November’s Community Hero is Andy Burns BEM who founded Street Chaplains in Dundee in 2000.
Andy shares that a visit to Dundee for a fish supper late one weekend evening became the start of Street Chaplains.
“We were surprised at the vast numbers of young people in the pubs, clubs and on the streets so next week we started Street Chaplains.
“We worked under the radar for three years, building the team and working independently chatting to people and making connections.
“After a few years the police asked us what we were doing and asked if we could meet with the City Centre Sargeant.
“At that meeting he suggested we become integrated into the safety of the city centre and suggested the team wear uniforms and coats with an offer to pay for them, spending £3500 on high quality jackets for the growing team.
“The jackets are still in use today!”
The project went from strength to strength as the jacketed team spoke with door staff, pub and club owners and DJ’s. The team are very much focussed on outreach, wanting to share the hope that is found in Jesus, and all members are encouraged to think of new and innovative ideas to reach out within Dundee.
“At one stage we were joining in with the pub karaokes with the team singing hymns such as ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ which went down exceptionally well as it was featured in the film Sister Act at the time.”
Over the years the work of the Street Chaplains has expanded to include work with the homeless, nightclub chaplaincy and Festival Chaplains.
“We have made some strategic links with a wide range of organisations including Dundee City Council Licensing Board and Dundee Anti-Crime Network where we meet monthly with police, bar staff and managers to ensure that Dundee is a safe and vibrant night out for people.”
One of the key developments is Festival Chaplains which started in Montrose, at Mo Fest, in 2013 and has since expanded to include Edinburgh Festival, Brechin Festival and one off events such as Radio 1’s Big Weekend. The team have also connected with The Living Room in Tenerife with several of the team visiting to take part in outreach in Los Americas amongst visitors and workers.
Andy moved back to his home town in Northern Ireland in 2015 where he saw a need for Street Chaplains in towns in Northern Ireland including Lurgan, Newcastle and Kilkeel which he started in partnership with local church communities.
“We hope to keep developing new ideas for the future with daytime chaplains in Northern Ireland a possibility and prayer walking as communities come out of the various lockdowns.
“Our heart and vision at this time is to look at how we offer support and help to business owners both during the day and in the evenings to help them as they recover from 2020.”
In 2018 Andy was recognised by Her Majesty the Queen and received a BEM (British Empire Medal). Andy and a few of the volunteers, bar staff and managers and church representatives attended a reception in Dundee City Chambers where the Lord Lieutenant presented Andy with his honour. Later in the year Andy and his wife Marina were invited to the Queen’s Garden Party in Holyrood Palace where he met the Queen.
“This honour is on behalf of all the volunteers who have invested amazingly into local communities both in Scotland and Northern Ireland and is doing so have seen a reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour and shown people the hope and love that can be known through Jesus.”
Over the 20 years the team has helped and assisted hundreds of people.
“Recently in Newcastle a young man approached the team to share that he had been a drug addict and drunk at least a bottle of vodka a day.
“Through one of the Street Chaplain volunteers chatting to him and showing that his life had worth and meaning he decided to go to rehab and went to a Christain rehab centre in Manchester.
“He is now back in Newcastle and has joined a local church and is getting his life on track with a prayer and hope to go to Bible College and become a pastor.”
Street Chaplains have a motto of Reaching Out to make Christ Known and the team are certainly doing that amongst some of the least reached people in Dundee and Northern Ireland.
To find out more visit dundeechaplains.org.uk or facebook.com/ROCKStreetChaplains.