In this chapter we will start to focus on the people who live in Urban Britain and on their cultures and communities. We will be thinking about what it mean to live in the city. We will start by picking up on general experience of urban life and then will focus on particular aspects of inner city and estate culture. This will include some commentary on issues to do with ethnicity and then a more detailed look at questions to do with class and particularly working class and council estate identity.
Identity and unsettling cities
One of the reasons we gave space in the last chapter to thinking about the history of city life is that our identity is shaped to some extent by the environment around us. According to Allem Massey and Pryke, cities are open spaces where people meet and mix.
“If cities now are where most people happen to be, then that is above all because cities are open and global in character. They represent what many societies have become and what others have long been: sites at which a multitude of social relationships and ties intersect, giving a sense of their worldly nature, the different times and mixes they embody, and a sense of resultant intensity and diversity.” 
My own experience of growing up in Bradford was of a diverse city where people from different backgrounds rubbed shoulder to shoulder with one another. The diversity became more obvious as I grew older. Our little primary school was fairly mono-cultural, although there was some engagement with Pakistani children for a period due to a policy known colloquially as “bussing.” This meant that ethnic minority children from inner city areas such as Manningham were dispersed by bus out to a variety of schools across the district. Later, this policy was seen as demeaning and no-doubt an economic drain and so it ended leading to a greater concentration of Asian children in inner city schools. This provoked further controversy in the early 1980s when one school headteacher, Ray Honeyford, wrote an article for the Salisbury Review bemoaning the takeover of schools by non-indigenous ethnic groups and the lack of spoken English in the playground. He believed that the policies associated with multi-culturalism at that time were having a negative effect on education.
Secondary School saw a greater diversity of cultures, sitting next to Pakistani origin friend at school provided plenty of distraction from chemistry as we debate Islam and Christianity. Meanwhile each Sunday, our family would join in with the Chinese Christian Church that used our church building in the centre of Bradford.
City life for me means noise and bustle. It means never been far from anything. A short bus-ride into town meant that shops and entertainment, the cinema, theatre etc were within easy reach. City life also meant the tribalism that came with supporting Bradford City instead of Leeds United or Huddersfield Town. But urban life did not mean an absence of greenery, within a short distance were parks, playing fields, golf-courses and a stroll through Judy Woods to collect conkers or see the bluebells in flower. City life also means a high level of loyalty that comes with local identity -hence the decision to support my local team.
Cities are also as places where people experience isolation, discrimination and injustice. First of all, for many people life is lonely. This is particularly so if they have moved to the city from elsewhere,e particularly from smaller towns and villages where they experienced tightknit community life. The city becomes the place where you don’t know anyone, where you become invisible to others.
Cities can be places of fear, especially in the context of rising crime but also due to racial prejudice and the fear of “otherness.” Amin and Graham observe how whilst:
“Streets, parks, squares, shopping areas, cafes and restaurants are often places of connection where different relationship webs meet and overlap.” 
We are seeing a retreat from and segregation of those public spaces. This can be seen in growth of gated communities where people rent or buy in private complexes with controlled access.
It’s seen also in the security access required to get into council flats as well. It’s also seen in the surveillance culture which results in CCTV camera observation. This means that:
“the tensions associated with this juxtaposition of difference, perceived or real (such as the fear of crime or violence, racial intolerance, uncertainty and insecurity) often put into question the very definition and usage of the phrase ‘urban public space’. The once common understanding of public space as a shared space or arena for social interaction can no longer be taken for granted.” 
The result is that “Some have suggested that public spaces are being re-engineered as places of surveillance from which threatening groups are excluded.” 
As a Christian, I would suggest that this has huge theological and missiological implications. First of all in a world where surveillance is ubiquitous and associated with guilt, shame and authoritarian power, this will affect how people hear our description of the God who sees and knows everything. Secondly, if public spaces are places of fear and segregation, then this will affect how people feel about coming to public worship. In that our church buildings are public places and our services are public events, this may not always mean that their public nature results in them being seen as welcoming and accessible.
Cities are also places where people experience injustice, prejudice and oppression. McDonnell focuses on this in terms of gender. Women experience harassment and assault in public spaces. This starts from an early age with 5500 sexual assaults in schools reported every year. McDonnell argues that this creates a culture where women are seen as dependent on men for status and safety. It is also an environment where women are constrained and restricted, where it is not safe or culturally acceptable for them to be outdoors outside of daylight hours. She comments that:
“A clear illustration can be seen in the judgements made in cases of rape and harassment, when judges have sometimes argued that women should remain indoors for their own protection. At times when men who are thought to be dangerous are ‘on the loose’ or at large, there are often calls for curfews for women and girls.” 
It is this sense of an informal curfew which has led to University student unions running “reclaim the night” campaigns.
Smith links the experience of the Israelites in Egypt with the experience of oppressed minorities in the city. The Israelites where press ganged into service for Pharaoh and forced to build his cities for him.  The economic power of Rome was also dependent on slavery just as modern industrial cities such, especially port cities such as Liverpool and Bristol depended on the African slave-trade for their wealth. This type of injustice arises because of idolatry. A major idol is what Smith refers to as “Economistic” practices. This is a label for “economic activity … separated from ethical control”
The City and the Immigrant
I’m from an immigrant background but you wouldn’t know it to look at me. My great-grandfather was called Luigi Guilliani and he belonged to the Italian immigrant community in East London. Great-grandfather Luigi moved to Birmingham and changed his name to Louis Williams. White immigrants have the advantage that they can learn the language, change their names and blend in, an option not open to all.
To be an immigrant in the UK is to be viewed with suspicion. Politicians talk about the importance of controlling the borders – one of the central arguments given for Brexit during the 2016 referendum campaign, tabloid newspapers use lurid language to talk about the dangers of our country being swamped by foreigners coming here to steal our jobs whilst simultaneously enjoying the easy life living off of our generous welfare state.
