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Building across generations

Some years ago, in my previous job as a bricklayer I was asked to provide an estimate to repair a hairline crack in a customer’s new home. Sensibly, they had paid for an extensive survey on the property, which had written off this crack as merely superficial. The customer was as shocked as I was to discover a crack behind the plaster, running from floor to ceiling, wide enough for me to fit my entire hand in.

Sometimes it can feel that way in our communities - what may look like minor fractures on the surface can run deep and wide. And much like my customer’s home, these cracks need more than a bit of filler and a lick of paint.

Our communities in Luton have often been stereotyped has being defined by these fractures - big stories in the media intend to expose these as running along the fault lines of politics, race, religions, and more. In our time living there we have seen protests and counter-protests, the impact of rolling out universal credit, and being voted “The worst town in Britain.” But this is not the whole story. We have also seen people from across diverse parts of the community standing together - such as in a recent peace vigil in solidarity with the victims of the Islamophobic attacks in Christchurch New Zealand. Moments like this give me real hope.

The Channel 4 program “24 hours in police custody” often features our town, and the episode “Stabbed” showed shocking footage which highlighted the problem of serious youth violence, especially involving knives. I use this language (as suggested by rapper/author Akala), as the more ubiquitous ‘knife crime’ reinforces narratives which are often used to criminalise young people and racialise the issue. It is an issue which has concerned me for some time, even more so after helping to run a project mentoring young people involved or at risk of involvement in gangs and violence.

In collaboration with local colleagues from different local Churches, charities and other agencies, we have decided to try to help raise the volume of this conversation locally. As part of the ‘Red Letter Christians UK’ launch this summer we are hosting Shane Claiborne (a peace activist from the US) and various Christian activists from the UK, for a day of conversation, action, and prayer. In the lead up to this we are planning to dialog with as many young people as possible, to hear from them how they are being affected, what would make them feel safe, and how they would respond to that age-old metaphor from the book of Isaiah of “Turning swords into Ploughshares” (Isaiah 2). We then intend to create some resources which can be used to amplify the conversation in schools and other places around Luton, including a sculpture made from donated knives (we had the idea before it got more mainstream - honest!) and a short film.

Two things have struck me from the work we have done so far - our friends and neighbours from many different Christian denominations, other faiths or no faith, and all sorts of different local organisations have shown a great deal of enthusiasm and support for this idea. This underlines my suspicion that joint-endeavour is better at bringing people together than shallow platitudes about one-ness. As I’ve already said, we can’t gloss over the cracks in our communities.

What I do know from experience, and from friends who have laboured in our town far longer than I have, is that lack of aspiration has been recognised as a major issue in our town. I’m not sure I like that language as it seems to victim-blame young people who are often failed by our paltry efforts. I would describe it as a lamentable lack of hope.

Young people will not engage in things where there is no hope of success, change, momentum or positive outcome. So as an amateur youth volunteer, ordinand (hopeful-future-vicar-in-training), and novice anthropo-theologian - my hunch is that the cracks in our communities can’t be healed without hope that they will stay fixed. That everyone will get a fair deal. That those with the chisels and the reinforcing-bar have the common good as their main goal.

Hope often requires sacrifice - be it time, energy or the willingness to take a stand – let’s work together to build a new spirit of hope across the nation.

“The true revolutionary is the one, who, like the God of Isaiah, seeks to make all things new, who seeks to give flesh and form to the passion for justice and mercy, and to a different order of relationships between men and women.” - Tim Gorringe writing on the life of radical priest Alan Ecclestone


Luke Larner

Luke and his family live in Luton, where they have journeyed alongside some of the most vulnerable members of the community. Formerly a bricklayer, Luke is training to become an Ordained Pioneer in the Church of England. Passionate about Jesus and Justice, and at home in the fertile creative ground on the edges of society. Loving things that are fast and loud, but finding God in the still and the quiet.

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