Meeting date: Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 19 December 2017
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Business Motion, Superfast Broadband, Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Scottish Fiscal Commission (Appointment), Decision Time, Street Pastors Scotland (10th Anniversary)
- Time for Reflection
- Topical Question Time
- Business Motion
- Superfast Broadband
- Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution
- Scottish Fiscal Commission (Appointment)
- Decision Time
- Street Pastors Scotland (10th Anniversary)
Street Pastors Scotland (10th Anniversary)
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.
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.17:04
I thank all the members of the Scottish Parliament from different parties who supported my motion, which has allowed it to be debated this evening. It is particularly relevant that we are having this debate in the run-up to Christmas and the new year when cities and towns across Scotland are bustling with the work night out crowd, Christmas eve drinkers and hogmanay revellers. This time of year is one of the busiest for not only the licensed trade, but the street pastors. I thank those street pastors and their supporters who have joined us in the public gallery for the debate, and for their attendance at tonight’s reception. I know that a number of MSPs are looking forward to meeting the street pastors from their constituencies.
Scotland’s relationship with alcohol needs no introduction. The big night out is as much a part of our culture as tartan and haggis. For the most part, people visiting pubs and clubs do so responsibly, but a small minority can sometimes drink too much, which can put them in positions of difficulty. They—and, indeed, others who have not been drinking—can, often late at night, find themselves vulnerable and in distressing situations. That is where the street pastors come in. With police and ambulance resources stretched thin, this blue-jacketed volunteer army provides a vital release valve for the emergency services in helping to deal with minor incidents.
A couple of years ago, I was able to join the street pastors in Perth, where I witnessed at first hand their work on a Saturday night. I am no stranger to patrolling the high street—usually in the morning, with leaflets in my hand—but it was a novel experience to be out late at night. The experience left me in no doubt about the significant contribution that these men and women make to the night-time economy.
During our patrol, the street pastors handed out flip-flops, dispensed water bottles and lollipops and provided both a friendly face and a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. What was absent was any effort to preach or to convert non-believers, because street pastors are not street preachers, manic or otherwise. If revellers want to ask questions, they are more than happy to engage, but the patrols are about providing a service and a listening ear, rather than about taking the opportunity to evangelise. People will not hear or see street pastors judging those they help. Their work is the very pinnacle of Christian compassion, and something that the church is doing more of.
The street pastor initiative has come a long way since its humble origins when 18 hardy souls patrolled the streets of Brixton in 2003, under the watchful eye of the Rev Les Isaac, its founder. The original 18 pastors have grown to 20,000, and the initiative operates across four continents.
Before starting work as a street pastor, volunteers are required to undergo 50 hours of training. That is vital, because street pastors find themselves in a wide variety of challenging situations. In addition to offering up flip-flops and water, street pastors can often find themselves in the middle of difficult situations, which range from providing first aid to defusing fights or domestic arguments.
In Scotland, the Ascension Trust runs the initiative, and street pastors have been helping people for more than 10 years and now operate in 23 different locations. That is a great achievement in a short space of time. Street pastors are as much part of a great Scottish night out as a kebab on the way home.
From Elgin to Edinburgh, street pastors are on hand to help. In my Mid Scotland and Fife region, street pastors patrol in Perth, Stirling, Dunfermline, Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly and Levenmouth. I take this opportunity to thank all those teams for their dedication and hard work.
It is not just those communities that have welcomed street pastors—the wider Christian community has also taken them to their hearts. I want to highlight the contribution of the Church of Scotland Guild, which has, in the past two years, raised nearly £100,000 for the Ascension Trust to support the street pastors. The money has been used to train pastors and to pioneer new programmes, such as rail pastors, college pastors and prayer pastors.
Funding from the guild has allowed the Ascension Trust to improve training, which now includes in-depth modules and distance learning. Everyone has a role to play, and raising money for the street pastors through coffee mornings and bake sales will be important in ensuring the long-term health of the service.
Tonight’s debate marks 10 years since the Ascension Trust was established in Scotland. I recall hosting an event here at the Scottish Parliament with the then Minister for Community Safety, which marked the launch at which Les Isaac also spoke. It has been remarkable to see the growth in the street pastor movement over the past decade, as it fulfils an important social need. As I mentioned earlier, after tonight’s debate there will be a reception in the garden lobby to celebrate the 10th anniversary with representatives from all the groups across Scotland. The cabinet secretary will also be there, and I look forward to seeing members there if they can attend.