Our cities are being transformed by immigration. At the 2011 census, only 53.1% of the Birmingham population was “White British” with 26.6% being of Asian origin and 9% Black. In neighbouring Leicester, the figures are 45.1% British and 37.1% Asian whilst in my home city, Bradford, 63.9% are white British and 26.8% from an Asian background. Many of those from Asian and Black backgrounds will be second or third generation UK residents. Whilst only 53.1% of the Birmingham population is white British, 77.8% were born in the UK.
Given the strongly negative, hostile even reactions we seen to immigrant and other ethnic groups, it is important to remember why there is such a large and diverse immigrant community within our cities. Whilst there have been significant numbers of refugees over the years whether those fleeing the Syrian conflict today, Afghan and Iraq in the previous decade or Vietnam in the second half of the 20th century, the reality is that many immigrant families are here because we needed them and we invited them to come.
“Pakistani migrants who came to Britain after the war found employment in the textile industries of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Manchester and Bradford, cars and engineering factories in the West Midlands, and Birmingham, and growing light industrial estates in places like Luton and Slough. After the Mangla dam was building 1966 which submerged large parts of the Mirpur district, emigration from that area accelerated.” 
They came to fill the jobs that we either did not have people to fill or that British workers no longer wanted to do. This was recently highlighted through the “Windrush Generation” controversy when it emerged that many afro-Caribbean families were under pressure to return to the Caribbean due to an absence of official paperwork to support their right to live in the UK.
“Those arriving in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries have been labelled the Windrush generation. This is a reference to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK.”
Like those from the Indian sub-continent:
“Many of the arrivals became manual workers, cleaners, drivers and nurses – and some broke new ground in representing black Britons in society.” 
They came because of the need here but they also came because of historic ties to the UK. Observe this quote closely:
“It was following the Second World War, the break-up of the British Empire and the independence of Pakistan, that Pakistani immigration to the United Kingdom increased, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. This was made easier as Pakistan was a member of the Commonwealth. Pakistani immigrants helped to resolve labour shortages in the British steel, textile and engineering industries. Doctors from Pakistan were recruited by the National Health Service in the 1960s.” 
And then there is this.
“A large majority of Pakistani migrants in the UK originate from Mirpur in Kashmir, which has a long history of out-migration. Sailors from Mirpur found work as engine-room stokers on British ships sailing out of Bombay and Karachi, some of whom settled in the UK in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
The link to “The Commonwealth” and to British trade in the 19th century is perhaps a gentle way of reminding us that the original link was the British Empire. Furthermore, many of the Afro-Caribbean immigrants are the direct descendants of slaves who were traded by British businessmen, transported in British ships and made to work on British plantations in Jamaica. Politician, David Lammy, reflected this point powerfully in a speech on the 26th April 2018 in the House of Commons.
“The Windrush story does not begin in 1948; the Windrush story begins in the 17th century, when British slave traders stole 12 million Africans from their homes, took them to the Caribbean and sold them into slavery to work on plantations. The wealth of this country was built on the backs of the ancestors of the Windrush generation. We are here today because you were there.
My ancestors were British subjects, but they were not British subjects because they came to Britain. They were British subjects because Britain came to them, took them across the Atlantic, colonised them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them British subjects. That is why I am here, and it is why the Windrush generation are here.
There is no British history without the history of the empire. As the late, great Stuart Hall put it: “I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea.”
The Windrush children are imprisoned in this country—as we have seen of those who have been detained—centuries after their ancestors were shackled and taken across the ocean in slave ships. They are pensioners imprisoned in their own country. That is a disgrace, and it happened here because of a refusal to remember our history.”
Often those very people from the Windrush generation came off the boats to be greeted by signs in guest-house windows declaring “No Dogs, No blacks.” Sadly, the church does not seem to have done any better in terms of welcoming and including. Anecdotally, I’ve heard stories of believers turning up to church and being treated as the servant class. I remember my grandmother befriending a couple of Jamaican ladies who joined the little Methodist church where she worshipped. Nana was deeply disturbed to be asked by other church members about her “darkie friends.”
If there was racism and rejection, there was also the challenge of how different cultures could worship together. Some Christians joined with existing churches but found that they struggled with what felt like a colder more formal style of worship as well as an English focus on strict time keeping. Here, WD Evans, who was the pastor of Sunbridge Road Mission, an inner city mission hall for over 20 years describes his experience of interaction with afro-Caribbean immigration.
“Not long after I came to Sunbridge Road, the West Indian people started to come and live in our country, quite a number of them coming to live in Bradford. First the men would come. They would get a job, then they would get a flat, and then they would send for their families to come and join the, One problem that they had when they arrived was the question of validity of their marriages. If they hadn’t registered their marriages at home, then they weren’t valid in this country. The fact that they were not legally married was a great trouble to them. They used to go straight to the Registry Office when the wife arrived and they would go through the words of the marriage ceremony. They would get their certificate, which should have made things alright for them. However, they thought they were already married, and although they didn’t object to having to go through a marriage ceremony again, they thought that if they had to get married again, then they ought to get married in church.”
The result of this was that Pastor Evans got involved in conducting church wedding services. Many wanted to be part of a church but whilst some families joined Sunbridge Road Mission, the majority didn’t. Pastor Evans continues to explain as follows:
“There was a church that was going to be closed down. We managed to work out a way for them to buy the building on rental purchase and they established themselves as a West Indian Church. The reason that they really needed their own church was one which we might find difficult to understand. They found the time element connected with our churches difficult to cope with. They liked to start a service when they were ready, not at 10:30am or 6:00pm. They also liked to go on worshipping until they were tired and not finish after an hour or so as we did. I acted as an adviser to them. Their leaders used to come into my study with the elders. We used to talk over their problems and I used to try to sort them out. I did all the administrative work, and all the dedications and of course the funerals. I did this for many years until they were able to cope on their own.”
This example describes a similar experience for churches across the country. Whilst some afro-Caribbeans joined and persevered with existing churches, as described by Pastor Evans, many opted for Black majority churches such as the New Testament Church of God of Prophecy. The result was the development of a cultural identity which included church life.
