Since my first years of ordained ministry on a sprawling housing estate in north Birmingham in 1970, I remain convinced that the history of British Housing Estates has much to teach us about how successive
governments have related to the poor and how in recent years these properties have been increasingly used to contain and residualise the poor.
I have researched and written up a full history of the British housing estate, sometimes called ‘housing projects’, and from that and other evidence I've offered a theological analysis of the situation in my most recent book ‘Blessed are the Poor’.
'Blessed are the Poor?' also paints a very clear picture of how it feels to live or minister on our social housing estates, and how ministry is undertaken by different groups and denominations.
Laurie has been the founding Chair of the National Estate Churches Network for twenty years and since retirement has been asked also to develop the work nationally by visiting social housing parishes, offering seminars and speaking to government and the Church about the issues. This work is sponsored by the Church Urban Fund. The NECN (National Estate Churches Network) has held national conferences through the years on many major topics of concern for estate ministry and has been addressed by eminent professors, practitioners and politicians, but always the conference style has been very accessible with work-shops and story-sharing amongst the lay and ordained people who attend. It’s ecumenical and hands-on.
This year Bishop Laurie has handed on the work of chair of NECN to the Revd Andy Delmege and the Revd Lynne Cullens and the work continues apace. It remains a key resource.
Through the years I have sought to fly the flag for this important ministry and in 1998 wrote to government to implore that from then on they should not think of social housing estates as the same as other urban areas and their issues subsumed within that overall discussion, but that the government should develop specific and special strategies for the housing estates and not just lump them in with their other thinking. From then on, successive governments have spoken of ‘outer estates’ as a particular concern. The letter and an expansive reflection on the situation at that time was later published as “The Challenge of the Estates: Strategies and Theology for Housing Estate Ministry.”
SOME SHORT PAPERS
Here’s a paper that I prepared for the Urban Bishops of the Church to reflect upon. It shows that ministry on under-privileged estates is special and therefore needs special support and provision - which is sadly lacking from government, church and the country.
UPDATE At the time of offering this paper it met with no response at all from the Bishops, but more recently the central authorities of the Church of England have been prepared to offer more resources and commitment to this important work and need. My friend +Philip North has been championing this