An innovative project to “care for, listen to and help” revellers and youngsters hanging about late at night is being launched in Dereham tomorrow - with glowing praise from police.
Street Pastors are now operating in 80 towns and cities across the UK including many big urban centres and teams have been going out in Norwich for about two years.
Under the scheme, volunteers offer a listening ear and advice - and in other areas their presence has helped prevent vandalism and other criminal behaviour.
Six people are so far trained to go out in Dereham and they will be patrolling from tomorrow night, which has been picked as Halloween is always a busy night for potential anti-social behaviour.
As well as the police, the scheme has backing from the town council and local churches.
Insp Peter Walsh, of Dereham Police, said: “We are very fortunate in Dereham to have the street pastors. This is a generally safe town with low levels of disorder but there are issues of late night nuisance and the police will deal firmly when they identify offences.
“The street pastors are a moderating influence in Norwich and they offer support to those who are vulnerable whether through alcohol, emotional trauma or other issues.”
Insp Walsh added: “Dereham is one of the smaller towns to have a street pastor scheme and we very much look forward to patrolling on weekend evenings with street pastors. It is good news.”
Street Pastors' co-ordinator Val Dodsworth said: “Often there are groups of young people hanging about. Some of them may have drunk a bit too much or others may be in some sort of distress.
“Our motto is 'to care, listen and help' and that is just what we do.”
Mrs Dodsworth added: “Street Pastors never know what people or situations they may meet. They do not pretend that they can solve everyone's problems, but sometimes a listening ear and some sensible advice can put things in a different perspective.”
The volunteers wear an easily recognisable uniform and more people are being sought to help in Dereham.
Mrs Dodsworth said: “They bring maturity of outlook and a sense of security and calmness to the sometimes troubled young people they meet on the streets. By their presence they can divert those who might otherwise be involved in vandalism or minor criminality.”
To be a Street Pastor you have to be over 18, to be a regular member of a church and be prepared to do up to 12 days of training, which is usually held on a Saturday.
*Contact: Val Dodsworth on 01603 472753.