A CORONAVIRUS fund grant from Wiltshire Community Foundation has helped Salisbury Street Pastors continue its work after it lost more than half of its revenue in the pandemic.
The 11-year-old group, which sends volunteers out on the streets of the city to assist vulnerable revellers every Friday and Saturday night, was facing a £9,000 hole in its finances after 26 churches around Salisbury were unable to provide their usual support.
Management committee co-ordinator Brian Percey said: “Because the majority of churches are not meeting and if they are, they have smaller congregations, their collections are lower which means they have been unable to donate as much. The churches’ donations make up 59 per cent of our funding so it’s a big blow.”
The group has been awarded £9,000 from the community foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund, which has already raised more than £1.2 million and distributed more than £1 million through 220 grants to groups across the county. Mr Percey said:
“We are not using as many resources because we haven’t been going out when hospitality is closed but we also need to pay for training and salaries. We were down to our reserves and if things hadn’t changed, we would have been asking serious questions about how we continued.
“The grant has given us some certainty. It has given us the confidence that if we carry on for the next year, hopefully churches might be able to support us again.”
The street pastors work closely with Wiltshire Police and the city’s Pub Watch scheme. Mr Percey said the teams are often directed to problem areas to help ease tensions caused when drinkers come together at the end of the night.
“We are told that when we are out on the streets the whole essence of the night is calmer than when we are not there,” he said.
“We are not enforcing anything and we are sent because the police know we can defuse the situation. We don’t put ourselves in harm’s way if there’s a fight we run. But if we can get in before something happens then we will.”
He recalls one incident in Milford Hill when Gwen Leslie, one of the team’s oldest members, who is in her late seventies, calmed down two servicemen who were about to fight two locals.
“They were there squaring up when Gwen went between them and said ‘would you like a lollipop, boys?’. What they really wanted to do was fight but you can’t be rude to a little old lady so they all took one and the situation defused itself,” he said.
Two teams of three pastors per night patrol the town centre, as well as the city’s parks and estates like The Friary.
Each of its pastors, who are all members of churches in the city, has to undergo 15 hours of training. They are trained on how to listen and help revellers in distress, as well as how to help people suffering from an excess of drugs or alcohol. They are also taught how to recognise signs of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
They give out water, emergency blankets and even flip flops to youngsters too drunk to walk in high heels.
Said Mr Percey: “We still have seven people who have been patrolling the streets since we began 11 years ago and continue to be out once a month from 10pm to 4am. It’s a huge commitment but they love doing it and they love Salisbury.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are delighted to support this amazing group because of the enormous contribution they make to the city and its community. There are countless examples of how they have made a huge difference to people and could very well have saved them from serious harm.
“Our fund is there to help groups who are the bedrock of our communities tackle immediate need and find their way out of this crisis, that’s why we need the public’s support so badly.”
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.