Norfolk street team mark five years of lifeline
2012: Norfolk Street Partnership is celebrating five years of providing a practical and spiritual lifeline on the late-night streets of Norwich and Norfolk as project administrator Gail Halley reports.
Believe it or not, it is almost five years since teams from Norfolk Street Partnership (formerly Norfolk Street Pastors) stepped out onto the streets of Norwich. Those who have been there from the beginning have seen great changes in that time.
To start with, people were unsure about us. They made lots of jokes about what kind of ‘pasta’ we were (lasagne, spaghetti etc); they were sceptical about our motives (‘keep out of their way; they just want to convert you’ or ‘don’t encourage them; that’ll be more to pay on our council tax’, not realising we are volunteers). There were of course many encouragements too – and not a little curiosity.
We were uniformed, but we were not the police. We had time for people – and that proved to be, and still is, one of our greatest assets. NSP volunteers have spent up to three hours talking to people in difficulty or depression; on a few occasions it could have been a lifesaver when people were seriously contemplating suicide.
We saved a life on that first night too; as a result of various circumstances we ended up walking past a cafe, and one pastor noticed someone sat at a table with their food but he did not seem to be moving – he was in full view of the window but hidden from the staff by a pillar. Upon entering to check if the person was ok it was evident that he was barely breathing.
The SOS bus were quick to respond, but in the event the man needed immediate oxygen and an ambulance and was rushed to the N&N; who knows what might have happened to him if he hadn’t been spotted?
Over the years we’ve made friends with some of the rough sleepers and some of the door staff; the police have come to appreciate our role and regularly point us in the direction of those who need practical help or a listening ear. On that first night, one officer said to us, ‘It’s peaceful tonight; I wonder if that’s got anything to do with you lot?’ We were quick to point out that it hadn’t, but it probably had a great deal to do with the prayer team back at base.
Every volunteer, whether on the street team or the prayer team, will have many a tale to tell about answered prayer, about being in the right place at the right time, about having exactly the right team, about having ‘a word in season’ for someone they met.
Sometimes people will ask how far we walk during a night so it has been measured a few times with a pedometer. The distance varied between 6.5 and 10.5 miles. As Paul Rendell, coordinator of NSP points out, ‘What is particularly remarkable is that, despite the distance we walk during – typically – five and a half hours, how often we are in exactly the right place at the right time.’
There are too many of these incidents to mention, but one included looking over the side of a bridge just in time to spot someone who had climbed over a guard rail, thrown their phone in the river and then rushing to grabbing them before they threw themselves in; on another occasion the team looked down a side street and saw a woman in a doorway; further investigation found she had her hands around her “best friend's” throat; and once a pastor was in just the right place to fall to his knees to catch a guy’s head from hitting the pavement when someone jumped into his arms and knocked him over.