A London Life


Storylines

Storyman

London has been my home for half my life.  I came to West Norwood on Valentine’s Day 1986 and I have been here ever since so it has pretty much encompassed all my working life.  Which is appropriate because if London is about anything, it is about making money.  But not only have I worked in London, London has also been my work – and not in the grand sense but in its many particular localities.  I have worked or lived as a community worker in most of the inner London Boroughs and a few of the outer ones.

This page links to the writing that has come out of this work.  My work has been in the general area of urban mission, particularly as a community development worker, although I did work for three years as a lay pastor

But to the details of my work and the writing that has increasingly flowed from this work.  I started off working for the Baptist Union in Holborn where I ran a volunteer scheme.  What I enjoyed most about this was the contact I had with small inner city Baptist churches, so when I moved to Clapham to live in the house of the canon missioner of Southwark cathedral, Ivor Smith Cameron I started attending the Baptist church at the end of the road.  I liked the little church and its multi racial congregation, enjoyed running a Bible study with one of its Jamaican deacons and watching in awe when a Trinidadian preacher ignited the normally quiet congregation with a spark of Holy Spirit fire.  I had by now moved on to working for the Zebra Project which worked for racial justice and partnership amongst black and white Christian in East London.  It was a rather wonderful opportunity to work with inner London Christianity in all its amazing variety: the Caribbean diaspora, Cherubim and Seraphim churches, Kurdish refugees, Marxist activists, not to mention the full range of more established denominations.  I stayed there five years but had already got involved with the Evangelical Coalition for Urban Mission which promoted a brand of radical urban evangelicalism that is still, in many ways, my theological touchstone.  I moved on from Zebra and worked for ECUM for a number of years developing many interests in different aspects of urban mission such as training, theological reflection and urban spirituality.  During this time I was also trying to equip myself for the work I was doing - I completed a diploma at the Urban Theology Unit and a certificate at Birkbeck College.  This particularly developed my interest in gentrification and urban studies more generally.  It was becoming increasingly clear to me that my intellectual interests focused around the practical out-workings of the boundary between theology and social science. I had by now moved to the Winstanley estate in Battersea where I was the member of another Baptist church and became increasingly involved with the community project run by the Anglican parish church.  This estate, even to this day, still feels like my spiritual home.  Amongst its towers and diverse peoples I learnt what community work might be about, found my spiritual bearings and in many ways discovered my true self.  When I first became involved in urban mission, Colin Marchant, a longtime practitioner, advised me that it was primarily about our own personal pilgrimage rather than helping people or solving things and on the Winstanley I learnt the truth of this.  It was a tough, harsh environment and I had my a tough times there, but it was also a place of strange beauty and human warmth.  I will never forget how it nourished me.

 

By now the funding for my ECUM work was coming to an end but I managed to get a year’s work in Paddington where I put to practical use my increasing interest in community profiling.  I became more and more interested in research, particularly those kinds which were participative and about working with people rather than just exploiting them for data-gathering.  Ultimately this led me to training at Goldsmith’s College in community work where I did a Masters in Applied Anthropology and Community and Youth Work.  This helpfully coalesced many of my interests. During this time I did another community profile for a URC church on an estate in South London.  In the same year (1996) I got married and my wife and I ended up moving on to the estate where I worked as lay pastor.  Although it had its difficulties I was very glad to have this hands on experience of pastoral work, as well as the discipline of weekly preaching.  It also gave me a secure grounding in understanding how small churches work.

 

I only worked for the church part time and so was looking for other jobs.  I started working for the URC one day a week for the Urban Churches Support Group which worked with urban churches in London.  I also started doing some work for Barnardos CANDL project which worked with churches in East London.  After leaving the pastoral work this became my main employment for almost 10 years.  Working for a large charity had its frustrations after working for small grassroots organizations for years, but I learnt a lot and it encouraged increasing amounts of writing and reflection.

 

We also moved to Hackney at the same time.  I enjoyed moving to a part of London that I had worked in for many years. My writing also began to develop as did an increasing interest in complexity theory and viewing the world as a living system.  This has been greatly developed in recent years by working with the RSA living systems group.  I also continued to pick up pieces of freelance work particularly with Mike Sheldon and WholeCare.  This interest in health and disability began to become an increasingly important part of my work.  I have found in recent years that my working life has more and more revolved around small groups of people that have enabled me to engage with the issues that interest me. Particularly important has been the Breathing Space group where I have worked with Geoffrey Court supporting and reflecting on my one to one work with individuals that has slowly increased over the years.  This has become more central to my life since being made redundant by Barnardos at the end of 2008.  I now work in a freelance capacity with the various projects that come my way: sometimes paid, sometimes voluntary.

 

I recently watched a video by Andy Goldsworthy about his work as an artist with natural phenomenon.  He weaves stones, wood and earth into beautiful shapes which reflect the transitory nature of life.  This gave me an understanding of my work over the years which no amount of words could do, as Goldsworthy walks over the hills near his Scottish home and finds the components of his trade, weaving them into something new and fresh, so I too, work with what presents itself and try to make of that a reality which discovers its own beauty.  He works with the rocks and trees and water, so I try to work with people and their stories.

Norwood Park Rd where I first lived in London


The Chase


Mile End


Clapham junction




Grand union canal

Bellingham





Round Chapel




goldsworthy