Church foot soldiers to save soles of revellers

EVERY party-going girl knows the problem. It's the end of a long night of dancing, and as you face the journey home you suddenly realise that, by the feel of your blistered feet, your high heels appear to have shrunk to half their original size.

You pull them off for a moment's relief, only to find that putting them back on is twice as painful and the street is strewn with broken glass.

Weary women need worry no longer, however, for a new fleet of guardian angels is about to come to their rescue.

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The Street Pastors are to descend on Edinburgh city centre on Friday nights, dispensing flip-flops to the footsore, foil blankets to the frozen and a helping hand to anyone struggling to get home.

They are not supposed to intervene in fights, but hope their reassuring presence will also cut the level of drunken violence as the tide of drinkers flows through the city centre every weekend.

The volunteers, all Christian church-goers, will patrol the area around the top of Leith Walk from 8pm-4am every Friday from June 5, wearing coats and hats marked with highly visible "Street Pastors" logos. They will pick up bottles and broken glass, administer first aid and chat to passers-by, offering phone numbers for homeless charities, social services – and churches – if requested.

The project is organised by Alastair Mackenzie from Musselburgh, himself both a police officer and a member of the congregation at the Wellsprings Church in Newcraighall. He said his 23 years patrolling the streets of Edinburgh had inspired him to act. "I'm a policeman, so I appreciate the strain that the police are under. As a Christian, I sometimes question why we go to church every Sunday and don't actually go out and help anyone," he said.

The scheme already operates in around 60 other cities, including Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen, and the provision of flip-flops bearing the Street Pastors brand is tried-and-tested.

Twenty volunteers from seven different churches have signed up, and, with a special launch night at the Royal Terrace Hotel on March 24, the team hope to recruit more so they can extend the project.

Volunteer Nathan Lewis, 24, a youth worker from Leith, said: "I want them to have a safer night out, as well as share any message of hope I can give them. I feel there's a better way to live than getting absolutely slaughtered on a Friday or Saturday night."

Although the Street Pastors are not officially linked to the police, senior officers have welcomed the scheme.

Your say: Are Street Pastors a good idea?

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Mike Falchikov, 71, retired, Strathearn Road: "I think that's okay, provided they're not putting unreasonable pressure on people, dragging them off to church, that's fine, everything helps."

Sheila Fraser, 46, publican, Dalkeith: "I think it's absolutely ludicrous. I don't think they'll serve any purpose."

John Gray, 54, estate agent, Stenhouse Drive: "It sounds very good, but in practice I think it will be a dismal failure."