|Picture credit: Islington Giving|
According to new figures released by Church Urban Fund this week, our parish “is among the most deprived nationally”. Of the nation’s 12706 parishes, St Mary’s ranks 11362 and scores particularly badly on indices of child poverty (38%) and pensioner poverty (31%).
Our parish is centered on one of London’s destination streets for entertainment and shopping. It’s teeming with people. We love it!
Between Angel and Highbury Corner, Upper Street’s boutiques bid for the custom of those who can afford high style. Restaurants offer every conceivable cuisine. Pubs, theatres, cafes and artisan shops abound. But look carefully and there’s a wider range of people and a much greater diversity than you might think. The gradual gentrification that took place in the last thirty years is far from uniform. Those on the lowest incomes frequently live next to those on the highest. It is still possible to shop economically and between Liverpool Road and Essex Road, businesses cater for different tastes and budgets.
There are signs that things might be changing. Soaring property prices mean that it’s impossible to move into the area without very high incomes, subsidised rents, or a willingness to share overcrowded space with friends or parents. A two-bed flat above a shop may cost well over £600 a week to rent.
Many older residents have been living here for a long time. With rents showing no sign of falling, moves to limit benefits are beginning to squeeze those on low incomes out of areas like ours, so we may now be entering a period of worrying change. Two weeks ago, letters were sent to some of our parishioners warning of a big reduction in benefits. The Church Urban Fund is doing great work to equip churches to tackle poverty as a key element of their activity. Local charity Islington Giving is revealing more facts of life for Islington residents.
Our vision is firmly that we should serve all the people of our neighbourhood. We’re seeking as far as we can to ensure that our living for God is meaningful and positive for all in our parish. We believe that a neighbourhood is better when it’s mixed and that zoning affluence and poverty is catastrophic for the social health of a district.
In a few days, our Soul in the City Neighbourhood Festival will create opportunities for encounter and discovery between people. We want neighbours to meet neighbours, across boundaries that often keep people’s lives in close but separate channels. Soul in the City is much more than a series of entertaining events. It's not a distraction from the reality of life. It's a celebration of community. We’ve aimed for the highest quality in everything and ensured that everything is completely free.
In many ways, our parish is gloriously integrated. Despite having one of the highest crime rates in one of the highest crime boroughs in the country (drill down on the Met Police's crime maps for the startlingly high figures), there’s a vitality and peace to the place. But people from diverse backgrounds living in close proximity doesn’t necessarily mean that connections are made. Our resolve, through Soul in the City and through the way we live as a church, is to be intentional about creating community.
If you share our vision, do come and support the festival. But don’t just enjoy yourself. Enjoy other people.