In my opinion, the success of street pastors is a glimpse at the future of the church and Christian service. There is a place for the Sunday service, but the dusty pew is no longer the only carrier of the Christian message. My colleague Kate Forbes recently led a members’ debate on Serve Scotland, which is a coalition of church-based community groups that offers services such as debt advice, food parcels and support for refugees. The street pastors are part of that larger movement, in which the Christian message of love, compassion and service is evidenced in real-world situations.
For over 10 years, street pastors have made the night-time economy in Scotland a safer place to be. I conclude by wishing them, and the Ascension Trust, all the best for the next 10 years. [Applause.]
I welcome the street pastors who are sitting in the public gallery, but I also say to them that we do not allow applause from the gallery during debates. Much though I know that they might want to, they must desist.17:11
First, I congratulate Murdo Fraser on securing this members’ business debate, and I make him aware that I managed to sign the motion this afternoon.
Murdo Fraser has set out well the background to the introduction of street pastors, so I do not intend to go over that ground. Instead, I will focus my comments on my experience of going out with them on a Saturday evening in Greenock a couple of years ago.
Before I do that, I noticed that Murdo Fraser spoke about street pastors being part of the economy and he referred to kebabs. One of the team that I went out with—Chris Jewell—is sitting in the public gallery. I cannot imagine Chris munching a kebab, but perhaps he will tell me later on whether he does that.
Before I went out with the team one summer evening, we had a safety briefing. I must admit that being given a hi-vis jacket with the word “observer” on it made me feel as though I had become a walking target, even before we left the building. Thankfully, nothing happened.
Many years ago, when I was somewhat younger, less responsible and a bit more exuberant, I, too, would have been one of the hundreds exiting the clubs on to the streets, looking for taxis home. Even then, however, I always wondered why so many people went out, even in the winter, without a jacket on, and why so many females wore such high heels. To see the stock of simple but useful clothing that the street pastors took with them really struck a chord with me.
It was also obvious that the street pastors in Inverclyde are respected by many people who use the night-time economy. I did not see any street pastor taking any verbal abuse; just the opposite, in fact. I accept that that might not always be the case, but, on the night that I was out with them, it was. The street pastors were welcomed. I heard stories of how some people had engaged with them previously or how their friends had done so, and it was always in a positive way. The street pastors are certainly a welcome addition to our communities and the close-knit ethos that has built up in the teams is hugely impressive.
The pastors stressed the point that their whole purpose was to help people and not to attempt to preach to them, particularly if they were under the influence. That takes me to the jokey point that I made earlier, about being a walking target. That night, one gent recognised me and thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity to have an insightful discussion about politics at half past 1 in the morning. [Laughter.] Members might laugh, but it is true. My powers of appeasement were finding it a bit tough initially, but the street pastors thought that they should let me have the discussion. About 10 minutes later, they came over and managed to take me away. The situation had become not about that one individual, but about others who thought that they might get in on the sport of politician baiting. The street pastors came in, and the way that they dealt with the situation was wonderful to see.
The whole evening was a truly enlightening experience, and we should be delighted that there are so many people who freely volunteer their time to help our towns, cities, villages and communities for such a worthy cause. I also want to highlight and welcome the extension of the work of the street pastors in Inverclyde to the trains between Inverclyde, Paisley and Glasgow.
I wish every street pastor, past and present, and the whole network a very happy 10th birthday and I wish them many more years to come. Our society is greatly enriched by their presence.17:15
I congratulate Murdo Fraser on securing the debate, and I welcome all those who are here in the public gallery for the debate and who will be coming to the reception afterwards.
I have reached the age at which a good Friday night is a trip to the chip shop and watching a DVD. However, a couple of years ago, when I was a local councillor in Edinburgh, I went out as part of the licensing board with the police on a Friday night. It was a slight eye-opener on what goes on on George Street, Princes Street, Lothian Road and other parts of the city at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. Many people were having an excellent time—like Murdo Fraser said that they have—but sadly a few were the worse for wear and needed some help from the police and other people to get home safely.
Street pastors add a different dimension from that which the police and other third sector and Government organisations bring. I am pleased that we have had street pastors in Edinburgh since 2009, helping people to get home safely and stepping in at an early stage to diffuse arguments.