The United States has experienced even more extreme forms of segregation both in secular life and in the church. John Piper, in his book, Bloodlines describes how:
“In 1962 my home church voted not to allow blacks into the services. The rationale as I remember was that in the heated context of the civil rights ere, the only reason blacks would want to be there would be political, which is not what church is for. As I recall, my mother was the lone voice on that Wednesday night to vote no on this motion. I could be wrong about that. But she did vote no.”
Piper’s mother seemingly fought a lone battle against this injustice. He goes on to describe what happened at his sister’s wedding.
“In December of that year, my sister was married in the church and my mother invited Lucy’s whole family to come. And they came. I remember an incredibly tense and awkward moment as they came in the door of the foyer (which must have taken incredible courage). The ushers did not know what to do. One was about to usher them up to the balcony (which had barely been used since the church was built). My mother – all five feet two inches of her – intervened and by herself took them by the arm and seated them on the main floor of the sanctuary.” 
I refer to the US context here because we cannot avoid our interconnectedness and the relationship that there is between US and UK evangelicalism. This means that the experiences of black people in the States will affect perceptions in Britian.
What does it mean to live as an immigrant or as a second/third generation UK resident from an ethnic minority background? Some helpful clues are provided by literature. The play, A Taste of Honey shows something of the racial prejudice and suspicion that existed through the 60s and 70s. The story describes a single mother’s experience of shame, that shame is heightened because the absent father was a Nigerian sailor, the scene where Jo (the mum) reveals the truth to Helen (her mum) about the child’s identity.
JO: My baby may be black
HELEN: You what Love?
JO: My baby will be black
HELEN: Oh don’t be silly Jo, you’ll be giving yourself nightmares.
JO: But it’s true. He was black.
HELEN: You mean to say… that sailor was a black man? …Oh my God, I’ll have to have a drink.
Other fictional works tell the story of immigration and race from the immigrants perspective including Brick Lane and Anita and Me, the former explores the challenges facing a young Bangladeshi woman sent to London for an arranged marriage whilst the latter tells the story of a second generation girl growing up with an English friend. Both stories touch on violence and racism.
More recently, “The Good Immigrant” has brought together autobiographical stories and reflections from a variety of writers. This includes Variadzo’s experience of growing up mixed race. She observes that:
“With most people, their race is perhaps the only aspect of their identity guaranteed from the moment of conception. They’ll be whatever race their parents are and stay being that for life. For mixed-race children it’s a little more confusing. We don’t always come out looking like our parents and often we’ll be racialised differently to them.”
This led to a period of confusion and identity crisis for her growing up:
“I spent the first decade of my life unaware that I was black, and spent the decade that followed not being very good at it. They had a word for this in the playground, ‘Oreo’: a kid that was black on the outside and white on the inside.” 
Eventually she concludes that her cultural identity is “black” because this conveys things that the description “mixed race never could.”
“As a term, mixed race could never fully illustrate my experiences. It described nothing, the act of being not one thing or another. To be a mix of races is to be raceless, it implied, and yet that had never been my reality. My race was distinct and visible, the fact that defined me as different to the rest of my classmates. Mixedness alone couldn’t describe this difference.” 
Whilst immigrants have not always been greeted with hostility, this does not mean that they’ve experienced full and genuine welcome and inclusion. Indeed part of the experience described by some in “The Good Immigrant” is best described as curiosity. Varaidzo comments:
“For as long as black people have been visible to the Western eye, our collective role has been that of the entertainer. From being ogled at in the human zoos of the nineteenth century to now, where our television sets still mostly show us in limiting stereotypical roles: the thug, the hooker, the fresh-off-the boat minister, there is much fun to be had observing our queer primitive ways.” 
I guess another example of this curiosity factor can be seen in the refusal of English people to learn to pronounce foreign names, insisting instead on either nicknames or alternative English names. It’s seen in the refusal to accept that a person of colour may well have been born here and lived here all their life. Shuklah comments:
“Because of your skin tone, people will ask you where you’re from. If you say Bristol, they’ll ask where your parents are from.”
A further example can be seen in the appropriation of language and cultural symbols by trends and fashions, often ignorantly. For example, consider the greeting, “Namaste.” Shuklah explains:
“Namaste means I’m bowing to you. It’s a customary greeting. It’s a respectful salutation. It has become a bastardised metaphor for spiritualism. It’s white people doing yoga, throwing up prayer hands chanting ‘AUM’ and sating ‘namaste’ like their third eyes are being opened and they can peer directly into the nucleus of spirituality.”
He goes on to comment on the way that words find their way into the English language which in their original context have basic, everyday meanings but are now used to suggest something exotic and unusual.
“One of the many online arguments I’ve had about the importance of language, how language can hurt, has been about tea. Chai means tea. Chai tea means tea tea.The number of times you see this on a menu makes you wonder why people can’t be bothered to do their research. Like naan bread too. Bread bread.
Finally, there is the way that asylum seekers are viewed and treated. First of all, there’s the risk that all immigration is conflated together so that all immigrants are viewed as basically the same. Secondly there are presuppositions about asylum seekers. This includes the hostile presumption that all asylum seekers are bogus and simply here to get what they can out of the state, benefits, free education, NHS care etc. It also includes the assumption that because asylum seekers have experienced persecution that they must always be treated as victims, unable to think, speak or act for themselves, they become dependent upon charitable handouts. My friend “J” constantly challenges these assumptions, rather than looking for help, he and his wife have sought to engage with the community by: starting a church congregation, opening their home to show hospitality, providing ESOL classes for other refugees and providing Christmas Day dinner for local homeless, elderly and lonely people.
All of these experiences of life in the UK help to shape individual identities. They will also affect how people relate to us and our faith. If Christianity is seen as imperialistic whether that imperialism has been accompanied by outright hostility or simply a patronising air of superiority then obstacles are in place before we can share the Gospel. Not only that, but here is one of those examples where it is our own cultural idolatry that needs to be challenged if we are going to be fruitful in gospel ministry.
