Jesus and I

Its Good Friday and the most solemn , reflective day in the Christian calendar. One of the products of having a 6-year-old daughter attending a church school is that you are often called to answer some metaphysical questions on God and Jesus. Over recent months these questions have ranged from where does God Sleep to why does God allow bad things to children. This was after the Haiti earthquake.

She also makes up hymns on a keyboard the most plangent being one that began O God, help,help,help,help and she insists that we say Grace at mealtime.

Personally I think that’s its important that Phoebe has knowledge of the Bible stories for without a grasp of the Christian Tradition how can she understands much of Western Art, Literature and Music. Without knowledge of the Bible how do you deconstruct the work of Bach, Caravaggio, Milton or Rembrandt?

In such circumstances I thought that I would re evaluate my relationship with Jesus. I have always been drawn to the historical figure of Jesus as a revolutionary figure rather than the treacly rather spruced up figure that I used to see in the Methodist Sunday school I attended in Boothen.

I even made it to being a choirboy at the local church in Abbey Hulton although I did not take much notice of the service as I used to read a bird identification book under my cassock.

When I was 17 or so I was “converted” although in my case the conversion did not happen on the Road to Damascus. In my case it was the A6 on the road to Matlock since that brief infatuation with the evangelical movement I have maintained a deep scepticism with sometimes surfaces as the case of the Bethel City Church proved.

I enjoy visiting churches and cathedrals. I have visited most medieval founded Cathedrals in England with the exception of Rochester. I have seen the chapel of St Francis- my favourite saint- in Assisi. I have smelt rosemary in the Greek Orthodox monastery above the cave in which the Book of Revelations was written on Patmos. I have sat in the amphitheatre in Ephesus where St Paul preached. And above the most spiritual pace for me was the white sand of Iona.

I am or at least think I am a spiritual person but cannot make the leap of faith. Its partly rational and its partly embarrassment but mainly it’s the Christians

Part of the problem with Jesus is that Christians tend to get in the way. As I have explained before I regularly attend church and it is a truism that church going leastways in the Church of England is a middle class interest and a rather straight laced one at that. I went to an Easter Sunday service in Aldeburgh in Suffolk a few years ago and it’s was one of the more unwelcoming occasion I can recall.

It’s also an issue with me that the emphasis that some Christians give to sexuality over more pressing issues. Last June Churches in Leek arranged for the Bishop of Stafford to visit one lunchtime and answer questions in a local pub. I was always think of the Mencken comment that a Bishop is a figure who reaches a higher position in the church than did Jesus Christ. I went over and rather predictably someone asked a question of gay clergy. I forget what Bishop Gordon Mursell had to say. I was next and simply pointed out that a child in the developing world dies every 16 seconds of preventable disease, we have global conflict and environmental degradation and yet the Church or anyway its members have this obsession what adults do in the privacy of their homes.

But there remains the figure of Jesus and as I said its Jesus the revolutionary figure that I have the most regard for. Jesus the advocate of the oppressed, the vulnerable and the marginalised. And I see Jesus in the form of some of the great Christians of the 20th century Archbishop Romero of El Salvador murdered at the high altar by rightists 30 years ago, Thomas Merton peace campaigner and monk who reached out to eastern religions and Dietrich Bonhoffer the opponent of the Nazis who was hanged by them in the closing days of the war.

But it’s the representation of Jesus in the Pasolini film Gospel according to St Matthew that makes the most resonance dedicated to the peasant Pope John XX111. Christ becomes, in the hands of the Gay Marxist intellectual Pasolini, an expressly political figure – a serene, utterly self-contained messenger who recruits his disciples and preaches with a passion identifying completely with the poor and suffered for them.

I’ll be working at the supermarket this afternoon in the jostling, impatient crowds and I’m sure that the message of sacrifice and redemption will be completely lost on them

Bethel City Church – An agnostics impression

Last Sunday, Tony, Mike and myself went down to Bethel City Church in Abbey Hulton. Tony had called me a couple of times to see if I’d be interested in shooting a bit of video down there and asked me if I wanted to do the interviews.

I was a bit unsure about setting foot in a church in a reporting mode, I go to school plays and the like but, that’s just paying lip service, it has no further impact upon my life.

I remembered the 1980s. we had a really active Christian neighbor, he raved about the reverend Billy Graham. After a while our indifference and his enthusiasm drove a wedge between our families, and I guess that experience made me suspicious of modern Christians, the group who have been rudely labeled as “happy clappers”.