I am sure that most of us, whether or not we went to Sunday school, are aware of the parable of the good Samaritan. Street pastors are a modern-day version of that as they step in and help people, whoever they are, without any questions being asked. Often, the help is just practical, as we have heard from members, but it is an opportunity for someone to speak to and reassure people, particularly those who are the worse for wear.
The other encouragement for me is that the street pastor initiative brings together churches that might disagree on theology, but agree in regard to providing practical help. The number of churches of different backgrounds and theologies that are represented on the website of the initiative in Edinburgh is very encouraging and should be applauded.
I am sure that we all want to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the initiative and to encourage the street pastors. I look forward to seeing what will happen with the initiative over the next few years, and I thank those who have volunteered and continue to volunteer. I hope that their work will flourish and bring the success that they want.17:18
I thank Murdo Fraser for enabling us to have the debate and I welcome all the street pastors in the public gallery. I do not know whether Andy from Partick South church is there—I should put my glasses on—but I spoke to him on Saturday and said that I would mention him as one of the street pastors who I was out with.
I was sent a briefing with stories about spending a night out in the city with the Glasgow street pastors. I will not read out the stories from the briefing, because I have spent many a night out in Glasgow, including with the street pastors. Members have talked about how people respect the fact that street pastors are on the streets.
My experience with them was on a wet, miserable, cold and dark night—we had our hats and gloves on. We started out at the top end of Byres Road and went round the university, and we went into lots of little nooks and crannies with the street pastors. It was fantastic. They knew where people were, and that is something that I want to concentrate on. There were people who were inebriated and had had a wee bit too much. There were girls who had stumbled out of a couple of pubs, and they were so grateful for the flip-flops, although how they managed to get them on over trousers and tights I do not know. Some of them did not have any tights, so that was fine. The street pastors have given out 2,101 pairs of flip-flops, according to the latest information that I have read, and I am sure that it must be more than that by now.
The street pastors carry a large amount of equipment, such as flip-flops and water, and people respect the fact that they are there. As we walked down Ashton Lane, we spoke to people and made sure that they were all right. We came across people who may have been inebriated, but we also came across homeless people. The wonderful thing was that the street pastors did not just give people water and flip-flops, or help them to get a taxi, but that they had contact with them. The street pastors actually knew about those people, and if someone was not in the spot where they had been the night before or the week before, they could contact officials and find out where they were or report them missing. That is a fantastic aspect of the service. The pastors go out there and help people, but they also have knowledge on the street. They talk to people, and people will come up and say to them, “By the way, so-and-so isn’t here tonight because he’s somewhere else.”
We gave out hats and gloves to some of the regular homeless people who were there. Some had dogs, which were given food as well. The street pastors are absolutely fantastic at providing flip-flops and making sure that people get taxis, and they are trusted more than the police are. The night that we were out, there were a number of people who we had to get taxis for. They came to us to phone for the taxi; they would not go to the police. If the police were there, the police would speak to the street pastors and ask them if they could look after those people. The plus side is that the street pastors know who is out on the streets, particularly homeless people, and they can contact their own churches or anyone else, such as the Glasgow City Mission. That is a real plus, and the street pastors must be applauded for the work that they do.17:22
I am delighted to take part in this debate to recognise the work of Street Pastors Scotland as it marks 10 years as an organisation. I congratulate Murdo Fraser on securing the debate, and I extend my best wishes to those who have joined us this evening.
There are several street pastor projects in Fife, working with Fife Council and the police, but I first came across street pastors when they were established in Kirkcaldy. They started patrolling in Kirkcaldy in February 2010 and were organised thanks to the dedication of our local churches. They started as a response to an identified need in the night-time economy. They have a simple approach, which is to help and assist people.
The street pastors are all highly trained volunteers from local churches who care about their community. It is an interdenominational church response to modern life. I understand that there are currently 11 trained volunteers in Kirkcaldy and that they go out most Saturday evenings until 4 am—a significant commitment, for which I thank them. They go on to the streets to meet people in their own social environment, and they support people when they need it. As well as always meeting the last train home at the station, they are exploring the possibility of expanding into rail pastors. They will always help, care and listen to whoever they meet. Kirkcaldy is a good example of the strength of the partnership model that is working across Fife. A particularly good relationship has been forged with community police, who have provided a valued level of commitment right from the start.
