God Comes To Benefits Street

Benefits Street was a popular British  documentary srries on Channel Four TV soap about people who lacked a job, accommodation, citizenship  or freedom from an addiction in the down-turn area of Winson Green, Birmingham. . Last week-end I walked down the Birmingham street on which this was modelled, right round Winson Green Prison and into the Yurt at nearby  Newbigin House.  Here Ash Barker took his vows with the Community of Aidan and Hilda.

He was joined by our London Guardian Simon Reed and a Pentecostal Bishop, by the Birmingham Aidan and Hilda group, and by members of the Newbigin Fresh Expression of Church which meets there on Sunday mornings around a meal.  Here I met people from conflicting cultures, people who feel isolated, people with nowhere to meet.  People who come out of prison often can't get a job. All Governments let hundredsof illegal immigrants  come in weekly on huge container lorries that are not searched. They sleep in cars, so their children are taken into school at tax-payers expense.  No one is allowed to give them a job so they live off crime. They all find a home and hope here.

Ash and his wife Anji have started a string of  social enterprises. One thousand youngsters turned up to the first training session of the newly formed Soho Albion - a football training programmme partly sponsored by West Bromwich Albion.  Anji runs lots of clubs, advice services etc at the Prison Visitors Centre. They have just negotiated a deal with YMCA and  Bournville Trust to develop a depleted Retreat Centre at Leadership - a monthly training programme.  They come to The Open Gate on Holy Island once a year. All those on it seek to maximise assets on tough urban housing areas and excersie inspired leadership.

They are also concerned to green the world. Black Patch was once the home of gypsies.  Charlie Chaplin was born in the caravan of their 'king' and 'queen'.  Then it became a waste dump.  Now they hope to re-green it and use part of it it for sports

Ash knows that without roots, rhythms and relationship all this work will crumble.  That is why he has drawn up a Personal Way of Life which he committed to on Sunday.

Posted at 16:15pm on 17th January 2020
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