For the seventh year running traders on the stalls at Bristol’s Christmas markets are receiving support from a team of ‘unsung heroes’ – market chaplains, including some volunteers, who circulate throughout the day to give stall-holders the chance to take a quick break.
The scheme is being co-ordinated for the first time this year by Matt Albury, full-time chaplain for the Bristol and South Gloucestershire Methodist Circuit, with a team of six – all wearing easily identifiable blue jackets and woolly hats – based at the New Room on the Horsefair.
Team member Adam Biddlestone said: “We identified a real need and have responded in a practical way.
“When the scheme originated the support provided was informal, but it was so appreciated that it is now run on a more structured basis.”
Irune Maguregui Martin, who is running a stall on the market for the third consecutive year, said: ‘It’s lovely to have the chaplains around every year. They help us so much either by just chatting to us, warming our spirits on a cold morning or by keeping an eye on our stalls if we need a quick break.”
When the Christmas markets first set up each year a member of the team circulates to tell stall-holders about the scheme and build relationships with them, as well as providing a useful information sheet describing what support is available.
Once the market is up and running chaplains go round daily in pairs and are identifiable by their outfits.
Adam Biddlestone said: “There are many repeat stall-holders, some of whom operate all on their own. We chat to them if they’re having a quiet moment, or can stand in if they need a coffee or loo break.
“Most of them are not local to Bristol, so quite often they need practical help, such as where to find a laundry.
“Many of them are a very long way from home. There are stalls run by traders from Wales, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Italy and Spain, for example. It can be quite a lonely life.
“A while back there was a chap from Argentina who was really struggling with isolation and wanted to go home. My colleague Matt Albury did some research and identified a few Argentinian connections in the Bristol area which really turned the man’s experience around.
“We’re not pushing faith, just being there to lend practical support when needed, very much in the genuine spirit of Christmas.”
The New Room, where the chaplaincy team meets up at the beginning of each day, is also open to traders and shoppers, who are welcome to use the chapel as a quiet space to unwind. Both the chapel and the artisan café at the New Room will be open as usual throughout the festive season from 10.30am-4pm, Monday to Saturday.