I’ll be the first to say that I went to BCC firstly to do the article. I am an unbeliever, have been for years, despite having a church upbringing.

Dont get me wrong, I still like Churches, fantastic buildings with awesome architecture and sculpture. I love their historical value. Their records of Births marriage and Death have been invaluable to my genealogical research. I have spent many happy hours tramping round graveyards reading inscriptions looking for lost ancestors. However, that has been where my interested has ended. I don’t go in to churches for what they offer, GOD.

That said, BCC was something different. I’m not a “Bandwagon” kind of Guy, so I won’t say it lightly.

They have got it organised, you don’t just wander in and be alone wondering where to sit, there are people there to help you find a parking space, they greet you as you enter the church, you are looked after.

That in itself makes a massive difference to the way you feel when you walk into a church. Being brought up church of England, I often felt like the black sheep (no pun intended) when I walked into the church. The people knew me, knew I was a rebel, knew I liked a drink, bucked authority etc, and it showed, it showed in their reactions and their commitment, their relationship towards me. I’m not blaming them for everything, I was most probably a toe-rag of the first order, but I reckon if someone had tried to reach out instead of judge me, it might have been a different story.

About 15 years ago, I remember feeling very low after a breakup of a relationship, I thought I’d go and seek solace in a church. Not one church in Newcastle was open that day. Not one. I went home alone without being able to talk to anyone. I get the feeling that couldn’t happen with the BCC.

Whilst we were there, we never wanted for anything, we were announced to the whole congregation who welcomed us with claps and cheers. They brought us drinks and accommodated us in every way. The cynical amongst you will say ” Of course they did, they wanted a favourable article!”
Well that’s possible I’ll concede but as we know, fakery shows through eventually and if there’s any there it will out in time. I didn’t’ see it.

What I have seen so far isn’t scary or sinister, it’s just positive. It’s more positive than I’m used to, one can become cynical when you follow politics.

I haven’t had the energy and the inclination to be nice and lovely to people all the time like the guys at BCC were, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like their approach,or that it hasn’t influenced me. Surely we all aspire to be better people?

When I say better, I mean better to other people. Sometimes I’m an asshole, I’m pushy, I question everything, I wont take no for an answer, I rush and drive too fast, I expect everyone to operate at maximum efficiency or get out of may way. In my opinion being better has nothing to do with money.

For me, you could take all the money in the world and burn it in a big pile and I wouldn’t shed a tear. You can take your fancy cars and posh clobber, your sky TV and conservatories and blow it all up, I’m not interested in it, it doesn’t impress me.

I want to learn how to love others,(I’ve read the Kama Sutra). I want to be more accepting and really help those who struggle. I’d like it if people who were further along spiritually …would do the same for me.

I could actually feel the energy radiating out of that church hall on Sunday, it was tangible, it affected your emotions. I keep mine well wrapped so, it must have been strong.

To all the cynics I’d say, if you are interested in doing good work helping Stoke, Get down to BCC, and get involved with Love Stoke. This will give you a chance to see how things are operated, and if you don’t like it or feel uncomfortable , then no one could say you didn’t give it a go. No one tried to force religion on us whilst we were down there.

I’ll definitely be down there again soon to see what projects I can get involved with, I’m not into the God stuff really but I am into the close community and love stuff, who can really get enough of that?

Bethel City Church – A Positive Light In Our City

Two things that should never be discussed, if you listen to the experts, are Politics and Religion.

Well, on this site Politics are dissected on a daily basis and as this site supposed to push the boundaries we thought we would do religion!

Recently, whilst we on this site have been busy networking with people through the medium that is ‘Twitter’, we had noticed a number of incredibly positive local people.

All of these people were tweeting about something called ‘BCC’ and after a bit of research we found out that this particular BCC was indeed  Bethel City Church located here in Stoke-on-Trent on Leek Rd, Abbey Hulton.

Bethel City Church

 Our interest was fuelled even more by a letter that was published in the Sentinel by the Lead Pastor James Galloway in response to a comment article by the excellent Martin Tideswell. (No relation to our own Tideswellman).

 Bethel City Church

Martin, it seems has had similar experiences to my own regarding religion and the occasions that I have needed to visit Church in the past few years [I’m a bit older than him – so it’s been mainly funerals!].

Bethel City Church are the force behind Love, a project that has won an ‘Our Heroes’ award.

This project does truly good work. They have a team of dedicated volunteers and they go out into the community and undertake a variety of work to improve and enhance life in the City of Stoke-on-Trent. They manage to get some major support from retailers and businesses in the City which helps with materials etc.