Identity and Class
Alongside ethnicity, class is one of the key factors we tend to think about when looking at urban mission. The British attitude to class is best described as “complex”. Recently I saw someone ask people on twitter to complete two statements: “Someone is working class when..” and “Someone is middle class when ….” I think it was intended as a serious question, Andy Prime was preparing for a talk at a national conference on the subject of Gospel and Class but several of the immediate responses he got back were jokey in tone. Class is something we are not comfortable about. It’s something we joke about. So answers to the statement “Someone is working class when…” included:
“Family gatherings ended in an arrest…”
“people who love you act like they hate you”
“They breakfast, dinner and tea”
The question also elicited some more serious and expansive responses including
“Working class mates are more loyal and more aggressive – like siblings There’s no pretence in friendships and people walk in on you as you are There are “insiders” that you trust like family and “outsiders” who you are suspicious of.”
Meanwhile to another person, “working class” meant
“whip- rounds, hand me downs, over-share, toast 4 tea, fierce loyalty, bingo, caravan breaks, saving all year for christmas, never having enough always wanting more. inverted snobbery, fighting for family. work hard play hard. fish fingers.”
On the other-hand, the following statements were offered for middle class people:
“Middle class people have been to university as have most of their friends. They’ve got some savings in the bank, take foreign holidays and have a plan at least to own their own home.
“They own property. They have a degree or are a recognised professional. They have inherited wealth They have been asked by inland revenue to complete a self assessment tax return.”
“…they say ‘that’s interesting’ instead of ‘I don’t like that.’”
“They get angry when you suggest they aren’t working class”
This final comment reflects something about the awkwardness of class I suggested above. The same person observed:
“Someone is working class when … they don’t talk about class.”
Class is something that comes with perceived, negative stereotypes. Class is also something that “others are obsessed about.” It’s what sociologists talk about but not something that we want to make a big deal about. Mike Savage observes:
“As long ago as the 1960s – when British class divisions have usually been seen as very strong – even then half the population did not see themselves as belonging to a social class.” 
This perception is backed up by Savage’s own, more contemporary research. He explains:
“Of course, many people have always resisted the value of thinking in terms of these class categories, which might be seen as divisive or simplistic. Historical and sociological studies have demonstrated long-term ambivalence about how far people see themselves as belonging to classes – of any kind. Our own in-depth interviews with two hundred Manchester residents in the early 2000s suggested that two-thirds of those we talked to were ambivalent in seeing themselves as belonging to any kind of class.” 
This means that class is a controversial subject, not just politically but socially and academically too. Savage was part of a group of academics who worked with the BBC to produce the Great British Class Survey. He observes:
“The topic of class is far from being a dispassionate one. There are bitterly contested views about what classes are, how to measure and analyse them, and their overall significance for society. And we are far from being neutral in these debates. We have been at the forefront of a group of British sociologists who have insisted over recent years that class remains fundamental to sociological analysis. We have also championed the thinking of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu as offering the most perceptive approach to unravelling the complexities of class today.” 
So, it is worth noting here that the answer to “who is interested in and talking about class?” Is “people who have a specific interest in class and an particular agenda whether that be political or academic. Why do I raise this? Well very simply because this reflects one of the key points we have seen coming through from our reading of JH Bavinck. We need to handle third party and generalised observations about our mission field with care. The best observations we can make are first hand and personal.
Urban ministry will bring us into contact with those identified as “The Working Class.” Yet primarily, if our knowledge comes from books and academic studies then it will not be coming from so called working class people but middle class observers.
This is Owen Jones, author of “Chavs: The demonization of the working classes” writing about himself.
“I was the only boy in the class to go to a six form college, let alone a University. Why? Because I was born into a middle class family -my mother was a lecturer at Salford University, my father an economic officer for Sheffield City Council.”
Jones recognises the educational and career advantage he got from being middle class. I wonder if he recognises that this will also shape how he views the working class, their values, priorities and challenges?
In fact, any attempt to study people brings its challenges. We view them, their thoughts, words and feelings through our own hermeneutic and our very engagement in studying them affects and changes things. Reporting on the researcher’s approach to the Great British Class survey, Savage explains:
“Scientific experiments are normally expected to stand back from the research they are conducting in order to provide distanced and ‘objective’ results, for instance using randomized control tests when comparing which medical interventions are effective. However, in the case of the GBCS, we could not do this. Interests in class are themselves so highly loaded that if we try to stand back, then we miss the energies, intensities, but also the hostility and insecurity that are bound up with class. Indeed, this is a fundamental argument of our book.” 
Both Savage and Jones write with their own agendas too. For Jones that might be more obvious as he is unashamedly engaged in left wing politics. Savage observes that “class” has played a significant role in the battles of modern politics
“between socialists seeking to mobilize the working classes, and conservative politicians trying to appeal to the middle and upper classes.” 
“We can readily identify the stakes and tensions this history produced. For some people, the working classes were a dangerous force of commoners who would drag down standards and lead to social and cultural decline if they were allowed too much influence. Yet for socialists and those active in the Labour movement, the working classes spearheaded a more egalitarian and caring ethos, which in its turn would bring about a more genuine nation, one able to move beyond the hypocrisies of upper-class gentlemanly culture. In terms of political belief, a lot rested on whether one sympathized with the working class.” 
There’s also the risk that people can assume that their own background, growing up on an estate means that they are qualified to speak for the working class when in fact they have made decisions and had opportunities in life which mean they are far more remote from their origins than they think. David Davis, Conservative MP and cabinet minister offers a corrective about this when he responds to Owen Jones question about whether senior MPS are out of touch with the working classes.
“Truthfully, it’s party true of me too! You know, it’s a long time since I lived on a council estate, and the only thing you have that pulls you back to earth, really, is the constituency surgery, where you’re dealing with people on a Friday night and Saturday morning with their problems.”
But that’s not the only problem. There’s also the danger that we attempt to witness in response to the picture provided in books. We may end up preaching to a stereotyped working class person and miss the real person. JH Bavinck reminds us that we cannot settle for knowing and witnessing to the religious system:
“In the first place we must try to see the person with whom we are dealing. This means that we must seek to see through a person’s name, position, reasons and arguments, and try to reach his real life problems.”
