Working with Essex Street and Rail Pastors

This week our Information and Guidance Manager, Sharon, has been out and about with the Street Pastors, learning more about their work and taking the opportunity to connect with people who may not have heard of Healthwatch Essex before. She has dedicated this blog to sharing her experiences.

It was sometime ago now that I first encountered the work of the Street Pastors, a group of trained volunteers from local Christian churches, and overseen by The Ascension Trust, who aim to provide non-judgmental support and a listening ear to anyone that they encounter who may need it. Not only does this benefit the people they interact with, but their work also contributes to crime reduction and public safety.

The Rail Pastors scheme was relaunched approximately six weeks ago, with volunteers currently working on the Greater Anglia train lines between Harlow and Cambridge, Shenfield and Southend and Shenfield and Colchester. Their work supports that of the Samaritans in engaging with people who may be in crisis, mentally unwell and/or vulnerable, as well as helping reduce anti-social activity and generally making people feel safer at the stations and on their journeys.

My day began at Shenfield where I met with Phil, Yvonne and Pedyr as they started their shift with a debrief and much needed coffee to fortify them against the chilly, wet weather. I asked Phil what motivates them to do what they do.

Phil, Yvonne and Pedyr

‘We all wanted to go out into our communities and show people that we care and are willing to help them. We aren’t counsellors but we can listen and are happy to give up our time to do that. It’s just really nice to be able to connect with people and let them know that life is worth living. Sometimes people are going through horrendous situations but if we can just show them that someone cares, and focus them on the positives, it can make a huge difference.’

Spending time on the platforms, walking around and connecting with different people, it was easy to see the positive difference that a simple chat made to many of them. Even small conversations about the weather brought about smiles and laughter, and a sense of community as others joined in. At all times, however, each of the Pastors was acutely aware of incoming and outgoing trains, scanning the area for anyone exhibiting signs of distress. Phil explained that ‘you will see they (the Rail Pastors) are continually walking up and down, keeping an eye out for anyone who may be in that low, depressive state, ready to talk to them and offer a listening ear.’

There are currently around 23 Rail Pastors volunteering on the Essex train lines and ideally, if more Pastors come on board, they can explore expanding into the local branch lines too. They undertake training before they venture on to the lines, particularly in suicidal interventions, and ensure that every contact they make is securely recorded in case any follow up is required. Rail Pastors wear a blue uniform and have identification badges which make them easily identifiable.

Moving on from Shenfield, we moved on to spend time at Chelmsford and Witham stations, where the Rail Pastors continued to check in with people, assisting with anything from missed train connections to those with concerns and worries. Train and station staff were not forgotten either, and it was clear to see that the Pastors had taken the time to get to know them and would always check in with how they were doing too. As Phil said, ‘we all cheer each other on and work together to make being on the rail network a better experience for everyone.’

If you would like to access support around any of the issues mentioned in this blog, give the Healthwatch Essex Information & Guidance Service a call on 0300 500 1895, email [email protected] or text/WhatsApp on 07712 395398.

If you would like to find out more about the Street and Rail Pastors, contact them via Facebook or Twitter.

Sharon Westfield De Cortez

Information and Guidance Manager