Cambridgeshire

New Peterborough chaplain offers city centre hugs

Chris Duffett in Peterborough City Centre
Image caption Mr Duffett says he has hugged thousands of people in Peterborough city centre

A Christian chaplain is bringing a very personal touch to his Peterborough city centre ministry.

The Reverend Chris Duffett said: "I'm known as the free hug man. I'll hold a sign saying 'free hug', and I've hugged thousands of people."

The Baptist minister has recently started working as Peterborough's first city centre chaplain.

His three aims are to listen, to train lay chaplains and to create a regular point of contact in the city centre.

St John's church, which is just off Cathedral Square, has already offered its porch as a regular meeting place on Thursday afternoons.

Mr Duffett is funded to work one day a week. He said he is amazed at how many people want to speak to him.

"On one Thursday afternoon I listened to people non-stop for four hours, from life stories to work worry woes," he said. "People are desperate to talk."

Once a month on a Sunday he also tries to reach people who would not usually attend church.

"I do some wacky kind of street projects," he said. "I'll set up a red carpet in the middle of Peterborough with a big sign saying VIPs only, and I'll encourage everyone to walk the red carpet and think about how they are so important to God."

Mr Duffett hopes to respond to the needs of all those who use the city centre, from the homeless and shoppers to police officers.

"It's great to have Chris on the street," said John, a Big Issue seller. "Even if you're down and feeling a bit fed up, he cheers you up straight away. It's good there are still people like him around."

Mr Duffett's year-long ministry is paid for by a grant from Network Peterborough, a web-based organisation for all the city's Christians.

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