Young people who have overindulged or are in distress after a night out in Bicester are set to get a helping hand from a team of street pastors.
The new group, based on a scheme successfully introduced in other parts of the country, offers practical help as well as a friendly ear.
The street pastor movement, founded in 2003 by the Reverend Les Isaac, is led by the Ascension Trust. The trust says the scheme can help reduce crime and keep people safe.
Bicester resident Deborah Tugwood, a member of Marsh Gibbon’s Highway Church, is one of a group of 10 people due to start patrols in March.
Although the street pastors are supported by the police, Ms Tugwood said they approach problems, “from a completely different angle.”
She said: “We do touch base with the police, but we go out independently. For example, we carry flip-flops for young girls who have heels.
“They can take their shoes off, which just isn’t safe. We also carry lollipops, which help people with low blood sugar when they’ve had too much to drink.
“In aggressive drunk situations, we give a smile and a lollipop to break through the aggression.”
Pastors also carry emergency blankets and bottles of water.
Ms Tugwood said: “If a girl has been left on her own, it’s not necessarily the police’s responsibility to make sure she gets home safely.
“We’re coming at it from a Christian point of view. I feel we shouldn’t just isolate ourselves in church, we should be out there seeing what we can do.”
She added: “A lot of friends have said it’s great because their daughters will be out there soon. It’s reassuring for parents.”
Inspector Dave Hibbert, of the Bicester neighbourhood team, said: “The scheme is an excellent way for members of the community to work in partnership with the police in making the town centres safer environments and helping those who are vulnerable on a Friday and Saturday night.
“The scheme in Banbury is working well, with regular patrols by the street pastors helping to provide support to the police officers on duty, and those people who are worse for wear from drink.
“They listen, advise and promote a calm attitude, which has helped to reduce the number of incidents in the town centre.
“They are a welcome and valuable presence and long may they continue to be there.”