Places of desire, ambition and hope :FAITH & REASON

Ten years ago the Church of England in its report Faith in the City challenged Britain to respond to the needs of the urban poor. The Rev John Kennedy assesses progress.

When the history of the Church in the second half of the 20th century is written, the Faith in the City epic will be one of its most exciting features. It will be judged that Britain in the early Eighties was enduring a brutal readjustment. What history might not record is the pain and bewilderment suffered then by Britain's poorest urban communities. The Labour Party was in what looked like a Trotskyite death spasm. When the pain continued after the 1983 general election, the Church of England took its courage and its cash in both hands. It produced the Faith in the City report, and challenged Church and Nation to respond to the needs of the poor.

Ten years later, the project continues. Many poor parishes have been significantly renewed, made places of welcome; pounds 20m has been raised for urban activity; above all, the project has engaged bravely with the structures of the Church of England, making urban poverty a concern of the whole body, not just its urban enthusiasts.

The Anglicans have also, sensibly, avoided excessive ecumenising of the project. This approach has marginalised the Methodists a bit, and made us do our own things better. More significantly, it has upstaged the Roman Catholics, who still have the really strong presence in Britain's cities. And I wish more credit had been given to one ecumenical body, Church Action on Poverty. But these are quibbles. A great, historic note has been struck. When it mattered the Church of England spoke out. This splendid achievement does raise questions, however.

Let me introduce Ivor Seddon, a businessman from Salford. We met there last week. He makes curtain fittings, and sells them around the world, especially in Japan. He started out on a market stall 20 years ago. He now employs a hundred people and turns over pounds 5m a year. He knows the whole world, but likes it best in Britain. He admires the Japanese, but reckons British commerce is more efficient, and Britain is a nicer place to live.

Now the Faith in the City project has produced a thousand pages of text. Lots of analysis and stories. But Ivor isn't there, nor anybody much like him. The project was far too pessimistic about the prospects for medium- sized firms like Ivor's, and placed excessive hope in community activity and public institutions.

Many urban authorities have worked hard to turn cities into good business locations and generators of jobs. Cardiff, Bolton, Glasgow, Salford and Leeds look a lot better now. There is a good rule of thumb about cities: if you have created an environment in which business cannot thrive, then you change the environment. That means beginning to renew it as soon as it stops being profitable, rather than letting the dereliction pile up over generations, as we have done in Britain. It also means avoiding huge single mistakes, like the construction of job-free zones in the form of the modern outer-city estates.

This is where the thrust of Faith in the City was too light on politics rather than too heavy. For it is the outer-city estates that created the least tractable urban problems, especially in their exclusion of people from access to the labour market. The churches' silence on the awfulness of Labour city government there did its bit to make Labour unelectable.

There is of course something deeper at work here than political prejudice and parochial myopia. Peter Sedgewick has edited a theological collection to celebrate the 10th anniversary, called God in the City (Mowbray, pounds 12.95). He highlights the problem with a quotation from the fourth- century preacher St John Chrysostom:

Thus does the devil stealthily set fire to the city. It is not a matter of running up ladders and using petroleum, pitch or tar; he uses things far more pernicious; lewd sights, base speech, degraded music and songs full of all kinds of wickedness.

That kind of "fear in the city" continues. The city has always been profane, hard to manage. Through two decades in east and west London, I sometimes feared that the churches were happier managing the city's misery than engaging with its vitality. The Church of England has earned its place in history through its eloquent protest against the injustices of contemporary city life. But Christians have yet to grasp the nature of cities. We find it hard to accept them as places of infinitely varying and barely manageable desire, ambition and hope. It is safer to stay with misery, but that is not the whole of what God has given us in these strange places.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style