WATCH: Town pastors deal with Saturday night- clubbing carnage
PUBLISHED: 09:27 28 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:27 28 December 2018
The team of town pastors on duty on Saturday, December 22. From L-R Pete Wood, Paul Laughlin, Jackie Pickering, Barbara Willingham, Anne Earrey, Pat Hadden and Wayne Pickering. Picture: SOPHIE BARNETT
Knife threat, arguments and nearly eight miles of walking - reporter Sophie Barnett's night with Ipswich town pastors was definitely an eye-opener.
The weekend before Christmas combined with pay-day and a full moon meant that a night roaming the streets of Ipswich was always going to be eventful.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed into town with a hi-vis jacket and Freddos in hand – but within minutes I was shown the famous “wee alley” and knew I was going to be in for an interesting night.
Showing me the ropes for the evening was the town pastors administrator Barbara Willingham and the evening’s team leader, Pete Wood. The pair have spent 12 years keeping the streets of Ipswich safe and lending a hand to distressed party-goers.
Four other pastors were out on patrol too, Paul Laughlin, Wayne Pickering, Pat Hadden, and Anne Earrey all gave up their time to offer support on the streets.
All six have basic life training and are taught how to deal with people under the influence.
Barbara Willingham, who began volunteering 12 years ago after her son’s drink was spiked, said: “As a mother it’s nice to know there are people looking out for my children.”
The evening began with prayer before heading onto the streets. The six town pastors and Jackie Pickering, who stayed at base and prayed throughout the night, are all Christians who look after people who need their help during a night out.
There are more than 70 people who pray from home for peace throughout the shift, with some people in their 70s and 80s waking up in the middle of the night to pray for those in the town. The town pastors call them their “control room” as they guide them through the night.
Once we had all been briefed about the evening, we headed out onto the streets to see what we could find and who we could help.
The first hour was spent collecting glass bottles and disposing of them to avoid them being used as potential weapons, but other than that the streets were relatively peaceful – according to pastor Pete.
What was great to witness was the number of people who stopped the pastors to say thank you. One man said: “You got me home safely last weekend so thank you for all you do – you’re amazing.”
The town started to get busier around 12am – with Revolution and Sin Bar having queues outside the doors for most of the evening. Our first call was to an incident at K Bar in St Nicholas Street, where it had been reported that a woman had fallen ill. By the time we arrived, the woman’s friends had already ordered a taxi home and the pastors gave her some water before moving on.
Later the pastors came across a man who was making suicidal remarks. They managed to speak to him and calm him down before police attended.
We then headed back to the meeting point to warm up – munching on an amazing Victoria sponge cake cooked by Jackie. After a quick pit stop we headed back out on the streets.
The next few hours were far from quiet – with one call to a man who was vomiting, a domestic incident between a man and a woman, and a young man who was asleep on the floor and needing to get back to Sudbury.
But the most shocking moment of all had to be a knife threat on St Peter’s Street where a male who had been thrown out of a club was threatening to use a weapon.
He was arguing with another man on the street and threatening to stab him. As soon as we heard this the pastors called it in to police – who arrived at the scene within 60 seconds.
The pastors were amazing – comforting those who were distressed, providing water, sweets and finding anyway to get them home safely.
Throughout the night they were calm and far from squeamish, which sadly can’t be said for myself who had to turn away at the mere sight of vomit.
The volunteers do an incredible job and despite some of the abuse and even being called “town pasties” – they never complain and help however they can.
Speaking of the job, pastor Pete Wood said: “Drunk people can go from happy to angry very quickly, they are very unpredictable.
“But no matter how drunk they are, what they’ve taken, or whether they have gotten into a fight, we are there to make sure they get home safely and have a positive end to the evening.”
The pastors sometimes receive messages or letters from grateful parents which makes it all become worth it.
“If I can just help one person get home safely then I have done my job,” said pastor Peter.
By 3.45am it was time for me to call it a day – but the night wasn’t over for Barbara and Pete, who didn’t make it home until gone 5am.
This is a normal weekend for the pair, who have spent 24 years between them “sweeping the streets” and keeping people safe. It’s amazing how they give up their free time to help others in this way, they really are heroes.