Stornoway Street Pastors are inviting people to come and join them on Saturday (December 21st) for an hour of carols and hot chocolate to help raise funds for the important work they do year-round.

The festive celebration offers a warm welcome before what is bound to be a long, cold night for the pastors, who will once again be out on the streets keeping people safe during the busiest social night of the year.

Stornoway’s street pastors are part of a large international organisation, though the local team is small, with just 13 members. Working in teams of three, they focus on getting people home safely after celebrations where they may find themselves disorientated, cold or left behind by their friends.

With a regular pattern of being on duty late into the night every other weekend, they gear up over busy periods and have extra teams out and about over Christmas, at Carnival and HebCelt, on paydays and at special events such as last week’s school dinner-dance.

They get a handover from Action for Children’s street-workers, who are on the streets until midnight keeping an eye on the children and young people who may be in town unaccompanied. Any concern about an individual or group is reported to the street pastors when they start work.

Rev William Heenan of St Columba’s Church in Stornoway is chairman of the Stornoway Street Pastors, all of whom are members of one of the church congregations. He told today (Thursday): “It’s practical Christianity and it is completely inter-denominational. We want to help people but we are not proselytising, we’re not hitting people over the head with the Gospel.

“We keep an eye on what’s happening in the streets of Stornoway town centre and, if we see someone who looks in trouble, we check that they are OK and see what help they might need.”

The help might include handing out water to people who are very drunk, thermal blankets to those who are cold or a pair of flip-flops to a girl who has kicked off her high-heels and is walking barefoot. Getting a taxi to get someone home safely might be needed, but some people just get a chat and a lollipop ‘because everybody likes a sweetie,’ says Rev Heenan.

The team work hand-in-hand not just with Action for Children, but with police and the council, as well as with pub landlords, who have a phone number they can ring to reach the pastors if they think a customer is vulnerable.

Rev Heenan said: “Increasingly they are younger people who are out late at night. They are quite vulnerable and we try to get them home safe before they get into any bother. We have a card that we hand out with our number on it and we do get calls the day afterwards from people saying ‘thanks for getting me home’.

“Police and staff at the hospital’s A&E department have commented that they see less people in trouble on the weekends we are on duty, and we also get adults coming up to our pastors in town and saying ‘thank you for looking after our youngsters’, because everyone remembers their own youth and foolishness.”

Stornoway Street Pastors will be recruiting new volunteers in January next year, with a training programme which should see an enlarged team ready for action by Christmas 2020. The training is intensive, ranging from first aid to suicide, alcohol and drug awareness, but once completed it can be used anywhere in the world – there are street pastors from London to Sydney, all of whom would welcome your contribution.

Saturday night’s fundraiser will see carols sung together at Stornoway Town Hall from 7pm, with a cup of hot chocolate afterwards, and is open to everyone.

The picture shows Street Pastor co-ordinator Isabel Macleod with Stornoway PC Johan Macleod and Action for Children ADP streetworker Naomi Macdonald on duty during last year’s Christmas preparations.