As part of her introduction to her new Diocese, Bishop Sarah visited St George-in-the-East on 3rd May 2018 to celebrate with local school children following a successful campaign for affordable homes on Cable Street. At the invitation of Priest-in-Charge Fr Angus Ritchie, Bishop Sarah led a service of thanksgiving with pupils from St Paul’s CE School, Whitechapel, before processing to the site of a new Community Land Trust to bless the plot of land secured for affordable housing thanks to the efforts of a local campaign.
From the summer of 2015 onwards, St George’s engaged in a community listening process to identify issues on which local people want to act together to achieve change. In June 2016, the church hosted a “Shadwell Assembly” at which affordable housing was identified as the issue on which there was most appetite for common action.
Members of St George’s and Darul Ummah Mosque then went on a “Walk for Affordable Housing” to identify land on which affordable homes could be built. It was at this point that the Cable Street site was identified, and it was established that this land was owned by Transport for London. The land had been earmarked to be sold off as a purely commercial development.
During the autumn of 2016, an Action Team from the church, mosque and wider neighbourhood was developed. The Team led the campaign, within the wider London Citizens alliance, for the land to be developed instead as a Community Land Trust. The parish primary school, St Paul’s became involved in the campaign in 2017.
In January 2017, the Mayor of London announced the success of the campaign. All the housing to be built on the Cable Street site will be part of a Community Land Trust – and the Greater London Authority will compensate Transport for London for the revenue they will lose by not selling it on the open market.
The success of the campaign reflects the new life that has been breathed into St George-in-the-East. In 2015, with an average Sunday congregation of under 20, the parish entered into a partnership with the Bishop of Stepney and the Centre for Theology and Community (CTC) to renew its life. Central to this renewal has been the practice of community organising, rooted in theological reflection and prayer.
Since 2015, St George’s average Sunday congregation has grown to 60, with two midweek congregations being planted (one in the parish primary school). At the heart of St George’s renewal has been a Lay Community, with a life of common worship, and training in community organising. They minister alongside the clergy to identify and develop grassroots leaders within the congregation and the wider parish. Claire Moll (2016-17) and Miriam Brittenden (2017-) have been Lay Community members with particular responsibility for the affordable housing campaign.