Britain's Street Pastors scheme, a church based response to crime and gun violence in inner cities across the country, will host to a delegation of Antiguan Government Ministers, Police officials and Church Leaders when they arrive this weekend on a fact finding mission.
The Street Pastors initiative is the brainchild of Rev Les Isaac and was launched in London in January 2003 following the shooting of four teenagers outside a hairdressers in Aston, Birmingham.
Street pastors are Christians from across the denominational spectrum who provide pastoral care, support and prayer, and referrals to government and statutory agencies to the people they meet on the streets on their Friday and Saturday night patrols.
Street Pastors have stopped fights and turf wars and also helped drug dealers, prostitutes and at risk young people.
The Antiguan Government is keen to introduce the Street Pastor's scheme next year so that it can form part of their strategy to prevent crime and gun violence taking root on the island.
Rev Les Isaac, founder of Street Pastors, believes the Antiguan delegation will find their UK fact finding mission informative and inspiring. He said, "I visited Antigua earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception the Street Pastors scheme received from Antiguan Government Officials and the Police Force after I shared it with them."
"The Antiguan Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Baldwin Spencer, was particularly receptive and expressed an interest in establishing Street Pastors in Antigua, and promised to send a delegation here to the UK so that they could learn more about the scheme."
The delegation will be led by Major Byron Maxam, Ministry of Housing, Culture and Social Transformation and Detective Sargeant Jeffers of the Antiguan Police Force. Other members include Rev Selina Joseph of the Antiguan Christian Council and Jocelyn Martin, representing the Antiguan High Commission.
During their week long UK visit, the Antiguan delegation will go out on patrols with Street Pastor teams in the London Boroughs of Hackney and Southwark, attend a Street Pastor training programme and visit Brixton prison.
So far, there are 300 Street Pastors nationwide, with team sizes ranging from around 12-strong, in Brent, up to 23 in Lambeth. In the inner cities of London, Birmingham and Manchester, they will often tackle typically urban problems such as gangs, guns, drugs and knives.
Over in Leicester, where these are less of an issue, clubs and pubs have welcomed the Pastors, incorporating their details into projections and leaflets so that young people know that the Pastors are out there when they leave.
Comparisons with the Guardian Angels and recent Street Warden initiatives are hard to avoid, but Isaac says that they are different: 'We are not vigilantes. We don't have the power to fine people.' Instead, the emphasis, he explains, is on the practical: a holistic approach to problems in troubled inner-city areas. This is made possible by what Isaac calls the 'urban trinity' ó a unique relationship that he has helped to create between the Church, the police and local authorities.
Around 70 per cent of Street Pastors nationwide are women. Why does Isaac think that is? 'The truth?' he said. 'I think that the guys are scared.'