The clock ticks closer to 10pm. It’s Friday night and Cardiff city centre is eerily still – the quiet before the storm.
As the pubs, clubs and bars brace themselves for the swarm of nightlife imminently inbound, under the rickety roof of the Tabernacl Church, the street pastors begin limbering up their coats and rucksacks ready to tackle the streets of the Welsh capital.
Gathered around a table of tea and digestive biscuits, the street pastors – six in total – sit down to discuss the night ahead. At the head of the table, 59- year-old lead pastor David Davis gives a warm welcome before reading a passage from the Old Testament.
“This is very much a spiritual battle,” says David, “may the Lord help us to help those who are out to enjoy themselves”. With that we don high visibility clothing and leave, rucksacks at the ready.
I leave with David and his accomplice for the evening, 24-year-old Lauren Martin, and we set off down The Hayes. Lauren recently graduated with a degree in engineering from Nottingham University and joined the street pastors after moving back to Cardiff.
Under the moonlit silhouette of the Millennium Stadium, David crouches over to speak to a young man sleeping rough in the doorway of a newsagents. The man replies wearily, his face worn and eyes cautious. He accepts David’s offer of a chocolate bar with a smile of thanks.
“It’s not always about those coming out to get drunk and have fun,” David says as we continue on our way.
I ask him more about his involvement with the pastors and his long term goals.
“My wife was the person to get me involved with the pastors, one day she just said ‘you’ll be good at that’.”
David continues: “This was after I came back from living abroad. I moved away for a while, met my now wife, became a Christian and came back to Cardiff where she worked as a midwife.”
As he paints a picture of his past, we approach the alcohol treatment centre (ATC) on Bridge Street. A small team of paramedics mill around inside, hoping for a quiet evening where their expertise of saving lives isn’t called upon.
It’s nearing 11.30pm and the streets are now a hive of activity. A passing group of young women from the valleys slur thanks to the pastors for “being good people” as they join a nightclub queue, fiercely battling a lack of balance and precariously high heels.
A call comes through to David’s headset, linking the street pastors to the police via a control room middle man. A local man has been refused entry from a student nightclub and is in a bad way.
Within moments, David has steadied the young man who becomes a dead-weight. As the queue of intoxicated clubbers look on, Lauren emerges with a wheelchair provided by a nearby hotel and the man is wheeled off to the ATC, an impressively fluid operation.
On approaching the medical unit paramedics take over, hoisting the man onto a nearby bed. Slumping into a chair, David wipes his brow as staff insist he should call for assistance when approaching the centre.
“I try my best, I don’t want to call the paramedics out if possible,” David says between heavy breaths as we leave the medical unit once again.
Another call has come in, a man has broken away from his friends on Queen Street and is worse for wear. “My busiest day was probably the so named black Friday last year, the last Friday before Christmas”, David says, his breath steadying.
“I’d actually just come back from having time off following a heart attack and Cardiff was packed, it certainly was a hectic night,” he continues.
The man in need of help is propped against a Wetherspoon’s window cradling an empty pint glass.
He looks to be in his mid-forties. David manages to decipher the man’s name, he goes by Michael.
David says: “We are trained to grab their belt and use it as a support to hold them up.”
Michael seems quite content to be steered through the streets, a childlike grin on his face as though embarking upon an adventure.
As David and Lauren guide Michael through the doors of the unit I check the time. It’s 4am and the street pastors watch is over.
I thank the pastors for their time and ask about their next meet as I turn to leave. The streets are silent once more.