Each person is an individual with their own views which may be different and even inconsistent with the overarching religious system. If it’s true for religious conversations then it is also true about politics and cultural contexts. Reading theory is no replacement for getting to know and listening to real people.
Despite its drawbacks, this type of wider reading is still worthwhile. I want to suggest that there are three reasons for this.
- Unlike when Bavinck was helping people plan to go to far flung, remote places, our society is still much more interconnected. This means that we cannot think about how we reach one group or class within British society in isolation unless language culture and religion has led to total isolation (which I think is likely to be extremely rare). We are connected and so it is not so simple as to say “I want to reach the working classes.” Furthermore, to some extent, we are affected by how others portray, perceive and talk about us. We are labelled.
- The different ways that the working class are viewed and portrayed tells us something about middle class culture and even idolatry too.
- Writers who have an agenda are in effect bringing their own “gospel” offering what they believe to be a message of hope. In so far as they are offering solutions as alternative good news to Jesus Christ, they are worshipping their own idols and presenting these idols to us for worship too. This includes Jones’ socialism but also Douglas Carswell’s libertarian/anti-EU alternative too.
So whilst reading about class has its drawbacks it also has its uses too. With that in mind and alert to the potential weaknesses in the research of Savage and others, let’s highlight a generalised understanding of class in the UK.
Classically, British society has been divided into three broad groupings, working class, middle class and upper class. There is some fluidity between working and middle classes but the upper class tend to stand off as a distinct entity, the only way to join this class is through birth. Savage writes:
“In many nations, and certainly in Britain, there has been an enduring preoccupation with the centrality of the boundary between the middle and working classes over the past two centuries. The upper class tended to stand outside this fundamental tension: although highly visible, their aristocratic affiliations mark them as a group apart from the rest of society, defined by their privileges of birth, and with their own social rules and etiquette. It seems to exist in and of itself, as a kind of special group. By contrast, the terms in which the middle and working classes understand themselves are more fluid and contested.” 
At a more technical and detailed level, the following groups in society have been identified by the National Statistics Socio-economic classification:
- Higher Managerial, administrative and professional occupations
- Lower Managerial, administrative and professional occupations
- Intermediate occupations
- Small employers and own accounts workers
- Lower Supervisory and technical occupations
- Semi-routine occupations
- Routine Occupations
- Never worked and long term unemployed
You will notice that this classification focuses exclusively on employment, something that Savage identifies as a weakness. In his opinion, class is determined by multiple factors arsing from types of capital:
“Social classes arise from the concentration of three distinctive kinds of capital: economic capital (your wealth and income); cultural capital (your tastes, interests and activities), and social capital (your social networks, friendships and associations).” 
This led to those involved in producing the GBCS to suggest a redefinition of class. Savage explains: “we elaborated a new sociological model in April 2013 which proclaimed the existence of seven new classes” 
- Elite Class
- Established Middle Class
- Technical Middle Class
- New Affluent Workers
- Traditional Working Class
- Emerging Service Workers
Note, that the labels are still heavily linked to work status, however, in the detail of his work, Savage looks more closely at the impact of the different types of capital on each class. Notice as well that the “working class” have been broken down into three different groups including Traditional Working Class, Emerging Service Workers and the Precariat who experience a precarious life due to uncertain availability of work and the necessary capital to thrive. This is because:
“Class is fundamentally tied up with inequality. But not all economic inequalities are about class. Consider the case of someone who wins a million pounds on the National Lottery. They would be propelled, overnight, into the top percentile of the wealthiest people in the country. However this does not, by itself, put that person into a different class. What allows inequalities to crystallize into classes is when advantages endure over time in a way which extends beyond any specific transaction. Thus, when our lottery winner invests her or his fortune in property, or buys a small business, we might then say that her or his economic resources are being accumulated and s/he is now implicated in different class relationships. Social classes, we contend, are fundamentally associated with the stored historical baggage and the accumulation of advantages over time.” 
So if inequality is not just to do with economics then what else is going on? Well Savage explains:
“We have, in recent years, seen the proliferation of cultural markers of class which do not – at least on the face of it – appear to be directly linked to these occupational classes. We believe we need to seriously grapple with these to understand class today. We argue that a new kind of snobbery has emerged, one which does not overtly claim that some people or lifestyles are superior to others – since that would fly in the face of our sense of democratic equality, which we genuinely hold dear. Instead, the new snobbery is based on being ‘knowing’, and in displaying an awareness of the codes which are used to classify and differentiate between classes. It distinguishes those who are skilled in exercising judgement, in a knowing and sophisticated way, against those, whoever they may be, who are deemed unable to choose effectively. This is a kind of snobbery which proliferates in a market-based consumer society such as ours, where our display of taste is paramount and mundane. But this is not the kind of snobbery which is easily attributed to classes as bundles of occupations, such as registered in the NS-SEC schema.” 
Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s work he suggests that social and economic capital lead to class division because capital is inherited.
“We can immediately recognize the inheritance of property. We can readily imagine relatives gathering to listen to the lawyer reading out the will. The transmission of cultural capital, however, is opaque, and is necessarily masked in a language of meritocratic achievement and hard work. The importance of culture is therefore apparently denied in the very same moment that it operates. 
However despite the “language of meritocratic achievement” Savage’s argument is that life is far from meritocratic. This can be seen most obviously in terms of economic capital with regard to finance because:
“Parental support, especially from the affluent, is highly significant for young people. Twenty-nine per cent of parents give financial support to their non-resident children, a figure which rises to 45 per cent for those parents aged between forty-five and fifty-four (the age period when their children are likely to be leaving home).” 
And in terms of property because:
“housing values depend not simply on the size and state of individual properties; they also reflect the market attractiveness of the neighbourhoods that surround them. Properties in more desirable areas will command higher prices than similar ones in less attractive places, even if there is little physical difference between the actual homes on offer. Therefore, property is inextricably linked to geography and the attractiveness of particular places to live. A home is not just somewhere to lay your head; for the advantaged, it can also be a strategic investment choice.” 
