The ingredients were not propitious. A lady who had started Ipswich in Prayer, a police sergeant who was an atheist and a brand new vicar. Well it was that lady that prayed. She found herself on the crime reduction panel where the sergeant was the police rep. They were very suspicious of each other, but over time the relationship grew. Then the sergeant was tasked with reducing alcohol based crime in the town centre of Ipswich for Christmas 2005 and he had the bright idea of trying to get these ‘do gooding’ Christians to do the soft Street Pastor thing that he had seen on TV in Southend. He didn’t expect much at all, as he thought the hard policing would make the difference.
The lady went to her new vicar wondering what on earth to do. The vicar, being daft, sensed it had to be done, and done it was for two weekends in the run up to Christmas. The sergeant helped find some money for uniforms, radios and helped with a little bit of training, a caravan was used as a base, and the results blew everyone away. Crime plummeted.
Liz the lady and Paul the vicar knew they needed to get a full blown scheme going and drew a talented team together. Over the next few months they worked hard, looking at different options, visiting Southend and then settled on doing our own thing, and Town Pastors was born, going live in June 2006 with the first batch of Town Pastors. Neil the sergeant helped in the training and often monitored the Town Pastors, chivvying them along from the CCTV control room!
A second batch were trained in September and so there were a good number of Town Pastors by December 2006 when the Ipswich murders were being discovered. Town Pastors were then out every night for two weeks effectively providing a presence in the town centre as there were no police available. They also patrolled the red light district at weekends discouraging the girls from plying their trade and putting themselves at risk. The Town Pastor scheme had arrived.
Since then nine other schemes have joined the Town Pastor scheme in widely different places; Bury St Edmunds and Felixstowe, Woodbridge and Lowestoft, Stowmarket and Sudbury, Newmarket and Haverhill joining Ipswich. Then this year Dereham in Norfolk joined the family. Putting all the schemes together there are approximately 600 volunteers, half as Town Pastors and half in the prayer teams. Currently the cost is around £100,000 per annum to run all these schemes.
The Town Pastor schemes are highly respected in Suffolk and have helped the Church engage in a real area of need witnessing by love and friendliness to Christ’s love for all who receive their help and Freddo bars!
See also this article in the Ipswich Star