The street pastors engage with all those working at night: the taxi drivers, the doormen and women, and those working in fast food outlets. We are all familiar with the pressures on our police force, and although people may think of police as always being crime fighters, much of their work involves dealing with vulnerable people, and the work of the street pastors complements that and plays an important role in promoting community safety. Their work also encourages other volunteering, as fellow church members will come out to provide soup, sandwiches and hot drinks for their street pastors.
Street pastors across the region support people through minor emergencies—lost friends, lost phones, lost money, lost shoes—and they provide slippers or flip-flops for those suffering from sore feet, as well as bottled water, tissues and foil blankets if people need them. They focus on getting people home quickly and safely. They will administer minor first aid by applying plasters and wipes, and help people who are ill, even if it is self-inflicted, but they offer no judgment. They offer only support and understanding. Perhaps most importantly, they listen. They give people their time and attention. They give a helping hand when people might be feeling vulnerable, lonely or upset.
Although the street pastors might have to deal with people who are at a low point, I understand that there are often many high points. There is a bit of banter and lots of good humour on most evenings. They work all year round, going out in the cold and wet weather, just as the revellers do.
I had the pleasure of meeting Les Isaac, the founder of Street Pastors, after being invited by Councillor Judy Hamilton to an event in Kirkcaldy to recognise the work that street pastors are doing. It is great to see them both here in the Parliament this evening. The movement started in 2003 in Brixton and has grown across the country. It demonstrates the commitment of churches to our local communities. In this role, those churches are engaging with people and carrying out good work among people that they might otherwise not meet.
Over the years, the movement has helped many people who just need a bit of care, an open ear, and probably a lot of patience. For that I sincerely thank the street pastors, and I wish them many more successful evenings ahead.17:26
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.
You never fail to amaze me with your family history.
There’s more, Presiding Officer.
Oh no, please.17:30
Talking about family history, I am going to launch into my own. I thank Murdo Fraser for bringing the debate to the chamber. I know for a fact that the street pastors are made of strong stuff. I know that because my sister volunteered as one of them for at least a year. It never ceased to amaze me to see her going out overnight, knowing that it was going to be a sleepless night—knowing that there were probably activities to do the following day—yet she would choose to give up her night for the sake of other people. She is a remarkable woman. She has just flown back from India—just in time to send me a whole list of stories for my speech this evening.
My sister’s first comment to me, when I asked for her view of street pastors, was that being a street pastor is the best thing that she has ever done and that going over the stories of people she had come across made her miss it very much. She is just one of 20,000 volunteers across the United Kingdom who give up their evenings and their sleep to care for other people. She stressed to me that the training was brilliant and was important in understanding a street pastor’s role and responsibility on the street. The training that they get—including training from the police as well as training in first aid—is crucial because every night is truly a rollercoaster as they step out into other people’s shoes and go on journeys with them.
It is a rollercoaster ride and it can be emotional, as they meet some very vulnerable people. It can be physically exhausting just staying up overnight in the cold and the rain, and it is tough. It may be brilliant, but it is tough. The variety of people that they meet on a night out, not knowing what to expect, is, I presume, a big part of why street pastors do what they do. My sister Hannah talked about simple interventions such as providing girls who were out at night with very little on and suffering from the cold with flip-flops, with socks and sometimes with blankets to ensure that they were warm.
At the other end of the spectrum, my sister spoke about a guy she came across who was on the verge of jumping on to train tracks. She was able to talk to him and stop him from jumping on to those train tracks. She was able to make sure that he had the help that he needed that night. Without street pastors being there in that moment and being willing to work with that guy, there might have been a very different outcome.
My sister also mentioned that, although people are often very grateful, sometimes they are anything but grateful. They can be obnoxious, yet street pastors have the time to stop and chat to them. Hannah mentioned somebody who was particularly difficult. Through the course of conversation, she discovered that he had lost his best friend that week and was struggling to come to terms with that. There was no need for flip-flops or socks but there was the need for a listening pair of ears and for somebody to help him to talk through his feelings.
Those are just three different examples that show how street pastors can totally transform the direction of not just somebody’s night but somebody’s life. On that note, I pay tribute to their hard work and wish them very well for the next 10 years.17:34
Like other members, I congratulate Murdo Fraser on securing this important debate. I also add my congratulations to Street Pastors Scotland on its reaching its 10th anniversary and look forward to the years ahead. I am, indeed, attending the reception following the debate, and I have to say that Murdo Fraser has whetted my appetite, as I am now looking forward to kebabs. However, if there are no kebabs, we might just have to settle for lollipops instead.
