Newham in 1970
How different and yet how much the same things were; I am thinking particularly of the technology at our disposal, how we had to go about getting information and all of the indicators that put Newham at the bottom of most tables measuring unemployment, education, mental healthcare, housing etc.
I was appointed by the Methodist Church and one of the studies I undertook after my arrival was to examine the number of closures of churches, especially since 1945. In the area adjacent to the Royal Docks, only 5% of the population had any link with the church, and in a mile width band beyond that, the figure rose to 10%. This presented a particular challenge to the churches.
The population in Newham was largely white, but since the early fifties there had been a steady inflow of citizens from the Caribbean. However, in the congregation that I inherited, there was only one black person which showed the failure of the established churches to embrace new arrivals to the borough, which became a priority of Newham Community Renewal Programme once it was set up.
Two Christian Traditions
Two traditions, the Methodist Church (Methodist Central Hall) and the Congregational Church (Wakefield Street Church) in East Ham, played a major role in the founding of Newham Community Renewal Programme. When Methodist Central Hall was condemned as unsafe in 1969, they asked Wakefield Street Church if their ‘homeless’ congregation could form a united congregation.
I, having become the Methodist Minister, formed a joint leadership with Clifford Hill, the Congregational Minister in 1970. I held onto my post until 1980. Clifford and I could see quite clearly that no one congregation could lead a Newham wide-programme on it’s own, and we were interested in helping churches engage with Newham. Thus, we shared the idea of a programme that sought to renew the community and that is how Newham Community Renewal Programme was founded in 1971.
Our first focus was on unemployment of young people and on the virtual invisibility of the numerous Black-led churches in the Borough. Clifford appointed a retired lady named Mary as his secretary and PA on a voluntary basis; they obtained a grant which allowed us to hold our first interview with a panel consisting of myself, Clifford and the Leader of the Council. Our team grew with Paul Charman and Valerie Banerjee as community workers.
Within a year, we took responsibility for the large Presbyterian Church in East Avenue, near East Ham station. Clifford’s wife, Monica Hill, took charge of the buildings as a community development project and we appointed Kathryn Gosden as a community worker to assist her. As Newham Community Renewal Programme grew, we quickly highlighted areas of community engagement and development:
1) We observed that many women in the Asian community, in particularly the elderly, had little opportunity to go out, little chance to learn English and little opportunity to engage with long-standing members of the community; they seemed to be living in some form of isolation. Monica organised, through Newham Community Renewal Programme, for elderly white ladies of the congregation to visit these isolated women and share an English afternoon tea, whilst teaching them English.
2) One Christmas, the Church prepared special cards with Christmas goodwill greetings printed in English and three Asian languages. These were then delivered by hand throughout the neighbourhood, sending a message of “we respect your presence and your language, we’d like to be good neighbours”.
3) The third example is tangential, but interesting. We looked at the possible redeveloping of our site in conjunction with the owner of a shopping hall. The owner had a small, terraced property in the street adjacent to the church and he offered it to Newham Community Renewal Programme as a resource. Within a few weeks, Clifford had recruited a small team of young people who volunteered to work for us in exchange for board. This gave us a tremendous resource and was home to a group of great, enthusiastic workers. I remember them all with great affection.