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Saturday, 16 April 2016
I need to be honest with you from the outset. Not everything in Hodge Hill is beautiful. My neighbourhood, Firs & Bromford, is a 1950s/60s council estate, still dominated by huge, claustrophobia-inducing, high-rise tower blocks (even though they are slowly being taken down, opening up surprising new 'breathing spaces'). And although there are pockets of beautiful community hidden inside these looming (and slowly crumbling) towers, if you talk to those of my friends and neighbours who still live in these flats, the vast majority will tell you they'd give almost anything to get out of them. There are days, not helped by the less-than-perfect British weather, when the estate just looks and feels grey, a greyness that can sink into your soul. There are times, particularly if you don't have the luxury of a car, when what the estate-born Brummie author Lynsey Hanley calls 'the wall in the head' can feel almost-impossible to break out from, when things beyond the local (library, swimming pool, coffee shop, supermarket even) feel a million miles away (all are within 2-3 miles, but often that's at least 2 buses away).
All of that is true. Some of it accounts for why some people who've come to visit us, to explore the possibility of being part of our 'Common Ground' missional community, have gone away again, unable to get their heads around moving here. The cost, the sacrifices - especially for those used to the luxuries of the middle-class consumer, the bustling 'vibrancy' of an inner-city high street, or even just some of the basic necessities to meet particular physical and social needs - have seemed to be too much to swallow. And each time we've got our hopes up that we might be about to welcome new and gifted and imaginative travelling-companions and co-conspirators to our community-growing adventure here, our hearts have sank as we've watched them go again.
Things are growing here. I've been here six years now, and in that time I've had the great privilege of witnessing so much growth in so many ways. Local people, my neighbours, growing in confidence, discovering their passions and gifts and opportunities to share them with those around them (take the 3-year-old Bromford Theatre Group for example, and the genius of Phil Howkins who started it, and who has the vision, passion and ability to charm almost anyone to do almost anything, beyond what they ever imagined possible). Friendships growing and flourishing, between people from vastly different backgrounds, from different parts of the world (Nigeria, Somalia, Romania, Ireland, Bromford, Berkshire and more...), learning each other's languages, sharing each other's favourite recipes, looking after each other's kids and dreaming each other's dreams. And at the risk of using an overly-technical word for something much more human and messy, local 'infrastructure' has grown, with institutions like schools (and Hodge Hill Church, of which I'm a part) increasingly looking outwards rather than inwards, strong and creative partnerships developing between organisations, and new places and spaces popping up for encounter, friendship, support and creativity, from Worth Unlimited's shopfront youth & community space, 'The Hub', to Open Door's drop-ins, school gate 'cuppas' and multicultural women's group, and now, most recently, our brand new Community Forest Space (at the local primary school), an Urban Allotment (around some of the sheltered housing), and a labyrinth and open-access raised beds outside the two Community Houses of our Common Ground Community.
Yes, things are growing here. People, friendships, organisations, partnerships, places and spaces are growing here. And while much of that growth feels often like 'one step forward, two steps back', while much of it is very small, very fragile, messy and chaotic - well, isn't growth in the natural world a bit like that, and yet, precisely in and through this, utterly beautiful?
None of this is without its cost, its sacrifices. Sometimes it can be bloody hard living here, working here. It can be overwhelming frustrating, when hard-won growth is senselessly destroyed, or overtaken by fragility and precariousness, or it just feels like it's taking forever to see anything change. It can be the hardest thing imaginable, sometimes, to put aside our own sense of 'what we have to offer', how we imagine we can 'solve' this particular 'problem', or the supposed 'rightness' of our own agenda, to make space for others to give their gifts, to find their solutions, to begin to articulate their words, their agendas, their stories. But it is the most rewarding thing in the world.
So how about it? Come and join us! Come and move here. Come and join one of our Community Houses (we're after both long-term 'anchor' people and those who want to come for shorter-term experience) [click this link for more information].
And if growing things is your particular passion, why not come and work with us... We'll even pay you! Check out the advert below for more info... (NB. deadline Monday 9th May!)