Seven Years Living on Knowle West Estate – Bristol

Mike Pears, director of Urban Life, takes some time to reflect on being a faithful presence on the Knowle West Estate in Bristol with others.

Daventry_Road_03We are just celebrating seven years of living on the Knowle West Estate. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this is that a bunch of us are still here and trying our best to be some kind of Christian community. Much has happened and we could tell many stories. One thing we find ourselves reflecting on is the ongoing sense of surprise about how much living here has changed us – after seven years some of us are not sure we could stomach a move back to the ‘leafy suburbs’! (although we wouldn’t say no to a few more leafy trees in Knowle) It has changed the way we listen to the news, the things we prioritise, the way we see other people and the way we see ourselves. Significantly it has also changed the way we understand Jesus and seek to follow him.

So living on the estate continues to challenge and teach us. It raises fundamental questions about life and faith and certainly leaves us with a sense of uncertainty about where this journey will take us in the next seven years.

It has been really great to connect with lots of people from around the country living on similar estates (or in Scotland ‘schemes’). It was fascinating to be with a group of about 20 people this week from estates across Birmingham. In conversation we identified six key areas that are a common part of the experience for those seeking to minister estates; the language might be a bit awkward, but if you are involved with an estate in any way you will catch the sense of what is being expressed here:

  • challenges of investing in ‘local’ people in the hope they will take on leadership when they themselves are often facing so many serious difficulties.
  • how to respond as a Christian in the face of multiple, complex needs (physical and mental health, finance, housing, relationships).
  • how to think about change or the transformation of people’s lives. Comments were made that ‘change is very slow and it is difficult to be patient’ and it is difficult to know how to talk about conversion when faced with such pressing immediate needs.
  • how are estates changing? We know they are not all the same, but they are changing in ways that bring new unknown experiences and added anxiety to daily life.
  • work-load of ministers and priests in estates; ministers often have two or even more estates to ‘look after’ with low levels of financial and people support.
  • questions about how do we ‘do church’ on estates when it ‘feels like things are not moving’ and ‘people not becoming Christians’. Do we need to rethink?
  • w do we imagine the kingdom of God in estates? What does hope look like here? What can estates teach the wider church about the kingdom?

Of course, none of these points are easy to address and they are the kinds of questions we are learning to live with. At the same time we find ourselves inspired from a range of (sometimes surprising) directions. One such inspiring and very insightful source has been the writings of Lynsey Hanley, especially her latest work ‘Respectable: the experience of class’. We would like to reflect on the way in which her insights might help us explore the questions we are living with. With this in mind, if anyone out there would like to do a book review to help us on our way, we would be very grateful.

Further Reading:

Lynsey Hanley, Respectable: The Experience of Class (2016)

Helpful Guardian article:

Lynsey Hanley on Radio 4 (Start the Week):

3 Replies to “Seven Years Living on Knowle West Estate – Bristol”

  1. Hi mike
    I’m a Christian recently arrived in Knowle west, albeit I come and go to work 3 times a week.

    My observation is that God is very much with you there, that I have seen and felt God move in extraordinary ways in the 12 weeks or so that I’ve been there with some outrageous prayers answered. How that translates on a day to day basis living in community I don’t know, but I do know that the kingdom is close at hand!

    I’d love to meet up with you guys for a coffee and talk over some of the points raised and to encourage you mightily!

    Do drop me an email!

  2. Hi Mike – I’d like to make contact. My wife and I are retiring to this estate in February 2018 after aboput 25 years in Baptist pastoral ministry. I can supply more details offline.

  3. I think my experiences are worth writing about, if not to help others, to help bring awareness about the real need.
    Having spent the majority of my time in Knowle West in some of the most troubled spots, I can say that dealing with the constant problems that are very obvious is just as much a challenge as those problems that appear hidden. You have to understand that there are seasons of fruitfulness and sometimes you just hang on by your fingernails and then sometimes you have to take a step back. I learnt more about myself than I had known previously and was amazed at the repsonse of locals to my presence. So what I learnt was what I heard in discussions from the Eden Conference all those years before. It’s about being. The doing happens to be a by-product of being. Also you have to be yourself; people will see right through you anyhow.

    I grew up in my early teens in a inner city area on the edge of St. Paul’s in an open house, at a time when it had significant problems. A systematic rebuilding and refurbishment has done a lot for the area, so it’s not quite as recognisable as when I was first there. Having lived in a Christian Community in St.Paul’s itself too, there were cultural challenges, just as there are on majority white estates.

    I all those years I can say that without God none of this would have happened and God had so much preparation for me before moving to Knowle West, I think people were surprised how easily I took to it, but I spend over 5 years working and worshipping in a completely alien denomination and to my surprise I met God in significant ways even though things weren’t my style. It was about relationships and this is the heart of everything.

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