There have been some great speeches. I panicked a little when Stuart McMillan spoke, because I wondered where he was going with his commentary on women’s footwear. Jeremy Balfour, Sandra White and Claire Baker all made substantive speeches, and I look forward to many more contributions from Stewart Stevenson and Kate Forbes as they compete in respect of their family histories and testimonies. Both made great speeches, and it was lovely to hear about the work of Kate’s sister.
I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment that the work of Street Pastors Scotland is absolutely invaluable, as the pastors work to support people in times of crisis and help to make our streets a safer place. It is an excellent example of how Scotland’s faith communities work to support many of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities and the people in them. I welcome the comments of Murdo Fraser and Jeremy Balfour that the context of their work is that of interfaith work and the faith community going forward as a whole.
We know that street pastors demonstrate compassion and kindness every day. They offer reassurance, safety and support by caring for, listening to and helping people who are out on the streets or who are homeless. They really tap into people’s personal needs and listen to their personal testimonies. The invaluable work of street pastors provides 45,000 hours of service to communities in Scotland every year. As Claire Baker mentioned, street pastors have good links with Police Scotland and local authorities and they work with local churches and other community organisations to improve lives and keep people safe.
We cannot forget that street pastors are volunteers. The commitment of volunteers the length and breadth of Scotland—people who work solely for the betterment of their community or individuals within it—is one of the most valuable resources that this country has. This may seem a bit distasteful, but it is important to remember that volunteering contributes £2 billion to our economy every year. We should not always try to equate things with monetary value, but that is an important fact that demonstrates the breadth and depth of the contribution to our people, country and economy that volunteers make through the work that they do across Scotland.
The Government recognises the important contribution that volunteers make, and we are committed to continuing to support and encourage people to get involved in volunteering to make a difference on the issues that matter most to them. We are working to produce what, in policy terms, is called the evidence-led volunteering outcomes framework. In essence, that involves creating a coherent and compelling narrative with the key outcomes being to ensure that we do justice to and can explain and evidence the work that our volunteers do the length and breadth of Scotland, although we must not lose track of the very personal outcomes and testimonies.
Without the contributions that volunteers make, whether as street pastors, carers, providers, mentors, leaders or in many other roles, many communities would be far worse off. That is why, as a Government and a Parliament, we will continue to celebrate the vital contribution that volunteers make to Scotland and will work hard to break down the barriers that prevent people from contributing as volunteers. We must be absolutely clear that volunteering plays a huge role in building stronger and more resilient communities.
The biggest gift that we can give anyone is the gift of our time, and many people give freely of their time without any fanfare or award. I was also struck by the investment that the street pastors, as an organisation and as individuals, make in their training. It is a 12-week training programme of 50 hours that recognises the fact that, although the people may be volunteers, they do skilled work.
We have heard of the practical and giving work that the street pastors do, particularly at this time of year, when it is cold and people are on a big night out. However, we have also heard from Sandra White and others that the street pastors work closely with people who are experiencing homelessness. They know people’s needs and signpost them to other services and agencies. As Kate Forbes says, they often carry out life-saving or life-changing work.
In the chamber, we rightly often debate the issues in and around homelessness. Members will be familiar with the work of the action group on ending rough sleeping and the immediate actions that we are taking over the winter to tackle rough sleeping by increasing investment in emergency accommodation and resources for front-line workers. As a Government and a Parliament, we know that there is always much more to do. However, it is not just about Government action; it is about our whole society playing its part. The work of street pastors and other volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to helping homeless people and reducing inequality has never been more important, and we must recognise the invaluable contribution that they make.
I will highlight quickly the work that the Government is doing on reducing loneliness and social isolation. We are working on a national social isolation strategy, and our overall approach is moving away from crisis intervention to more preventative work. We recognise that positive and regular human contact improves people’s physical and mental health and that everyone has a role to play in reducing the levels of social isolation and loneliness in our society. Initiatives such as the street pastors provide a service that builds connections within communities, supports people in times of crisis and helps to make our communities better places for everybody to thrive in.
Once again, I thank Murdo Fraser for securing the debate and put on record our congratulations and heartfelt thanks to the many street pastors.Meeting closed at 17:43.