Simon Bateson

Simon Bateson and his fellow volunteers are on a mission to make the streets of Southside that little bit safer through positive action and a smile

Modest Simon Bateson is keen to point out that he’s just one of a team of Unsung Heroes that make up the Southside Pastors. The group of 55 volunteers gives up its time to provide a friendly face and helping hand to those who find themselves in vulnerable situations in the area. Between them, the Pastors have devoted 6,000 late-night hours to the streets of Southside bridging the gap between doormen and other services. This might mean directing a lost theatregoer, calming a potentially violent situation, staying with an unconscious reveller or just being visible and making people feel safe. The distinctive black and white uniform sets them apart from ordinary folk going about their business and their volunteer status helps to calm the most aggressive of people. “When you say you’re a volunteer people relax. A smile goes a long way to calming a situation. We are almost exclusively well-received and I can’t think of a single incident where things have gone badly.”

Although essentially a bunch of volunteers with day jobs, the pastors are much more organised than that might suggest. They don’t just turn up and hang about – they are structured, accountable and trained. “The idea was spawned after violent disturbances in Aston… gangs, drug culture that sort of thing. “We approached the Broad Street BID and talked to some of the wardens and doormen to get their views on what we were planning in Southside,” said Simon. “Mike Olly and Julia Chance at the BID were very supportive and in November 2010 we ran a trial on Broad Street providing a pastoral bridge between the doormen, wardens and emergency services.” The Pastors were well received and even today spend time training with the wardens on Broad Street before they begin volunteering. The scheme is so successful and volunteer numbers are growing to such a degree that expansion is on the cards in the form of the Sutton Pastors in Sutton Coldfield which will launch later in the year. As the name suggests there is a religious backdrop to what the Pastors do and they have volunteers from a number of churches across the city including the Vineyard Network Church where Simon is associate pastor. But it isn’t an exercise in recruitment. “We never preach, that’s not what this is about. It’s just that faith is the motivation. A love of this city and its people is at the core of what we do.”