Happy 20th Anniversary to Street Pastors – The Organisation That Made The Streets Safe

Marcia Dixon MBE reflects on the work of Street Pastors, and how it grew from an organisation started by three men to one that is making social, political and international impact

I can hardly believe it. Street Pastors, one of the projects birthed by The Ascension Trust and one of the most well-known national church-based community initiatives, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Street Pastors is one of the few charity initiatives I’ve journeyed with since inception and, as a result of doing so, I’ve seen it grow into an international organisation with teams in the UK and abroad.

I was present in Rev Les Isaac’s home in 2003, when he, along with David Shosanya and Ian Crichlow, discussed launching a community initiative called Street Pastors.

They were inspired to form Street Pastors following a New Year shooting of four female friends attending a New Year’s Eve party in Birmingham. Two of the young ladies tragically died and the incident made the media headlines. It made the nation aware of the gun and gang violence taking place in the UK’s urban areas.

In launching Street Pastors, David, Ian and Les believed placing men and women on the streets to provide pastoral care to troubled youth could play a major part in addressing what was becoming a major problem.

I attended that now historic first meeting because I had volunteered to do PR work for the fledgling organisation. I too was concerned about the rising youth violence occurring at the time and wanted to support Christian organisations keen to address the issue. Street Pastors was one such organisation.

It was amazing to see the response of both the Christian and wider community to Street Pastors as information about the scheme began to be rolled out. When public meetings were held to galvanise support for the initiative, they were packed with church leaders and lay members passionate about addressing the issue of guns, gangs and violence that was then being constantly featured in the media. Excitingly, the Media — religious, ethnic, regional and national — reported on plans to set up Street Pastors as a response to youth crime and gangs.

Those initial meetings, coupled with media coverage, encouraged Christians to come forward to train as street pastors, and the first training sessions – which I attended – took place in Brixton, at the offices of The Ascension Trust. I was with the team when they first went on patrol in Lambeth, and I actually served as a street pastor for a while on the team in Hackney when it was launched in 2003. What was interesting was when Street Pastors were out on the streets in those early days, the public really welcomed our presence, were encouraging and thanked us for working to make a difference.

Fast forward to 2023, Street Pastors is now a highly visible, highly regarded, national community imitative, well-respected by the people in the pew, as well as in local and national government circles. It is operational in 250 towns and cities across the UK, with 8000 street pastors currently serving their communities in patrols every Friday and Saturday night.    Street Pastors is also international and based in Jersey, Gibraltar, Ireland, the US and the West Indies.

The Street Pastors idea has been extended so there are now school pastors, rail pastors, college pastors, prayer pastors and response pastors. And Street Pastors aren’t just focused on addressing youth crime and violence; they also support and promote community safety.

If you Google the phrase ‘Street Pastors’, and click on the News tab, you’ll see the depth and breadth of the impact Street Pastors is having in local communities as their teams are featured in numerous local news stories. If you check out the Street Pastors website, you’ll find details of the numerous accolades Street Pastors teams across the UK have been awarded.

I had many interesting experiences during my time doing PR for the Street Pastors. Those I can remember include going on a Street Pastors patrol with Michael Howard, who at the time was leader of the Conservative Party; attending a Street Pastors conference, where the guest speaker was the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson; having a good time at the annual Street Pastors banquets; and being present at a gathering where the guest of honour was the High Commissioner of Antigua. The island of Antigua has taken a special interest in the organisation, as one of the founders, Pastor Les (as he is affectionately known) is Antiguan by birth.

And just last year, Pastor Les caused a political earthquake when he gave the keynote speech at the annual Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast held at the Houses of Parliament.

He spoke about the importance of integrity in government – at a time when the Media was filled with stories of a government with questionable integrity. The then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, was in the audience. He was so moved by the speech, he resigned from government, citing a lack of confidence in the then Prime Minister’s leadership. His resignation caused ructions in the party, culminating in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation and Conservative Party elections for a new leader. When interviewed about his decision Mr Javid said this: “It might sound a bit strange, but I was listening to the sermon by this amazing man, Rev Les Isaac – you know, he started Street Pastors.

“I was listening to him talking about the importance of integrity in public life and, just focusing on that, I made up my mind. I went straight back to my office and drafted the resignation letter and went to see the Prime Minister later in the day.”

Now, 20 years since Street Pastors’ formation, two of the original founders have moved on to pursue other professional goals, and last year, Pastor Les stepped down from his role as head of Ascension Trust to serve as its President. He makes way for the new CEO, Bejoy Pal, a young leader who is set to continue the good work of Street Pastors and of the umbrella organisation of Ascension Trust, in impacting lives and communities, training young people to participate in evangelism and fostering Christian unity.

Big plans are in the pipeline to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Street Pastors’ launch.  This includes a Street Pastor march on April 18 — from St Mark’s Church, Kennington, south west London, to St Matthew’s, Brixton, where a special civic service with local dignitaries will be present and, on April 22, a special service thanking God for blessing the work of Street Pastors will be held at St Mark’s. Other events are planned too.

If anything, Street Pastors’ success is a reminder to us all, that when Christians step out in faith to deal with a societal issue, God is with us and it’s His desire that we succeed in making a difference and having a positive impact on people’s lives.

Visit www.streetpastors.org for more information.

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