However, the other types of capital play their part. Cultural capital for example is distinguished between high culture and low culture. High Culture is defined by its support by from the state, recognition by those regarded as cultural critics and promotion through the education system.  Cultural capital confers benefit because as Savage explains:
[Bourdieu] “claims that certain kinds of culture have the prospect of generating social advantage and are hence forms of ‘capital’. But how does this happen? Bourdieu argued that the appreciation of hallowed forms of music (such as classical music), or the visual arts, depends on valuing their abstract qualities – not seeking immediate indulgence or pleasure, but instead being able to appreciate them ‘at a distance’, more cerebrally, in a way which permits their application across different contexts. Thus, when roaming in the British Museum, there are no games machines or gimmicks, but instead only ‘great’ artistic and archaeological exhibits that are seen to have universal status. And by learning to appreciate culture in this abstract way, certain other advantages can be accumulated. It gives access to what Bourdieu calls ‘legitimate culture’, which is respectable and socially approved, being consecrated in public forums such as museums, galleries and in the educational system … It follows that those steeped in this culture are better placed to understand their school curriculum and are trained in the skills of abstraction, which might help them to get better qualifications which can also be a platform for more successful careers. This might explain, for instance, why it is those with ‘analytical skills’ whose earnings seem to have increased the most in recent years.” 
Savage also recognises that culture has evolved so that younger people from across the class spectrum may engage in popular culture. He refers to this as “emerging culture” but observes that this emerging culture is not a general enjoyment of popular culture but often involves showing discernment -a preference for less well known/mainstream artists. 
“Emerging cultural capital is therefore not about liking popular culture per se, but rather demonstrating one’s skill in manoeuvring between the choices on the menu.” 
Similarly, class, according to Savage reflects inequalities in Social Capital. This is demonstrated by educational inequality. There is an inequality about the distribution of graduates across the classes as the following figures demonstrate:
40% – Established Middle Class
25% – Technical Middle Class
10% New Affluent Workers
10% – Traditional Working Class
20% Emerging Service Workers
Again, this reflects a society that is far from meritocratic: Even achieving higher education is no guarantee of class progress.
“We are well aware of how the rich and powerful can ‘look after their own’. For example, one of our respondents told us how her son was the first in his family to attend university. He studied law, and looked for law jobs after he graduated. His girlfriend also studied law, took a first-class degree and was second-ranked in her entire year. The mother thought that since her son had worked two jobs all the way through university, potential employers would recognize him as a good worker. But after they graduated, neither of them could find a job in law. They reported that one person from their class went on to further education in order to become a solicitor, but this mother told us that her son had said, ‘The only way you’d get in a law job is if you’d got a parent or family within a solicitors’ who would take you on. […] Otherwise, you’ve no chance.’ The mother was understandably very unhappy about this, and saw her son’s university education as nearly a total waste.” 
These observations are important for two reasons. First of all, urban mission will often mean working with those categorised as belonging to the bottom 3 class groups in Savage’s system. In Paul’s words, we can say of those who come to faith in urban contexts.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of himyou are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
This should warn us against the temptation to judge people by worldly standards and measure their status against human perceptions of success.
Secondly, it means that the solutions offered by those engaging with “working class” communities are likely to focus on the problem of inequality. One important question for us is to what extent the problem of “inequality” and the desire for “equality” reflect felt needs, dreams and desires which find true fulfilment in Christ and to what extent they reflect false, idolatrous solutions that need to be subverted by the Gospel. This is something we will reflect on later.
I now want to turn to one final and specific example of urban and particularly working class identity, Council Estate life. Council Estates consist of houses that were originally built and let by local authorities in order to provide affordable social housing.
From 1919-1980, government policy focused on creating and sustaining such estates as a means to rescue people from slum life, to reduce or even eliminate poverty and to encourage community cohesion.
“It is not enough merely to cover the ground with streets and houses. The site should be considered as the future location of a community mostly engaged in industrial pursuits having many needs in addition to that of house room.”
Was the policy successful? Well “The official expectation was that estates would become permanent and stable communities with community associations and ideally an estate hall or centre.”  This was attempted by designing estates around green spaces hope that community would naturally form
“A major dilemma was at what stage, and through whose efforts, a hall or centre should be built. Should it be there at the start so that the absence of premises did not impede the emergence of community life? In that case tenants might take it for granted and not be duly appreciative. Or should it depend upon their own efforts, so affording a valuable lesson in practical democracy?” 
My own observation both of the estate context where I now live and the estates around the part of Bradford where I grew up and went to school is that they often are places that seem to have hard borders (you know where the estate starts and finishes) but no real centre. Even though community centres and shopping precincts exist there is often a lack of a sense of community that unites all the residents on the estate. Some mini-communities may exist such as gangs of teenagers or the micro community between one or two neighbours especially on cul-de-sacs. Ravetz’s conclusion is that the experiment failed.
“As an attempt by one class to provide an improved environment and culture for another classs, council housing at best accommodated existing working-class culture: it did not renew it.” 
The inference is that it failed because it was essentially paternalistic in nature. It was an experiment by the upper and middle classes on a passive working class. As Lynsey Hanley observes:
“The first council houses were built in a spirit of something-has-to-be-done paternalism, reflecting the values that defined the Victorian era.” 
Hanley also believes that Council Estates failed because, in her opinion, they failed to deal with inequality.
“families who moved from the cities onto the new estates …could place themselves in a new class spectrum according to the poshness of the part of the estate they found themselves seconded to.” 
This suggested inequality of status appears to arise out of an inequality of provision. Whilst some estates and some parts of estates were regarded as desirable with well-built, well-kept homes and large, well-kept gardens, other parts of estates were seen as undesirable with poor condition, housing, often cheaply (and as we discovered with the Grenfell Tower fire unsafely) built and maintained high density, high rise apartment blocks.
