AT 87, there is nothing Mary Pickles likes more than a night on the town until the early hours of the morning.
Diminutive Mrs Pickles hits Burnley’s high spots twice a month, but drinking and carousing is the last thing on her mind. Instead, the teetotal widow dons her Street Pastors’ outfit and goes to help young people.
Former postmistress Mrs Pickles sweeps up broken glass, gives out chocolate, provides flip-flops to shoe-less girls having trouble with their high-heels, and helps drunken youngsters to find a taxi home.
She has been part of the Street Pastors’ team since it was established nearly four years ago, despite being told by her grandchildren – all pushing 40 – that life on the streets was too dangerous.
“It is something I love doing,” said Mrs Pickles. “As soon as I heard about the Street Pastors being set up I felt it would be something I could do, and should do. My five grandchildren said it was too dangerous to be on the streets at that time of night, but I have never been frightened and many of the people we meet tell me I remind them of their grandmothers.”
She is a familiar sight on Friday and Saturday nights offering a helping hand to anyone in distress over five-hour stints from 10pm to 3am.
Like Mrs Pickles, all the Street Pastors in Burnley are volunteers from local churches. They are not allowed to promote their faith, and never mention it. Instead, they concentrate on kind words and deeds.
Mrs Pickles and her husband, William, ran post offices at Lowerhouse and in Cog Lane, Burnley, before retiring to Fleetwood in 1985. They had only been there a month when he died, so she moved back to live in Cliviger where she had friends, and began attending Mount Zion Independent Methodist Church.
“I felt lonely and lost,” she said. “I had been to church occasionally and started to go to Mount Zion where God picked me up and I felt his love pour through me.
“Since then I have been determined to live for God – and the Street Pastors is exactly what I believe Jesus would be doing. I am thrilled that God still has things like this for me to do. It takes God’s love on to the streets of our town.”
For the last 20 years Mrs Pickles has also been involved in charity work with the Gateway Club for the handicapped, and she also set up a Christian Bookshop with a counselling room.
Above all, she says being a “Street Angel”, as she is known, gives her a lot of satisfaction.
“The police appreciate our presence,” said Mrs Pickles. One told me he couldn’t do what we do, even with his body-armour and resources. I thoroughly enjoy it, and many of the young people we help tell us to ‘keep it up – you do a good job’”.