Gosport Street Pastors take expertise into schools

Street pastors out on Friday night around Gosport town centre. (l-r) Alison Oyem, Jo Warren, Leslie Davis, Maureen Deacon and Hilary Viccars. 'Picture: Steve Reid (120964-450)
Street pastors out on Friday night around Gosport town centre. (l-r) Alison Oyem, Jo Warren, Leslie Davis, Maureen Deacon and Hilary Viccars. 'Picture: Steve Reid (120964-450)
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Life as a teenager can be tough.

You’re facing exams, many children may be having difficulty at the hands of bullies or they could have problems at home.

So who do they talk to about it?

This is where the school pastors come in – and Brune Park Community School in Gosport is the first in the area to pilot such a programme.

The Gosport Street Pastors have been patrolling the streets of the town for several years, often on a Friday and Saturday evening.

Their role is to listen to people, allow them to share any problems they might have and help keep the streets calm.

Now, these very same people will be standing outside the school gates of Brune Park, to allow students to talk about their worries and concerns.

Lesley Davis is the co-ordinator of the Gosport School Pastors.

She says: ‘I was a street pastor for seven years. About three years ago we decided to investigate how street pastors were seen by young people.

‘I let a team of street pastors out in the early evening once a month to engage with the local young people around areas of deprivation.

‘From that we get a lot of information from the children.

‘They shared stories with us that showed us there were issues they were concerned about from the conditions they lived in, to parents taking drugs, to teenage pregnancy.

‘There was a particular mention of the internet and abuse online.

‘That’s what got us thinking we could start to work with the youth on a more regular basis.

‘School pastors offers us that opportunity.’

The street pastors set up a meeting with statutory and voluntary youth service providers in Gosport, which the headteacher of Brune Park, Richard Kelly, attended.

The meeting was held to discuss introducing school pastors to the town. After it was agreed unanimously, Mr Kelly offered to use Brune Park as a pilot.

School pastors aim to offer a reassuring and friendly presence to students who may not feel able to speak openly to teachers or parents.

They work to enhance the safety and emotional and social wellbeing of students through caring, listening and helping.

Lesley says she hopes that the new scheme will allow students to express their views.

‘We have worked very closely with Brune Park,’ she says. ‘They have been amazing in giving us direction.

‘We are starting small. We are going to be putting out teams for patrol after school.

‘At the end of the school day we are going to be outside the school gates in teams of two or three as they go home. ‘That’s the start of the relationship. We have had a lot of experience out on the streets already.

‘We’ve found at first there’s a lot of confrontation but people begin to realise we are not a threat, we’re a friendly face.

‘That’s what we are praying for – that people can approach us if they want to.

‘This is a new area for us. We will be talking to the school about what things they want us to refer to them and what things they would like us to deal with.’

Mr Kelly is enthusiastic about the project, saying: ‘The vast majority of our students aren’t the type to hit the headlines.

‘They want to demonstrate some of the positive aspects they have got.

‘It’s a really exciting opportunity for the community.

‘Schools are central to the community and so are churches.

‘This is about working together.

‘The youth are the future of the community. They will be the local politicians and will run businesses in the area.’

And Mr Kelly says he thinks students will open up to school pastors.

‘One of the things that I have noticed in my time here is that students are very quick to engage with visitors to the school and will talk all about themselves and about the school and what it’s like to be learning at their age.

‘As a society we have got significant pressures on pupils these days. To be able to talk it through is useful.

‘Student voice is very big here but we still don’t give them the full opportunity.

‘This is another route for the students to be able to say “this is what we want to do” and working with them to make it happen.’

Mr Kelly adds that he hopes students will feel comfortable speaking to people who aren’t associated with the school.

‘School staff and parents will step in and be the authority figure,’ he says.

‘There’s a mixed message we provide. We care but we are involved in that authority still.

‘Sometimes school pastors aren’t that authority figure so they are more comfortable opening that dialogue.’

Lesley adds that young people often relax when they realise what the pastors are there for.

‘Once they realise that we aren’t the police and we don’t associate with them, they recognise that we are people they can go to without fear of authority,’ she says.

‘If they realise who you are and where you come from they start to ask about things that are Christian-related.

‘We don’t go out to preach, we go out to care. But they start to ask and start to explore.

‘They will have a connection with you. I find young people fascinating.’