Ram Gidoomal CBE has been patron of the Street Pastors initiative since 2004
As an entrepreneur Ram uses his business acumen to support the work of numerous global missions and public organisations. He is currently chairman of Allia, a charity that supports social ventures and organisations that are dedicated to making a positive social impact.
Ram came to public attention most notably in 2000 when he was a candidate in the London mayoral elections. He ran again in 2004. Campaigning for the job, Ram stated his passion for the city and his hopes of building on the bedrock of “shared values” that put neighbourliness and community above personal acquisition.
We caught up with him at the Street Pastors graduation ceremony that took place at the end of 2015, where, as guest speaker, he recounted how he first came into contact with embryonic ideas for the Street Pastors initiative.
How did you first come into contact with Street Pastors?
I was making my way to the studios of Premier Radio to take part in an interview, and so, it turned out, was the man standing beside me in the lift. This was Les Isaac, who I quickly discovered was the founder of Street Pastors, and along with a handful of volunteers, he was pioneering ‘pastoring’ on the streets of Brixton and Hackney on Saturday nights. Les’s elevator pitch for Street Pastors was short, sharp and set against a lot of public and political discussion at that time of crime and its causes. Les did such a great job of pitching the idea to me that even though I was supposed to be talking about current affairs for the Premier Newstalk show, I was irresistibly drawn to talk about my new friend Les and his simple but innovative idea.
As an East African Asian with a Hindu and Sikh family background, you have a perspective on ecumenism that was shaped by your early years as a Christian and by your commitment to sharing the love of Christ across cultures. Is this why you talk about the ‘humanity’ of street pastors?
I always pay tribute to street pastors and everyone in this movement because they have a fine ethos. They are building a legacy of excellence for the generations that come after them. In this sense I recognise that street pastors are holding true to their humanity. I also believe that street pastors are examples to us all of the importance of putting Christ before Christianity. Their faith crosses all cultures, ages and lifestyles because they care for the person in need in front of them, without placing any conditions on that care.
My own background has enabled me to experience at first hand a clash of cultures. As a new Christian I approached the idea of going to church with uncertainty and naivety. I spent a long time making a list of all the churches in South Kensington where I lived and then spent an even longer period of time searching the Bible to see whether it recommended any of them! When I didn’t find any mention of St Stephen’s or Christchurch, I decided I’d better not go to any church! Consequently, the first three months of my Christian life was spent alone with God and the Bible.
You say you have watched with pride as the Street Pastors initiative has grown into the national and international movement that it is now. Why do you think this has happened?
Street Pastors is an amazingly practical, hands-on response to the problems that our communities face and it is one of the best ideas that I have seen emerge in recent years. That day I met Les in the elevator I called it a “God idea” and a “no brainer”. Making our communities safer is not a quick fix, though. The safety partnerships that have developed between local agencies are vital and the Church – through Street Pastors and other church-led social action initiatives – is playing its part in them.
I recently had a minor car accident and had to visit a garage in Croydon. Without transport, I was driven back to the station by one of the garage’s employees and we had the usual polite conversation en route. He asked what I had got planned for the weekend and I told him that I would be coming to the Street Pastors graduation ceremony. “Street pastors!” he exclaimed. “I know them! I used to work on the door of a club in Sutton!”
He went on to praise the caring and compassionate job done by the street pastors he had observed. “I’ve watched those guys,” he said, “they listen, they are patient, they don’t judge.” He gave me a rundown of the some of the ugly things he had seen on the streets outside his club, but ended, “The street pastors don’t walk by.”
So my first answer to your question – why has the Street Pastors movement grown – is that many, many people recognise and celebrate the ethos of the Good Samaritan, whether they have a faith or not. My second answer would be that as a businessman I know that a key measure of the success of any good idea is reproducibility across different contexts. Street Pastors delivers this by offering a local solution to problems that at a national level seem insurmountable. Lastly, it has grown because – as we see at events like graduation or the commissioning services that take place – ordinary Christians have given their time and resources to serve as street, prayer, school or response pastors. They have been willing to get a little shaken and stirred! I encourage all of you who volunteer to continue to rise to the challenges that lie ahead of you and continue to hold true to yourselves, your work ethic, your faith and your humanity.
Thank you, Ram Gidoomal, patron of the Street Pastors initiative.