SADDLEWORTH'S first street pastors scheme is set for launch.

Members of churches from local villages will attend a small celebration at Greenfield Methodist Church on Saturday, May 4 before setting off for a commissioning service at Brunswick Church in Manchester at 6pm.

The service will be led by the founder of the charity the Reverend Les Isaacs. The street pastors initiative began 16 years ago when a small group of elderly people, who were all members of local churches, took to the streets of Brixton and Hackney on a Saturday evening.

Their aim was simply to “care, listen and help”. They had seen the problems on the streets, and the growing problem of gun crime, and wanted to make a difference.

Susan Titmuss, co-ordinator of Saddleworth Street Pastors, said: "They had no idea what they were starting. They began what is now known as the street pastors movement. To date, 15,000 volunteers have trained as street pastors serving in over 200 towns and cities across the UK.

"Street pastors are not on the street to evangelise. The Saddleworth team are all members of Saddleworth churches, who want to give something to our community.

"Our aim is to listen, give practical help where we can and just be there if there is a need. We have the support of the local police constable, Lee Cullen, and our local Councillors Pam Byrne, Geoff Bayley, Jamie Curley, Graham Sheldon and John Hudson."

When the street pastor team was set up in Stalybridge, Inspector Bill Callaghan said: “Within the first year of the team starting there was a 60 per cent reduction in violent offences and a 70 per cent reduction in public order offences compared to the previous 12 months. Nothing the police or our partners tried before ever achieved this level of success.”

Volunteer street pastors are aged over 18 (there is no upper age limit), active church members and willing to complete a challenging programme of training including sessions on youth culture, drugs and homelessness.

A Criminal Records Bureau Check is required, and references are obtained before joining a team of at least four people, each of whom will work a minimum of one night a month.

In Saddleworth, the team anticipates starting patrols in Uppermill on a Friday or Saturday evening. As more volunteers are trained, they aim to have more patrols which will cover other villages in the area.

Susan added: "We are not pretending to be the answer to all the issues which surface in our villages, but we are committed to our communities and we want to listen, care and help where needed and in the process help the night time economy to flourish in a safe and secure environment."