Caring, listening and helping on the streets of Kirkcaldy

Phyllis Duncan of Kirkcaldy Street Pastors ( Fife Photo Agency)
Phyllis Duncan of Kirkcaldy Street Pastors ( Fife Photo Agency)

It’s 10pm on a Saturday in Kirkcaldy town centre - for many it’s the start of a long night of socialising.

Kirkcaldy Street Pastors also head out at that time but they have a different agenda - to look out for and help those in need.

Phyllis on patrol in Kirkcaldy

Phyllis on patrol in Kirkcaldy

The Kirkcaldy branch of the UK charity which has more than 250 schemes across the UK, began in 2010 where Christian volunteers will give up their own time to make sure Kirkcaldy’s revellers enjoy themselves safely.

Phyllis Duncan, from Kennoway, is the branch co-ordinator and says that they carry out a number of different activities.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen when we go out there. What we do is engage with people. If people don’t want to talk then we just walk on – we’re not intrusive, but we look out for situations we can help with.

“We help get people into taxis if they’re struggling, and we give out flip flops to girls who are bare foot because their heels are hurting them, as well as bottles of water.

“If we sense that there is going to be an altercation then we’ll intervene, but we won’t put ourselves at risk. Whether they listen or not, well that’s different. If it is going to kick off then we call the police.

“We can also administer first aid, or we may refer someone who is begging to an agency. Sadly we sometimes have to leave them there if we can’t get them a bed for the night, so in that situation we’ll make them as comfortable as possible and notify the police to check on them.

“Sometimes we’ll just simply listen to someone’s story. At that moment in time they might just wanting to off-load.

“And then it may be that someone is just in need of a chip butty and cup of tea, so we’ll do that too.”

Phyllis is keen to point out that the group is not, as she puts it, “bible-bashers”.

“People sometimes have a bad perception about what being a Christian is,” she said, “That we’re do-gooders or we’re there to preach at you and judge, but we don’t go out with that approach.

“Unless we are asked, we won’t talk about Jesus. But if someone asks us the question then we can to a bit of teaching so they can get the truth about it.”

So why would someone trudge the streets of Kirkcaldy - from the Duchess to the Harbour Bar and up to the bus and railway stations - when they could be tucked up in bed?

Ian Spiers, who is also chairman of the Kirkcaldy branch, says it’s about being a “good samaritan”.

“For me it’s showing people Christian love and care.

“You do hear some stories from people who are vulnerable who may be more inclined to talk when they’ve had a few drinks, and talk to someone they don’t know, knowing that it won’t go any further.

“It’s about listening without being judgemental.”

Training to be a Pastor is a lengthy process and can take up to year.

“What happens is that people who are interested will go out first of all as an observer, which is what I did a couple of times and the decided I would apply to join,” Phyllis said.

“First of all we’ll meet to have an informal chat.

“Physically it’s quite challenging because if we’re from 10 o’clock until half past three, there might be a bad experience or it’s a stormy night some people might think that it’s not for them and that’s fine.

“But if they do decide to go ahead then you fill out an application. There’s a criteria that you must adhere too which is you must have been a member of a Christian fellowship for over a year and agree to a PDP disclosure check.

“You then need to undertake the training module, which involves eight essential modules, and another five which are elective.

“They will then get two supervisory patrols and after that if everything is OK there’s a commissioning service and then they are finally a Street Pastor.

“It’s quite a lengthy process, there’s around 50 hours of training so it can take up to a year to complete everything.

“We’re not out there as counsellors, we’re there to signpost people to agencies that can help them, so having good listening skills is essential.”

Phyllis added: “You also need to know the community and look at what is happening culturally in Kirkcaldy. We get a different clientele than the Street Pastors get in Cowdenbeath for example.

“Ultimately, for me, it’s about taking that practical love of Jesus out onto the streets without evangelising in a conventional way.

“People aren’t really coming into the church today so if we can go out and show that we’re caring and compassionate and non-judgemental, as well as being seem to be making a difference, then for me being a Christian, it’s having the church in action on the streets.

“We can reach out to people who are searching or seeking and there are people like that out there. So being a Street Pastor gives me that opportunity.

“Our motto is ‘Caring, Listening, Helping’ and that’s what we do.”