A sympathetic ear is available for late-night revellers in Aldershot thanks to Christian volunteers who give up time to improve the town centre.
The town centre pastoral team, known as the Street Angels, set up on the corner of Wellington Street and Victoria Road every Friday and Saturday night to offer water, lollypops, chocolate bars and spikeys – which stop bottles being spiked with drugs – to those on the town.
There are even flip flops for ladies who have been over-ambitious with the height of their heels, and it is all gratefully received by the excitable 20-somethings heading towards Yates’s.
With Yates’s now permitted to remain open until 3.30am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and to serve alcohol until 2.30am, the spotlight is on Aldershot to see if the claims of some residents it will cause ‘havoc’ on the streets are proven.
The News & Mail joined with the Street Angels for a Friday night outing to get a true picture of Aldershot’s nighttime scene.
During the evening, inebriated residents and visitors enjoying the town’s pubs and bars – one from as far away as Kingston – were not shy in approaching the table set up opposite The George pub to talk to the volunteers, who are all church members.
Some help themselves to the sweets on display, the faces of others light up as the flip flops offer some respite to their aching feet, while many question why the volunteers are giving out the wares for free as they place handfuls of coins onto the table despite the protests of the team. The cash does come in handy, however, as it is used to replenish supplies.
A small number of party-goers are excited by the unusual sight of the market stall set up on the pavement and make jokes or comments as they pass.
Whatever the basis of the contact, though, the presence of the team prompts engagement and some soon begin to open up about their lives.
Reverend George Newton, from Holy Trinity Church, said: “Some people end up opening up about quite a lot of things. As Christians we offer to pray for people and people take us up on that. They start off talking about wanting to win the lottery and then all of a sudden open up.”
Along with Jonathan Wiggam, associate minister at Holy Trinity, he set up the group for a one-off night 10 years ago and it has grown to encompass 30 volunteers.
Rev Newton said: “We never told the police we were coming out and we had some very strange looks. But within a few months they had noticed a difference and it was actually their request that we start coming out more than once a month.”
Mr Wiggam said that the town centre was now quieter than it used to be in years gone by.
Volunteer Kim Platt, 24, said she got involved to serve God and found that some people who visited the team would attend church afterwards.
Peter Frampton, 59, who attends the KC21 church in the Kings International Centre, said: “You never know what you’re going to get from one night to the next. We’ve seen people who have had their lives turned around because of a chat with us.
“It’s evangelism, but it’s by doing, not by bashing people over the head with a bible."
As the clock ticked towards midnight, the rate of police cars driving down Victoria Road increased, as did the length of the queues outside various bars.
One group hug, on the request of a visitor, later, and several bottles of water lighter, the team members turned in but it is safe to say the town centre has benefited from some positive vibes and much-appreciated care and attention, thanks to their work that night.