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'Living on the estate continues to challenge and teach us'

Mike Pears, director of Urban Life, reflects on being a faithful presence on the Knowle West Estate in Bristol with others

Knowle West Bristol

We are just celebrating seven years of living on the Knowle West Estate. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this is that a bunch of us are still here and trying our best to be some kind of Christian community. Much has happened and we could tell many stories. One thing we find ourselves reflecting on is the ongoing sense of surprise about how much living here has changed us – after seven years some of us are not sure we could stomach a move back to the ‘leafy suburbs’! (although we wouldn’t say no to a few more leafy trees in Knowle)

It has changed the way we listen to the news, the things we prioritise, the way we see other people and the way we see ourselves. Significantly it has also changed the way we understand Jesus and seek to follow him.

So living on the estate continues to challenge and teach us. It raises fundamental questions about life and faith and certainly leaves us with a sense of uncertainty about where this journey will take us in the next seven years.

It has been really great to connect with lots of people from around the country living on similar estates (or in Scotland ‘schemes’). It was fascinating to be with a group of about 20 people recently from estates across Birmingham. In conversation we identified six key areas that are a common part of the experience for those seeking to minister estates; the language might be a bit awkward, but if you are involved with an estate in any way you will catch the sense of what is being expressed here:

  • challenges of investing in ‘local’ people in the hope they will take on leadership when they themselves are often facing so many serious difficulties.

  • how to respond as a Christian in the face of multiple, complex needs (physical and mental health, finance, housing, relationships).

  • how to think about change or the transformation of people’s lives. Comments were made that ‘change is very slow and it is difficult to be patient’ and it is difficult to know how to talk about conversion when faced with such pressing immediate needs.

  • how are estates changing? We know they are not all the same, but they are changing in ways that bring new unknown experiences and added anxiety to daily life.

  • work-load of ministers and priests in estates; ministers often have two or even more estates to ‘look after’ with low levels of financial and people support.

  • questions about how do we ‘do church’ on estates when it ‘feels like things are not moving’ and ‘people not becoming Christians’. Do we need to rethink?

  • do we imagine the kingdom of God in estates? What does hope look like here? What can estates teach the wider church about the kingdom?

Of course, none of these points are easy to address and they are the kinds of questions we are learning to live with. At the same time we find ourselves inspired from a range of (sometimes surprising) directions. One such inspiring and very insightful source has been the writings of Lynsey Hanley, especially her latest work ‘Respectable: the experience of class’. We would like to reflect on the way in which her insights might help us explore the questions we are living with. With this in mind, if anyone out there would like to do a book review to help us on our way, we would be very grateful.


Mike Pears is the director of Urban Life, a Baptist-led network of people exploring and researching new approaches to mission and Christian presence in deprived and marginalised urban neighbourhoods. This article first appeared on the Urban Life blog and is republished with permission.


Further Reading:

Lynsey Hanley, Respectable: The Experience of Class (2016)

Helpful Guardian article: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/17/lynsey-hanley-how-i-became-middle-class-respectable-experience-of-class-extract

Lynsey Hanley on Radio 4 (Start the Week): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b079mwsx 


Urban Life: a snapshot of activities 

Picture: Daventry Road in the heart of the 1930s development looking east from Melvin Square / Wikimedia
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