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Urban Presence: sharing life with our inner city neighbours

Paul Keeble tells Mandy Pilz why he chose to raise his family in the inner city ...

Paul Keeble tells MANDY PILZ why he chose to raise his family in the inner city

After I moved to Manchester nearly 40 years ago I began to notice that the majority of people lived in the inner city, but most Christians didn’t.

It led to a decision to move into the inner city, feeling that this was what I personally should be doing as a follower of Jesus.

I had come to Manchester from Belfast to train in social administration with an eye to working in probation back in Northern Ireland, but God changed my plans during that year.

I also met Judith who shared my call to the inner city. We married and settled down in a one-bedroom council flat, then moved to the terraced house where we still live and where our three children grew up.

Most of the time life in the inner city is just like life anywhere else. Our community is diverse, but we all do the same things: food shopping, the school run, taking the bins out.

There are a number of nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and faiths, with Muslims in the majority. We’ve discovered just how hospitable and generous they can be – especially when it comes to food!
An important by-product of our living here has been working with our fellow residents on wellbeing/shalom issues that affect us all. These have included restoring a run-down park and creating a community garden. But the major one involved a gun and gang crime issue.

A drive-by shooting happened outside a nearby pub not long after our daughter had walked past – one of several murders in our neighbourhood in the 90s. The grandmother of one of the victims was a member of our church.

Late one night we were awakened by a police helicopter shining its searchlight onto two armed suspects in our back yard. We’ve also faced mindless vandalism, and once our car was driven into by joyriders.

Occasionally we might witness drunkenness and rowdiness in the streets, some of which kept our daughters awake at night. Our concerns were those of other local residents and parents. Was there anything we could do?

In 2003, following a further spate of incidents, two local young men organised a march and rally called GangStop which drew several hundred people. We joined in as a family and our 12-year-old daughter was interviewed by BBC’s Newsround.

Afterwards a community meeting was held and from that a group of us formed the organisation Carisma (Community Alliance for Renewal, Inner-South Manchester Area) as a grassroots response to the gangs. Some were people of faith, others not. Our only expertise was  that we were local.

We networked, mobilised and advocated on behalf of our young people. Mobilising was saying: “Let’s do positive stuff here”, such as a ‘PeaceWeek’ of creative and positive events.

We had parades, concerts, awards. We ran a radio station called ‘PeaceFM’. We worked in schools; all for and by the community to tackle an issue of shared concern.

PeaceWeek and our other work ran for 10 years until gun crime fell to the extent that we decided to close Carisma down.

So what about moving to a bigger home in a ‘nice’ area? As followers of Jesus, we should question assumptions, for example, the norm for Christians to move out of the inner city when their kids get to school age. We were fortunate in having a good local school. Judith served as a governor there for a while.

We don’t hide our Christianity, but we don’t see ourselves as being here to bestow blessings upon “you poor people”. It’s not about “them and us”.

We’re here to share life as residents and neighbours who are Christians.

We learn from other cultures; people help us, we help them. Our commitment to Jesus involves our whole lives, including the choice of where we live.

Jesus came to live among us, to do life with us, and that is what we’re trying to do here in inner-city Manchester. Mission With.

  • Paul Keeble works with the charity Urban Presence and is the author of Mission With: something out of the ordinary (Instant Apostle).

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