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Street guardians to offer listening ear

PUBLISHED: 14:45 13 February 2009 | UPDATED: 13:02 03 July 2010

One of the Norwich street pastors in action. A similar scheme is being developed in Great Yarmouth

One of the Norwich street pastors in action. A similar scheme is being developed in Great Yarmouth

Dominic Bareham

THE fight against anti-social behaviour in Great Yarmouth is set to take a new turn in the summer with the introduction of “street guardians” to help prevent crime on the resort's seafront.

THE fight against anti-social behaviour in Great Yarmouth is set to take a new turn in the summer with the introduction of “street guardians” to help prevent crime on the resort's seafront.

Rather than being confronted by a police officer responsible for law enforcement, from April revellers who get into trouble late at night could be met by a volunteer who would talk to discuss any problems they had in their lives.

But Yarmouth police chief Supt Jim Smerdon, who is appealing for volunteers to join the guardians scheme, gave assurances the police were not going “soft” on criminals and said on many occasions police action was needed to deal with yobs.

However, he added, there were some - such as people who had broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and had resorted to drinking alcohol to come to terms with it, could benefit from being able to talk to someone,

He told the Mercury: “As police, we can't really engage with these people in the same way as others can because we are seen as representing the enforcement side. Nothing's going to change as far as enforcement is concerned and we are looking to enhance this at a later date.

“We will deal with people in the same way as we always have, but what we are saying is that in some cases, that is not what they need. In some cases, they need to sit down and talk to someone.”

The guardians are based on the church-affiliated Street Pastors groups operating in 60 towns and cities across the country, including in Norwich, which venture out in groups of two or three to engage with youngsters late at night, especially at weekends.

Supt Smerdon, who has seen the Norwich Street Pastors in action, has consulted Yarmouth Rural Dean Irene Knowles while planning the street guardian scheme

But he said he did not want the guardians to belong to a church in the same way as the inter-denominational pastors and is initially appealing for 10 volunteers aged 18 or over to come forward.

The volunteers must be willing to give up their Friday or Saturday nights between the hours of 11pm and 1am to speak to people who may have visited pubs and clubs in Marine Parade and surrounding streets. They must be willing listeners who can engage with people having problems in their lives. Training will be given in drugs awareness and other street guardian skills.

Supt Smerdon said police would be operating in the same areas to ensure safety, while the guardians would be able if necessary to refer people to agencies such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Samaritans and Relate.

He added: “If we have the ability to calm people down before they get to the stage where they behave anti-socially then that is another tool in our box.

“I think the street guardians will help deal with anti-social behaviour, but fundamentally it is about getting these people who do need some help to talk to somebody who can provide that.”

Anyone who wants to know more about being a street guardian should call Insp Nick Cheshire at Yarmouth police on 0845 4564567.

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