The Pits n Pots team decided to pay  Bethel City Church a visit and I can honestly say we received one of the warmest welcomes you could ever imagine.

The actual service was like none any of us had witnessed before.

There was no ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon or maudlin hymns. There was no reliance on the traditions of the past hundreds of years. There were no formal clothes and no penitence and blame.

What there was though, was an incredibly inspiring ‘preach’ by Pastor James Galloway that did not talk at you, but to you. The music was rock ‘n’ roll and the whole service was upbeat and lively , featuring something called the ‘Bethel Bounce’.(see video)

Christian church congregations are dwindling in numbers week by week. Church buildings are being left empty or turned into warehouses and the such like.

Bethel have managed to buck the trend – big time!

So,  is this the new face of religion that is fit for purpose for this day and age and for the needs of the modern day family?

Well, that’s for you to make your minds up about. But, whether you are religious, or have an interest or a dedication to a religion, what cannot be doubted is that this church and these people love this City and are committed to making a difference. They are reaching out into the City instead of waiting for the City to come to them.

Through the work that they do via they are a positive identity in our City, and for that they deserve a huge amount of credit.

Watch the two part video that shows  Bethel City Church in full swing and listen what they have to say about their role in the City.

Bethel City Church

This article/video/photo’s were put together by the Pits n Pots team of Tideswellman, Mike Rawlins & Tony Walley.

Residents to hear how £177m project will improve housing estates

Residents are being given the chance to find out how a £177m scheme will transform six city housing estates.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been provisionally allocated the money under round six of the government’s private finance initiative. It paves the way for more than 700 homes to be built and environmental improvements to be made in the suburban estates of Abbey Hulton, Bentilee, Blurton, Chell Heath and Fegg Hayes, Meir and Norton.

A series of seven roadshows will take place across the next two weeks to give residents the chance to talk to neighbourhood renewal officers and find out more about the plans.

The events will take place at:

* Townsend ““ The Community House, 7 Theodore Road, Monday 15 March, 3pm ““ 7pm.
* Norton ““ Community Centre, St Nicholas Avenue, Wednesday 17 March, 4pm ““ 7pm.
* Abbey Hulton ““ St John’s Welcome Centre, Greasley Road, Thursday 18 March, 3pm ““ 7pm.
* Blurton ““ Winifred Gardens, Ingleby Road, Friday 19 March, 3pm ““ 7pm.
* Bentilee ““ Bentilee Local Centre, Dawlish Drive, Monday 22 March, 3pm ““ 7pm.
* Chell Heath and Fegg Hayes ““ Residents Centre, 461 ““ 463 Chell Heath Road, Tuesday 23 March, 3pm ““ 7pm.
* Meir ““ House on the Square, Meir Square, Thursday 25 March, 3pm ““ 7pm.

The ambition is to involve building around 700 well designed new and replacement homes across the six estates, including two, three and four bedroom houses, and housing for older people, the disabled and those with special housing needs. Almost 500 of the new homes will be for affordable rent and the rest for outright sale or shared ownership. The scheme will also include carrying out environmental improvements including new children’s play facilities and enhancing street lighting and closed circuit television.

Councillor John Daniels, cabinet member for housing, environmental and neighbourhood services, said:

“This is a hugely significant scheme which will help drive up the quality of life and housing conditions in our priority housing estates.

“I urge as many local people as possible to come forward and find out about the scheme. We are still in the early stages of the programme and will be submitting an outline business case to the government in July for approval of our plans for the estates.

“We want to involve residents right from the beginning and these roadshows are the chance to meet officers and talk through the proposals.”

Once the outline business case is approved, a procurement process would then take place to appoint a development partner. Building work is expected to begin in 2013 or 2014 and last for around five years.

Drugs Policy – A losing war?

I caught an item on Radio 4 early this week where a former Government adviser on mental health was castigating drug treatments offered to prisoners inside the system and on release.

A pitifully small figure was mentioned of offenders who had successfully completed treatments out of a prison population of around 80,000.

I witnessed a consequence of this failure on Wednesday 6th September 2000.

I remember the date very well. I was working in Tameside for the mental health organisation Mind and in the late morning a youth called at the office to say that there was something wrong with his friend who lived opposite the offices in Ashton.

I and another worker went over the road and entered a very run down flat. On the stairs there was rubble and in a first floor room we found his friend slumped on a settee.

The TV was on and a can of beer on a small table beside him. The man was dead very grey and purple of face. A small syringe was sticking in the back of his right hand.

