A BUSTLING, crowded shopping centre is probably not the first place to spring to mind as fertile ground for a church presence.
But spiritual and emotional support for both shopkeepers and shoppers is exactly what is being offered by Chris Coe and his team from the heart of the Whitgift Centre.
The ethos of the chaplaincy, which operates from a shop unit on the centre's first floor, close to Waterstones book shop, is simple: "to provide a friendly, non-judgemental listening ear, offering confidential support to all."
It has been working from the shop unit for around a month, offering its drop-in support and advice service on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings.
Mr Coe and his team of around six also spend a lot of time walking through the centre meeting traders and shoppers and offering support as and when needed.
He is no stranger to "working with the crowds", doubling as chaplain for Crystal Palace Football Club and for staff at Croydon Council's Taberner House headquarters in Park Lane.
His idea for the Whitgift Centre chaplaincy sprang from the aftermath of the August 2011 riots which heightened his desire to do his bit to help repair the town's damaged image.
Mr Coe, who works with the Jubilee evangelical church based in Selsdon, said: "I think Croydon is a fantastic place. I hate the fact it has got a bad reputation.
"I hate the fact the riots made that a million times worse."
He added: "What we can do is try and put Croydon in a positive light and say it is good place to be and a place to be celebrated.
"By having a friendly, pastoral presence in the centre I hope we will contribute in a small way to improving the town's image."
Mr Coe said he had tremendous support from centre director Andrew Bauer in setting up the chaplaincy and had been surprised at how quickly it was becoming established.
The chaplaincy office is open from 2.30pm to 4.30pm on Tuesdays and 9.30am to 11.30am on Thursday from unit 1159.
Appointments can also be pre-booked by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org