I live in an area of North East London called Hackney. The part I live in is in the bottom 10 nationally in terms of social deprivation indicators. I moved here on purpose, believing God called me to.
Multi-cultural? Tick. Big, bustling and noisy? Tick. I try to look, listen, see, hear, smell, touch, taste, learn and realise as much as I can.
Land justice of an inner city UK sort came up quite early on. A move from rural Oxon where there is plenty of space for everyone and loads of gardens, to volunteering in an Adventure Playground which is the back garden for children from 2 estates made up of a few thousand dwellings. Poverty and all the insecurities associated for people who are seeking asylum and the like hit me around the face like a wet octopus (I would say fish but there are so many folks here that I often feel quite overwhelmed).
Conversations with, or simply realisations about different people on local streets is somewhat like reading the first few pages of the Guardian and then rubbing it into one’s own face. As where there is a conflict around the world or another country gets permission to join the EU, the similar chances are that people from that place will move in to East London.
Leaving a small church on such an estate which I used to work for a couple of years back, I had nothing left but to weep and cry out to God for the people and the church in poverty. God gave me a vision. The very street I was walking on became like a river, in front of my very eyes. I have thought it to have been a massive reassurance from God that His blessings would flow this way. My mind blown apart by this revelation, I returned home to try and find sanity. Lead by the spirit into my garden I saw seeds / berries on the ground. Fallen from a tree they sat, some alone and some in groups numbering different amounts. I think it was a word from God. It spoke of God’s church, God’s people being about the landscape of London, scattered in differing numbers, often unseen but faithful and good.
So I stayed. That was about 4 years ago.
A new estate. Next door to the one mentioned above. After having been here for a couple of years, again feeling I had not much left. I walked about one night, cold and dark, praying and cried out to God. As I walked past a big black mysterious looking gate which I had never noticed before, I heard and felt what I can only describe as a ‘spiritual boom’ as if something from Heaven was beat boxing ‘Here!’ very loudly. So in trepidation, much prayer and nerves I ventured inside the gate. Inside, I found an area of grass and a tap. Land came up. I felt God told me to do something with it.
2-ish years on, it is now a garden with a beautiful eco-shed, fruit bushes, raspberry plants, 6 allotment spaces for different groups and families to use, including the local After School club, oh and a couple of picnic tables.
I don’t get paid. God has blessed me with a very patient landlord. I’ve been blessed to find some really good people who were already visiting the estate weekly as contractors, who do real good things. I’ve been blessed to find some good people who were already doing some good stuff. Mobilising my friends and neighbours can be very hard work. But somehow, together we have planted trees, planted and harvested veg, put on community meals, built raised beds, including most recently outside the church. Just recently I oversaw the building of 4 new allotment spaces on a new site, including tea plants.
One of my favourite projects so far involved simply getting £500 quid from the Coop and then, together with people from 6 houses all in a row (quite unusual to get everyone out), we have begun to re-imagine the space outside their homes and have already altered it a bit by putting in blackberries, strawberries, herbs, gooseberries and a pear tree. Everyone said, as neighbours who hadn’t spent much time together at all over the last few years, as we sat in one of their homes drinking tea, “I wish we’d done this a long time ago, we should do this more often.”
You could say I’m a youth and community worker - I do youth stuff for the church on Sunday mornings. The rest of the time I try and let God lead me in ‘making it up as we go along’. Currently I have a remit in my heart as simple as this: to do what I can to love my neighbours, whether they’re members of the Christian church or not. Also, to help them realise more good things about each other, urging and inviting people into realising that they are welcome to the space all around their own homes (regardless of where they have come from in the world), I could go on.
I don’t always like it. Sometimes I’m scared, sometimes well beat, often skint and without the official backing of any thorough support network.
Next thing … let's get water supplies sorted. That tap I mentioned was vandalised within a week of me saying ‘yes’ to God in that first garden. But you know what, it created an opportunity … I had to go and talk with even more people to help grow a solution.
We'd love to hear more stories like this about what you guys are getting up to out there. If you want to share something similar, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.