'The police ... could not wait for us to start, day and night-time'
Our Community Hero for June is Catherine Turnbull-Ross the Operations Manager for Aylesbury Town Chaplaincy, which includes Aylesbury Street Angels.
A Chaplaincy for Aylesbury had an idea for several years among church leaders when a meeting with the Chaplain from Watford Town Centre Chaplaincy in 2010 became the catalyst to move from an idea to action.
Catherine tells the story, “Towards the end of 2010 I had resigned from my job and I attended a joint church meeting where the idea of setting up a Chaplaincy in Aylesbury was discussed.
“As the meeting was coming to an end a request was made for someone with organisational skills and time who could move the project to the next level.”
Rather like the ‘it could be you’ lottery advert with the pointing finger, Catherine believed that God was saying ‘it could be you’, and so once finished full time work she was given a blank piece of paper and worked with a couple of the Church leaders to take things forward. They spoke to various people including the local police, councils, town centre agencies and church leaders to ensure support for the idea was there.
She explains: “The meeting with the police was the most positive meeting I have ever been involved in. They could not wait for us to start both day and night-time.
“With this enthusiasm we had most churches in the town on board and the finances to be able to employ myself as Operations Manager and Mark Knight to oversee the Street Angels.”
The first year saw a handful of amazing volunteer chaplains in the town centre visiting the local shops. The Further Education College approached the Chaplaincy requesting a College Chaplain as did the Healthy Living Centre who wanted a Chaplain to be around during the Child Health Clinic to connect with parents of small children. Some 12 Street Angels volunteers were also recruited and started during one of the coldest Aylesbury winters in years.
Catherine commented, “The Street Angels team built up relationships with licensees, doormen, police and paramedics, who soon realised the project was not a flash in the pan but here for the long term, especially seeing volunteers willing to go out week after week in sub-zero temperatures.
“The chaplains get alongside people to get to know them. This gives people an opportunity to talk about the deeper things in life.”
Chaplains are now available in supermarkets, the Police Station, Local University Campus, the Courts, District Council offices and out and about around the town centre. Catherine values the volunteer team and sees these as the heart of all that Chaplaincy is.
“These amazing volunteers are getting alongside people, listening and being genuinely interested in people’s lives. Time is valuable and is one of the greatest things we can invest into others.
“We also signpost people to local and national organisations who can offer further support, and have produced a card which has a list of agencies available to give to people so they can take it further if they wish.”
Currently there are 20 amazing Street Angel volunteers who go out on weekend evenings between 11pm and 3.30am. They offer a listening ear and more practical help such as hot drinks for the homeless, flip-flops for those who have hurt feet, finding a taxi and giving out thousands of lollies every year, mostly to door staff! The Street Angels are noted as having a calming community presence.
Aylesbury Town Chaplaincy also oversee the Healing on the Streets team who are available to offer prayer once a month for healing in mind, body and spirit. The Healing on the Streets benefits are welcomed by partner agencies such as the Town Centre Manager.
Catherine has really appreciated getting to know all those working for the good of the town such as Local Councils, Police, Town Centre Management and those who run the various festivals we have in our town.
“You don’t see that when you sit in your church building, but thanks to the Chaplaincy the church is now a valued partner joining in with the great stuff that is happening here, working for the good and prosperity of the town.
“I must stress that the real community heroes are our amazing volunteers who invest a massive amount into the life and community of Aylesbury and those I have met from other Chaplaincy teams and night-time work through various networks.
"These show we are an international movement taking church and Jesus to where people are.”
At the moment none of the teams are operating normally due to coronavirus but Chaplaincy is available over the phone, and volunteers are receiving online training to best support more evident areas of need once the lockdown is over, such as supporting those who are lonely and need someone to chat to, and those who have had a bereavement during the last few weeks and not been able to attend the funeral or say goodbye.
Catherine concluded by saying that all the volunteers love taking the church outside of its own activity to be a blessing to the town.
“The strapline of Aylesbury Town Chaplaincy is ‘serving the heart of our town’ and that is something we have done over the last ten years and plan to do for many years to come.”