On the walls of the decaying room were an England Football scarf, a poster of the film “Trainspotting” and pictures of the dead man whose name was Terry McGuire and a small child his daughter.

McGuire was in his late 30s. Evidently McGuire who had been out of Strangeways a few month. He had died from a toxic batch of heroin that had killed a dozen or so users in the North West that autumn.

It seems that the dealers mix the heroin with all sorts of rubbish including brick dust.

I have always felt that the policies that successive Governments on drugs have been fundamentally flawed and I suppose that the historical analogy that has often made with the US prohibition period in the 20s is an obvious one.

Then gangsters sold alcohol that rejoiced under the name of “panther piss” which made an unfortunate to drink go blind. Between “panther piss” and brick dust is a period of 80 years but the same attitudes in terms of policy makers.

Currently we have a situation where it is the dealer who chooses price, purity, cutting agents as well as business location and operating hours. And these dealers certainly are not asking minors for ID, nor are they encouraging their customers to moderate or abstain from drug use.

I can probably date when heroin made its first appearance on the streets of Abbey Hulton. I was working on the Abbey as an Education Welfare Officer in late 81. The first heroin -related death was of a young man named Harvey who was found dead in a shed. He probably died of hypothermia as temperatures that winter were frequently below zero.

I think heroin appearing on the streets and the massive growth of unemployment during 1980-1 is no coincidence. We have been playing the price ever since.

The irony is that areas like Abbey Hulton were quite socially conservative areas and my peers at High School were very disdainful of the drug culture in the early 70s. I bought a copy of a Stones album into the 5th year common room once and some made dismissive comments about Mick Jagger’s cannabis habits.

All that began to change scarcely a decade later.

Sooner or later some national politician will have to grasp the nettle of decriminalisation and legalising drugs. I’m of the opinion that drug addiction is a public health issue rather than a criminal one.

Demand is one side of the equation, and supply the other. The Afghan poppy crop supplies about 90% of the heroin used on our streets. I very much support the proposal of buying and medicalising the opium.

Each year some 6 million people throughout the world die of cancer without access to opiate pain killers. The suggestion that it be bought by the World Health Organisation purified and used to treat terminal pain.

In turn it will provide financial security for Afghan farmers as well as pulling the rug from under the Taliban. And in this country it would go some way of undermining criminal activity and health problems associated with the illegal heroin trade.

It is a policy supported by the International Council on Security and Development, the Red Cross and the Green Party.

Clear Spring Bail Hostels and Pylons- How the disdvantaged can be ignored

Comment By Bill Cawley

I read a while ago of the good people of Bagnall leastways their elected representatives successfully blocking wind turbines being erected in the vicinity of the village. I would think that given the location of the place that this was an idea location for the turbines and given the feed in tariff for alternative energy production an ideal opportunity for the people of Bagnall to make some money.

But this is not the main purpose of this post.

The success of Bagnall in blocking the application, and I guess that we have used the blight that the siting of a turbine as well as the visual impact on the landscape would have on the community as the basis of their objection, made me recall a similar successful campaign that people of Bagnall carried out over 40 years ago to stop electricity pylons encroaching into the parish. On that occasion a successful alliance which also included the Ramblers’Assocation blocked the proposal and the MEB built the pylons which then were redirected through the Abbey Hulton Council estate where I was bought up.

I can remember the pylons being built in the late 60s and the first casualty- a friend’s pigeon that blundered into the cables. The cables of the pylon also over hung over Carmountside High School where I was a pupil. There was no counter demonstration from the people of Abbey Hulton or their representatives who were not organised unlike the people on the hill.

There have certainly been other victims in the intervening 40 years as electric pylons became a feature of the local. In 2007 a report published by SAGE, a collective of academics, medical charities and representatives of the electricity industry, points to compelling evidence of serious health dangers.

It said that childhood leukaemia is the biggest threat for families living near power lines. A quarter of the 400 children who contract the disease each year die.

The report cites a list of other linked illnesses and conditions including breast and brain cancer, miscarriage and Alzheimer’s disease.

The example of the redirected pylons is perhaps the earliest example I know of the way in which disadvantaged communities are often used as places where social or environmental problems can be discarded. The closure of long stay hospitals in the 80s and 90s often saw hostels and homes located in the poorer areas because attempts to locate social care facilities in more middle class areas inevitably lead to objections and protest.

