who want to come and join our essential Christian support work in Newtownabbey,” Mr Mullan added.
For more information about the work or Newtownabbey Street Pastors, or volunteering opportunities with the group, call 07543 937436, email firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.newtownabbeystreetpastors.org.uk