NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

A night out with Aberdeen's Street Pastors

Image caption Scotland's first Street Pastors appeared in Aberdeen four years ago

Street pastors have become a common sight on nights out.

The church volunteers help drunk and vulnerable people in towns and cities across Scotland after they first appeared on Aberdeen's streets four years ago.

Here BBC Scotland's Colin Wight reports on a night with Aberdeen Street Pastor James Duce.

When James says he is going for a night out he really means it. It is cold and he is rarely inside.

James and his fellow pastors spend up to five hours on the streets once or twice a month.

The street pastors began in London in 2003. Now there are almost 10,000 volunteers throughout the UK in 250 towns and cities.

Fourteen of those are in Scotland.

Aberdeen was the first, beginning in 2007 with just 25 volunteers.

Now there are more than 80 and the possibility of other schemes in the north east and Northern Isles.

The pastors patrol in threes, helped now by a Safe Space - a fully-equipped bus dispensing warmth, tea and first aid from the heart of the city in Belmont Street.

Bare-footed women

James and his partners, dressed in their distinctive blue jackets and wrapped up against the cold, wander the streets, advising on taxis, directions and where to get warm.

Many revellers on this cold winter night simply are not dressed for the conditions. The pastors give what help they can, even dispensing flip-flops to protect bare-footed women from broken glass and the cold.

One man thinks the bus is a blood transfusion service. He's drunk so much no amount of persuasion can persuade him otherwise.

James and the team help a teenager ill with drink. They help to sober him up, get him into a taxi queue. His friends say the pastors are great - they should be in every town.

But some others view the bus and the pastors as a target. They are suspicious of their motives.

Simply confused

But the pastors say they get little abuse. In the course of an evening they are confused with traffic wardens, police and club stewards.

They do work alongside the police, nightclub owners and the council. All have welcomed their presence.

Police say crime in the city centre has reduced considerably in the past four years - due not just to the pastors but a whole range of measures.

The pastors are all volunteers from a wide variety of churches. In the course of an evening, unless they are asked, religion is rarely discussed. The pastors say it is important the church is seen in action among people who need them - no matter who they are.

Few of those on a cold Saturday night, thirsty, cold or simply confused turned down their help.

And one can only wonder what happened to them before James and his fellow volunteers arrived on the streets of Scotland.

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