Aylesbury is the county town of Buckinghamshire, its a historic market town at its core, but with large growth since the 1950s has a population of around 70,000.
There are several large churches and with a view to serving this community, Aylesbury Town Chaplaincy was set up in 2011 as an independent charity.
Since 2012, Chaplains have been out and about during the day in Aylesbury, and Street Angels, late into the night. We are a small, local charity born out of the desire of local churches to serve the needs of the thousands of people who live, work and visit Aylesbury every day.
Our ‘Vision’ statement explains this:
We love our town and, by coming alongside those who work, shop, play and live here, we wish to demonstrate God’s, unconditional love. We aim to provide comfort, support and encouragement (practical, emotional and spiritual) to all, through our regular, visible and caring presence. We aim to work in co-operation with like-minded partners for the wellbeing of all in our community.
In practice, there are 2 elements of our work: day-time Chaplains, and night-time Street Angels.
The Chaplains offer a ‘listening ear’ – a friendly presence and a confidential, independent and impartial ear to those who are going through difficult times, or just want to meet with someone who has the time to listen. They are available for anyone who needs someone to listen to them, about concerns, worries or aspirations; someone to share about their life. They have time for people and are interested in them. They’ll listen and chat about anything, including spiritual matters or prayer if required.
Currently, our Chaplains are in various places in Aylesbury. In the town centre, we have Chaplains to the various shopping centres, streets or areas, and they are around and about on parts of Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at the moment.
Other Chaplains are placed within particular organisations: Aylesbury Police Station, Morrisons supermarket, Aylesbury College, the Crown Courts and University Campus Aylesbury Vale.
While listening they may realise that the person speaking needs further specialist help and they can signpost people to other agencies and organisations which offer this. We don’t always know what difference these conversations and encouragement make, but we do know that many people value the Chaplains’ time, and come back to say what happened next. People have shared concerns about work, health, family, homelessness, loneliness, but also good times – new jobs, new relationships and new homes.
The Street Angels are out in the town centre in a team of three on either a Friday or Saturday night from around 11pm to 3.30am. They offer practical help and act as a calming, community presence. They offer simple and practical help; they give out flip flops so people’s feet are protected (their dancing shoes may have become too uncomfortable to wear!), they hold sick bags, have hair ties and bottles of water as well as being able to give basic first aid.
They make sure anyone out on the street, sleeping rough, is aware of and in touch with homelessness services. They help people find a safe way home – either via a taxi or by calling friends or family. This work is all done in liaison with our local police, licensees, CCTV operators and door staff, and we have been loaned a radio to enable us to be linked with the CCTV and door staff. Street Angels can also be involved in defusing potentially problematic situations; they give away hundreds of lollipops a year, and it is remarkable how the mood lightens with the offer of a lollipop!
Street Angels are part of the night-time economy partnership which has enabled Aylesbury to be awarded a Purple Flag several years in a row. This is awarded to towns and cities who demonstrate excellence in managing the night-time economy and indicates a safe, diverse, and vibrant night out.
We are members of two national networks of Chaplaincies (Alliance of Town & City Chaplaincies) and night-time work (Christian Night-time Initiatives, CNI network) so we can support, encourage and learn from each other.
We are also supported by many individuals and organizations in-kind or financially – local churches, Thames Valley Police, AVDC & BCC Community Safety Teams, Aylesbury Town Council, Heart of Bucks, Co-operative Community Fund, members of our Friends scheme, the Town Centre Partnership and many others.