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ESSEX

Street Pastors set to expand thanks to £20,000 grant

A scheme where trained volunteers offer support and safety in Essex towns at night has expanded, thanks to a £20,000 grant from Roger Hirst, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex.

Street Pastors is an initiative where the Christian community offers a safe space to those who may find themselves in a vulnerable situation, generally at night, on the streets.

They have a presence in the street, build relationships with those hanging around and offer guidance to those who need further support for a range of problems.

In the 2016/2017 Community Safety Development Fund distribution from the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, the group was awarded £20,337 to fund a countywide co-ordinator.

Phil Norton, of the Ascension Trust which runs the scheme, stepped into the role and has spent the last few months promoting the project across the county.

He said: “The main role of the Street Pastor is to build relationships within the community. It is not about preaching, we only tell people about our faith if we are asked, we don’t push that on anyone. We are people who all believe in a certain thing, but that is not why we are out and about.

“We patrol in uniform, are equipped to carry out first aid and carry things like bottles of water and even flipflops for those coming out of the clubs. We are just there to help people, to listen if they want to talk about issues in their lives. Most people assume we are always dealing with young people out getting drunk and, yes, that’s part of it. But, we also speak with people in their late 20s and 30s who are going through important things in their lives and just need someone to chat it through with. That could be depression or financial or employment worries.”

The money was handed over almost a year ago and has meant the organisation could expand.

Mr Norton said: “My new role, funded by this grant, is about developing groups around the county and looking at towns to see whether the scheme could work there. Each town has a different night-time economy and therefore a different need and so the Pastors take on whatever role is appropriate to the area. Some towns, for example, have no nightclubs, while others have venues which stay open until 4 o’clock in the morning, so the Pastors take on whatever role necessary. The fundamental principles and training is the same for everyone, though.

“This funding shows what we are doing is valued.”

As part of Mr Norton’s new role, he is also raising awareness of the Trust’s other schemes, School and College Pastors – to be a presence outside schools at closing time – and Response Pastors – highly trained volunteers to serve the community in times of crisis. Mr Norton has been able to train 23 Response Pastors who are now on a national database and can be called into action during a disaster.

The funding has also meant he has been able to attend meetings with Essex County Council and the emergency services to ensure there is awareness of the volunteers and how to use them.

A scheme which will see Pastors work across the railway network is also about to launch between Shenfield and Colchester, with training completed with the Samaritans to enable them to intervene if someone is considering taking their own life.

While countywide, the Street Pastor scheme operates specifically in Basildon, Bishop’s Stortford, Chelmsford, Colchester, Harlow and Saffron Walden.

The countywide co-ordinator will soon launch groups in Billericay, Brentwood and Southend.

Round two of the PFCC’s Community Safety Development Fund is open but is closing shortly. Groups that would like to bid for funds will need to get their applications in soon. Up to £150,000 is available to be distributed to community projects that help to prevent and tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in the county.

Groups can apply for grants up to £20,000 for community projects which have to meet at least one of the priorities in the Police and Crime Plan.

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said “Across Essex we have a huge number of voluntary and community groups helping to build safe and secure communities. These local groups working within their communities and solving local problems make a vital contribution and deserve to be supported.

“Empowering local communities, supporting innovation and rewarding those groups that achieve practical results at a grass roots level is an important way to keep our county safe and our communities strong and resilient.

“I would like to encourage anybody who is making a difference in their communities and feel they could benefit from additional funding to apply for this fund, but I would also like to thank all of those groups who work tirelessly in their communities to make sure people can live in peace and safety.”

The closing date for applications is Wednesday, January 31st, 2018. For more information and to find out how to apply visit http://www.essex.pfcc.police.uk/giving-you-a-voice/commissioning-services/

The first round of the Community Development Fund closed on September 1st, 2017. Applications were reviewed by local community safety partnerships and evaluated by a panel of independent local representatives. The standard of applications was high and £147,159 was awarded to 16 organisations.

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