As a County Councillor I recall the violent objections and absurd comment made by protestors in Tean in 2000 at a proposed 16 bed unit for elderly residents of St Edwards Hospital in Cheddleton, many of the patients’ had dementia. There was much talk of the danger faced by local children by having the facility although as I pointed out the greatest danger faced by the children of Tean was by local speeding motorists.

The way in which authority can ignore disadvantaged communities however continues. Take the issue of Bail Hostels of which there has been no local debate. In 2007 Channel 4 Channel 4 News revealed the location of all 150 bail hostels run by the private company Clearsprings that won the government contract to house low risk offenders on early release from prison or on bail.

Opponents say the hostels – mainly regular houses in ordinary streets – are being opened without consultation with local residents and, unlike probation service hostels, don’t provide 24-hour supervision of their residents. All the hostels were placed in areas where housing costs were low making it cheaper for Clearsprings.

Channel 4 named hostels located in Stoke and Newcastle amongst the 150 hostels.

Now two years on it seems critics have proved right it was revealed that the company’s contract may be terminated.

It comes after failings were identified at a hostel on Teesside where a young man was murdered by another resident.

National Association of Probation Officers official Harry Fletcher told the BBC: “It’s just not on, putting four or five volatile individuals in the same place with no supervision.

“The government has got to go back to the days when people on bail were supervised properly, by experienced and trained staff. It’s as simple as that.

“This has been a nightmare, it’s been a mistake, it needs to be unravelled.”

We’re going to start building!

By Mike Rawlins

Housing Minister John Healey has announced today that funding for the building of over 11,000 new homes has been released.  The building project will help regenerate 10 of the most deprived areas in the UK and help generate around 20,000 jobs in the construction industry. Â  Mr Healey announced a major £1.7 billion cash boost for ten local authorities in six regions under the housing private finance initiative (PFI) that will allow them to deliver 4,500 new or improved council homes as well as 1,600 new affordable rented homes.

Stoke-on-Trent is one of the 10 Local Authorities which will be receiving around £1.7 billions for building new houses as part of private finance initiative “round 6″ programme. Â  It will be used to provide new and replacement homes for social rent and for open market sale in order to help regenerate the city’s largest estates. Â Ã‚ Ã‚  729 homes are expected to be built across the city’s six priority suburban estates. Provision will be mixed tenure, with just under 500 of these for affordable rent and the rest for outright sale or shared ownership.

Council Leader Ross Irving

Ross Irving

Council Leader Ross Irving, said: “This announcement is fantastic news for the people of Stoke-on-Trent. Â To be one of just 10 council areas chosen for this major investment shows the confidence the Government has in our ability to manage and deliver major housing regeneration. Â There is a clear need for new social housing in Stoke-on-Trent and this scheme will provide much needed new homes for people on the housing waiting list. Â It will also help to keep residents in their local community because of the improved housing choice that will be on offer. Â At the same time it will also help to get residents on some of our most deprived estates back into work by providing new Jobs Enterprise and Training centres and community facilities.”

The scheme is expected to involve:

  • Building 729 well designed new and replacement homes in 23 schemes, including 2, 3 and four bedroom houses, older persons, disabled housing and special needs housing.
  • Provision will be mixed tenure, with 500 homes being developed for affordable rent with the rest for outright sale or shared ownership.
  • Building new and replacement community buildings.
  • Creating Jobs Enterprise and Training centres, to help residents into work.
  • Carrying out environmental improvement schemes.
  • Building new children’s play facilities.
  • Installing enhanced street lighting and closed circuit television.

The investment will help to regenerate and secure the long-term future of Stoke-on-Trent’s social housing estates by introducing a much greater choice of housing types and by providing the new community facilities.

The estates to be targeted will be:

  • Abbey Hulton
  • Bentilee
  • Blurton
  • Chell Heath and Fegg Hayes
  • Meir
  • Norton

It will also complement an ongoing investment programme of around £500m to regenerate the estates with work including modernisation of council housing, building of new high schools and provision of new homes for older people.

It will also help to meet some of the need for social housing in the city. Currently around 9,000 people are on the housing waiting list.

The city council currently manages around 19,500 properties, but numbers have fallen because of the right to buy, which has reduced the range of property types and locations for potential tenants.  In addition affordability in the housing market has become more difficult in recent years because of house price inflation, the city’s lower than average wages and more recently the problems people have had in getting mortgages.

The council will now prepare an outline business case for approval by the government. This will provide the detail of the bid and it will include consultation with residents and other groups. This will take around a year. A procurement process would then take place to appoint a development partner. Building work is expected to begin in 2012 or 2013 and last for around five years.