Revellers in Hawick tomorrow night will be offered a helping hand by street pastors as part of a pilot project being extended to the town for the first time.
Borders Street Pastors took to the streets of Galashiels in June last year, and the initiative has proved so popular it is now being extended to Hawick.
Trained volunteers with the group, one of 23 in Scotland trained by the Ascension Trust, have since carried out 35 patrols, from late evening to around 3.30am to aid revellers finding themselves in trouble after overindulging.
Employing an ethos of listening, caring and helping, the team has assisted many drunken revellers and, by doing so, made the streets of Galashiels safer. And from tomorrow, pastors are to operate in Hawick on an initial once-monthly basis.
Duncan Cameron, one of the group’s leaders, said it had always been its intention to roll the programme out to Hawick.
He said: “We’ll be doing what we have been doing in Gala, just talking to folk and offering non-judgemental advice.
“Our work usually starts when the nightclubs come out, and you get the young lasses struggling in their high heels and we’re on hand to offer them flip-flops, rather than them being forced to walk barefoot.
“We also hand out lollipops as an icebreaker.
“Listening, caring and helping – those are the three words associated with us.”
Over the past six months in Galashiels, the volunteers have disposed of more than 1,000 glass bottles and handed out more than 200 pairs of flip-flops and 1,200 lollipops, as well as distributing foil blankets and woolly hats, supplied bottled water and distributed 1,200 lollipops.
Before the street pastors take to the streets of Hawick tomorrow night, a commissioning service is to be staged at the town’s Trinity Church, in Central Square, from 8pm.
The service is open to all.
Duncan added: “A lot of the time if someone has had a bit to drink, they just want to talk, and we are there to listen, as I say, in a non-judgemental and confidential way.
“If they need help, we are there to give it, whether it’s handing out a space blanket, a woolly hat or some bottled water.
“A lot of the time we are seen as offering a safe place when people are a bit confused and intimidated by the busy atmosphere in the early hours.
“In Gala, we’ve had people asking if they can stand next to us, because it makes them feel safe.
“On other occasions they ask you if you would mind walking them to the taxi rank, and, of course, we’re happy to do that too, so they get home safely.
“We don’t judge. We’re just there to help. Aside from everything else, it’s great for us because we have a lot of fun and the work is very rewarding.”
The group’s next patrol in Hawick after tomorrow will be on Saturday, February 11.
Its expansion into Hawick has been welcomed by council chiefs and the police.
Mid Berwickshire councillor Donald Moffat, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for community safety, said: “Street pastors are famed for handing out flip-flops to young women on a night out, but their assistance to the community consists of a lot more.
“It has been proven in a number of areas across the UK that street pastors operate that they help reduce crime by a significant percentage.
“I am delighted that Scottish Borders Council and Police Scotland are supporting them and look forward to the scheme hopefully spreading to other communities.”
Chief Inspector Andy McLean, Police Scotland’s area commander for the region, added: “The street pastors provide a valuable service to members of the public who find themselves in a vulnerable state while out enjoying the night-time economy within the Borders.
“Their early intervention may mean that an individual who would subsequently require police or medical assistance is able to get home safely, and I welcome their deployment within the region.”
The group, part of a UK-wide organisation launched in London in 2003 and now active in more than 270 towns and cities, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org