Hanley sees a link between the environment and the class system commenting that “much of the stubborn rigidity of the British class system is down to the fact that class is built into the physical landscape of the country.”  Reflecting on her own upbringing on an estate, she observes:
“It’s not something you think about when you’re growing up. Wow, I’m alienated. My school is suffering from its single class intake. What this estate needs is a public transport infrastructure. It’s more a sense you have. A sense that someone who lives in a proper house in a proper town, sat on the floor of an office one day with a box of fancy lego bricks and laid out with mathematical precision, a way of housing as many people as possible in as small a space as could be got away with. And in so doing forgot that real people aren’t inanimate yellow shapes with permanent smiles on their plastic bodies. That real people might get lost in such a place.”
The result is that economic, social and cultural capital conspire with the environment to the disadvantage of council estate inhabitants. Often denigrated and looked down upon, they are demonised by the media and mocked by the wider population as “chavs.” As Owen Jones says:
“The term ‘chav’ now encompasses any negative traits associated with working-class people -violence, laziness, teenage pregnancies, racism, drunkenness and the rest.”
This leads Hanley to ask:
“I wonder if the stigma of coming from a council estate is ever turned to an advantage and whether that inherent sense of inferiority ever becomes a source of pride.” 
There have been substantial changes to estate life since the 1980s. One of the biggest social and economic changes that Margaret Thatcher brought in was the right to buy leading to the selling off of many council houses to their tenants. Some remained in their homes whilst others saw an opportunity to profit and to climb the social ladder by selling on and moving off of the estate. Today many estates will include a mix of owner occupied houses and tenant occupied whether rented Local Authorities, private landlords or social housing associations.
In Jones’ view the right to buy scheme either created or at least exacerbated division and inequality because it:
“drove a wedge through working class Britain, creating a divide between homeowners and council tenants. Right-to-buy meant that the best housing stock was sold off; and it was the relatively better off council tenants who were becoming homeowners. Those who remained council tenants tended to be poorer and in the worst homes.”
For Hanley, the issue is to do with choice and who has choice.
“The point is that most people now have a surfeit of choice in their lives at the same time as a large minority have none. That large minority tends to live on council estates whether in cities or outside of them. The 50 percent of poor people (that is whose incomes are less than 60 percent of the median average) who are homeowners also tend to live on council estates as beneficiaries of the right-to-buy-policy – proof, if any were needed that a property owning democracy doesn’t necessarily mean an equal one. They too have little choice where they live due to the fact that council housing -with the exception of one or two listed buildings in London – is never as desirable, and therefore can never be worth as much as private.”
As with the wider working class described by writers like Savage, there is a sense that those on estates are the victims of inequality, lacking power and choice they are in effect passive as those in power experiment with their lives.
Once again, it is important to remember that the story presented here is third hand, generalised and comes from those with their own agenda and their own solutions or “gospel” to offer. These accounts are helpful as we seek to get our bearings but no replacement for choosing to live life on the estate and getting to know your neighbours with their individual needs, concerns, hopes, dreams and desires. Indeed, whilst we are quick to talk about the problems on estates including poor housing, unemployment, gangs, crime, drugs etc we might also be encouraged by some to pay attention to the positives as well. Whilst the top down approach may not have created unified communities artificially, those micro-communities are real. Reflecting on the Shannon Matthews case, where a mother in Dewsbury arranged for her own daughters apparent kidnapping, Owen Jones comments that the newspapers presented an image of estate life that was entirely negative, an image drawn from the TV programme “Shameless” of a feckless, criminal, underclass. However,
“Journalists had to be more than a little selective to create this caricature. They didn’t mention the fact that when the media became bored with some scruffy working-class girl vanishing ‘up north’, the local community had compensated by coming together to find her. Scores of volunteers had tramped door to door with leaflets every night of her disappearance, often inpouring rain. They had booked coaches to take teams of people as far afield as Birmingham to hand out notices, while multi-lingual leaflets had been produced to cater for the area’s large Muslim population.”
“This sense of a tightly knit working-class community, with limited resources, united behind a common cause, never became part of the Shannon Matthews story.”
One of our strong memories of moving onto our estate was a knock on the door one snowy evening. A neighbour kept an eye out and spotted that our car wasn’t there. Sarah had parked a street away due to the icy, snowy conditions. It reminded me a little of the famous quote from the Falklands War about the Harrier Jets “I can’t tell you how many took part in the attack but I counted them all out and I counted them all back in again.” This is a place where people watch out for each other.
As we consider urban mission on estates we may want to search out examples of community spirit of art and culture whether reflected in graffiti, R&B music or sport and of street wisdom. As we look to discover the identity of the people we seek to minister to, we will start by seeing that they are humans, made in God’s image.
Is there something else going on?
As I reflect upon identity, I’m still not quite comfortable with the way that a lot of attention relating to urban mission has been placed on class. I’ve mentioned above the challenges involved in identifying class and particularly the working class and the middle class.
Then I read a blog post by a pastor in Cleckheaton, one of the typical West Yorkshire industrial, or post-industrial towns. Graham Thompson writes:
“I grew up, and have lived all my life, in industrial (and then post-industrial) West Yorkshire. And my formative years were during the 1980’s and 90’s (when industry was becoming increasingly post-). And in those days round here, it was us against the world. We were Yorkshire, we were working class (even when we weren’t), and we were ‘oppressed’ by middle class southerners. Whatever the truth was; that situation, this place, was crucial to the identity of so many Yorkshire people of my generation.”
I think that his comment “We were Yorkshire” hits the nail on the lead. Indeed, it would be even more localised than that. My experience growing up was that “we were Bradford” and more local than that, we identified with our particular part of South Bradford, the specific network of council and private estates. There were share connections and tribal links through schools, the football team (Rugby League didn’t capture the imagination or loyalties in quite the same way during the 80s and early 90s). I understand going back historically there would have been connections with the mill or factory.
