It’s all about people

In this month’s parish magazine, Rector Alan reflects on how important the contributions of each and every one of us is, even in the centre of a metropolis like London

A farewell to Miranda

I doubt if any of our readers has heard of Miranda (Suit), who has been running the kitchen for the homeless community in the basement café of the American Church on Tottenham Court Road for ten years. There is no particular reason why you should, unless you’ve been seriously hungry or have volunteered. But Miranda is one of those people who make things happen for those for whom nothing any longer works, and who does so as a sign, and because, of her Christian charity. She gets paid, but I doubt if it is all that much, and probably far less than she could receive elsewhere.

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The American Church in Tottenham Court Road

Managing the life of the kitchen, attracting volunteers, making sure there is enough food and clothing to hand out four days a week, listening to the needs of those who descend the metal stairs from the pavement above, praying for them, dreaming up new schemes to assist them, dealing with their anger and frustration: this, and a good deal more, has been her calling these past ten years. And now she is leaving to give more time to her extended family, as she has every right to do. And Miranda is not alone. There are many, as we like to say, ‘unsung heroes’ like Miranda, but she is one I have met locally and been so impressed by. God willing, another Miranda will come to take her place because the homeless have not suddenly lost their appetite nor solved their needs. Au contraire: because from the evidence of those sleeping on the streets here about, things are worse, and with far more younger people. But remember Miranda, please. It’s always about people, always people.

A ten year bell-ringing anniversary

Here is something I forgot to include in January; that for 48 minutes on Sunday, 4th December, Richard Casserley, Prudence Fay, James Ingham, Thomas Hardin, Martin Sutcliffe, Thomas Lawrence and Adrian Udal (caller) rang the 1280 Yorkshire Surprise Major on the bells of St Giles-in-the-Fields to mark and celebrate the return of the restored tenor bell ten year’s earlier on that same day which had then re-united the eight bells of the ring. My informant adds that the average age is 318 (is this bells or ringers, I wonder?)  and also puts in brackets (14 – 0 – 16 in F) which I confess I do not understand and would need some explaining (though even then I might struggle).

All of which simply leaves me to conclude: ‘It’s about people, always people:’ community projects, church life, bells, remembering what matters from the past. This is what we do best. I am very grateful to Adrian and co. for ringing this anniversary. I only hope the people in the flats opposite, some of whom complain from time to time, were also appreciative. The sound of bells rising about the traffic must surely be one of the most ancient, evocative last remaining sounds of old London. We are indebted to out tower ringers for keeping this alive.

Digging up the past around St Giles

My thanks to those who passed on to me two newspaper reviews of a book by Gillian Tindall which came out last September. The book is called ‘The Tunnel Through Time: A New Route for an Old London Journey’ (published by Chatto & Windus) and tells, as you might guess, of what has been revealed through a succession of archaeological excavations along the Crossrail route, especially within the metropolitan centre. ‘The book intrepidly explores 20 centuries of London history,’ one reviewer wrote, ‘and finds, for example, multiple layers of history in the parish of St Giles . . . beginning with its medieval leper house. These include its country houses [when the fields were fields], the various iterations of the parish church, the ill-fated suburban development of Seven Dials, the slum Rookery demolished for New Oxford Street and the 1960’s icon Centre Point.’ The point is then made, sadly, that Crossrail will also bring about the destruction of the late 17th century Denmark Place, off Denmark Street, (to which destruction shall be added that from the other building project currently digging up the land immediately to the north of Denmark Street).

Duchess Dudley Memorial

Tomb of Frances Kniveton © Andrea Liu 2012

The book (which, as you can tell, I have not read as yet) is strongest, according to another reviewer, when discussing the lives of the suburban gentry of the Tudor and Stuart periods (they were suburban then), and among them that of the Dudley family of St Giles. Gillian Tindall describes visiting St Giles one day and standing before the tomb of the recumbent figure of Frances Kniveton,  daughter of the renowned benefactor of St Giles, Lady Dudley. ‘I wonder,’ she writes, ‘if she resembled her mother? I have measured her, guessing her to be much the same height as myself. Indeed, she is about 5ft 6in, tall for the time in which she lived; a slim figure with an oval face and heavily lidded eyes.’  It’s about the people again, past or present making little difference. We walk in other shoes, do we not?

Chaplain to the Art Workers’ Guild

In December I became chaplain to this Guild, which meets in a period house, specially built for the purpose, in Queen Square. The previous chaplain, John Valentine from St George’s nearby, wanted to step down and so asked if I was interested; I was. I have now discovered that Gordon Taylor, Rector at St Giles for the 2nd half of the 20th century, had been chaplain in his time as well and that some members of the Guild (all are called ‘brothers,’ women included) look upon St Giles as a kind of home to the Guild. So more by chance than design, I have  taken up the mantle.

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The Art Workers’ Guild Hall

The Guild was founded in 1884 by a group of young architects and designers who wanted to create a meeting place for the fine arts and the applied arts on an equal footing. Many of the prominent figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement at that time were active in the first fifty years of the Guild’s life. Its principle of ‘learning by doing’ soon spread through art education and has had a worldwide influence. The Guild values and represents traditional craft skills as well as maintaining a dialogue with modern design. Meetings, twice a month, take the form of talks and discussions according to a programme drawn up by the Master (the presiding member) for each year. This year’s master, Phil Abel, is a small-scale, craft printer, so that lettering design, past and present, will be a feature of this year’s talks. No one really seems to know what a chaplain is for but, undaunted, I look forward to being involved with them.

Camden Community Connectors

In December I met with John Hayes. John is part of a social care organisation called Camden Community Connectors,  whose aim is to build up a network of volunteers to tackle the growing problem of isolation among the elderly members of the community. John, who works in the southern section of the borough (where we are), visits people at home, draws together and encourages local groups (including churches) working with the more isolated, and trains volunteers so that they can visit individuals in their homes with a view to connecting them with local community services. The project, which is independent of local government, is grant funded for three years. The hope is that if the scheme can become established then further funding will follow for future years. Let’s hope so.