What this means, is that, to challenge and modify Graham a little, I don’t think the “working class” thing mattered too much. It was only in fact when I got to University and met obviously posh, privately educated people with fake cockney accents trying to sell me the Socialist Worker newspaper that I began to hear about a so called class war. Indeed whisper it gently, but unlike South Yorkshire with the miners or Liverpool with its distinctive politics, there wasn’t even a big Labour-Tory thing. Bradford Council tended to switch between the two and South Bradford was a tight marginal.
Graham is right, the real “us and them” divide was with the posh outsiders. Posh-ness was about geography, the South and Harrogate. It was also about giving your self airs and graces, thinking you were better than everyone else. But if you kept your accent and your feet on the ground, you could own a supermarket chain, make a million, buy the football club and still be “one of us.” Rather than becoming middle class you were the “local boy done well.”
Identity in urban Britain is often about where we are from and who we are connected to. It’s geographical. This also means that over time, people from other ethnic backgrounds can grown to share that same identity. It also reflects something else often missed. This struck me a few years ago as I sat on the roof-top of a hospital in Menouf, Egypt. All around me were the signs of urbanisation as high rise blocks went up quickly. Yet walking through the streets were men and women herding animals and leading donkeys. I had seen similar scenes in Shenzhen, South China in my 20s. You could take people out of the country but you could not take the country out of them! Surrounded by urbanisation were people clinging on to their rural identity.
That perhaps explains the connections to mill, school, football team, specific estate. In the end, cities are just conglomerations of villages and we still seek our identity in small communities.
 Allen, Massey & Pryke, “Introduction: Unsettling Cities”, 1.
 Amin & Graham, “Cities of Connection and Disconnection”, 16.
 Amin & Graham, “Cities of Connection and Disconnection”, 16.
 Amin & Graham, “Cities of Connection and Disconnection”, 16.
 Linda McDonnell, “City life and difference: negotiating diversity”, 95-136 in Unsettling Cities (Ed John Allen, Doreen Massey and Michael Pryke. London: Routledge, 1998)..
 McDonnell, “City life and difference: negotiating diversity”,105.
 McDonnell, “City life and difference: negotiating diversity”,105.
 McDonnell, “City life and difference: negotiating diversity”,105.
 Smith, Seeking a City with Foundations, 129.
 Smith, Seeking a City with Foundations, 219.
 W Douglas Evans, My Lord, My Rock My Life (Carnforth, Lancs.: ECC Publications, 1993), 84-85.
 Evans, My Lord, My Rock, My Life, 85.
 John Piper, Bloodlines, Race, Cross and The Christian (Wheaton IL.: Crossway, 2011), 34.
 John Piper, Bloodlines, 34. Lucy was a black, domestic help at the Piper family home. Piper earlier acknowledges that this type of domestic help was in fact demeaning. Friendliness towards the family did not stop his racist thoughts and behaviour or that the relationship depended on a social and ethnic hierarchy. Piper, Bloodlines, 33.
 Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey (1959. Repr. Metheuen Student edition. Londo:Methuen Publishing Limited, 1982), 86.
 Variadzo, “A guide to being black”, 10.
 Variadzo, “A guide to being black”, 10.
 Variadzo, “A guide to being black”, 12.
 Variadzo, “A guide to being black”, 18.
 Nikesh Shuklah, “Namaste” Pages 1-9 in The Good Immigrant (Ed Nikesh Shuklah. London: Unbound, 2016), 1.
 Shuklah, “Namaste”, 1.
 Shuklah, “Namaste”, 7.
 https://twitter.com/revandyprime/status/1027986799111680012 accessed 16-08-2018
 https://twitter.com/kouya/status/1028182681400619008 accessed 16-08-2018
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 25-26.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 25. This reticence to talk about class, particularly among those regarded as working class created challenges for the Great British Class Survey. So Savage observes that: “It turns out that those who are interested in doing a twenty-minute web survey are far from being typical of the population as a whole. .. there were big disparities in levels of participation that we actually observed at the local level.” Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 7. “A huge 4.1 per cent of all those replying to the GBCS were chief executive officers (CEOs), which turns out to be twenty times more than we would expect, given the total number of CEOs in the labour force. We also see a dramatic over-representation of business and related finance professionals, and also all kinds of scientists, researchers and professionals. Experts, of all kinds, were drawn in droves to the GBCS.” If middle class representation in the survey was high, participation from those regarded as belonging to lower classes was significantly lower. “Out of the 161,000 respondents, not a single cleaner or worker in the elementary (basic) services or plastics processing answered. There were also very few glaziers, fork-lift truck drivers or the like.” Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 11-12. This meant that the survey had to be supplemented with other forms of research. Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 11-12.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 19.
 Owen Jones, Chavs, 174.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 6.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 26.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 29-30.
 Owen Jones, Chav, 82.
 Bavinck, The Science of Missions, 125.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 26.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 40.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 4.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 6.
 See Fig 7.2. Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 229.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 45-46.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 44-45.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 49-50.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 75.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 78.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 95.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 97.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 115.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 115.
 Percentage of graduates per class. See Fig 7.2. Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 229.
 Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, 131.
 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV).
 Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture, 8.
 Tudor Walters Report, 1918. Cited in Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture, 137. “Council housing, historically had two goals: the cure of poverty and the replacement of a working-class culture deemed undesirable by a new and ideal one.” Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture, 172.
 Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture, 138.
 Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture, 138.
 Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture, 138.
 Ravetz, Council Housing and Culture, 173.
 Linsey Hanley, Estates, 18.
 Linsey Hanley, Estates, 13.
 Linsey Hanley, Estates, 18.
 Linsey Hanley, Estates, 5.
 Owen Jones, Chavs, 8.
 Linsey Hanley, Estates, 5.
 On our cul-de-sac there is approximately a 50-50 split between owner occupied and rented. The ratios differ across the estate.
 Owen Jones, Chavs, 62.
 Linsey Hanley, Estates, 4.
 Owen Jones, Chavs, 20.
 Owen Jones, Chavs,20-21.
 Owen Jones, Chavs, 21.
 http://mardytomiddlin.org/theres-nowt-as-queer-as-yorkshire-folk/ accessed 02/08/2019.