Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2011 Census Data - Mapping Your Town/Village/City


Remember the 2011 census? Whatever happened to all that information?

Well here's some of it, a mapping tool for deprivation data, where you can input your postcode and find out how it ranks on crime, employment, incomes for families and older people, living environment, or all deprivation factors combined. Above is the 'multiple deprivation' map for Yeovil - the purple bits are the two most deprived 'output areas' (neighbourhoods to you and me), both in the 10% most deprived areas nationally.

The area of Sheffield where I grew up turns out to be in the 100 least deprived areas nationally (out of over 33,000). So it turns out I'm reight posh.

New BBC Schedules Revealed

Meal or No Meal: live broadcast from the new Job Centre Minus, where 24 people whose benefits have been stopped compete for an offer from the Food Banker.

Relocation Relocation Relocation  An exploration of government policy towards refugees. 

CountryFile: a dossier containing the personal details of everyone living within 50 miles of Hinkley Point is offered to the Chinese government, in return for a couple of free batteries. Details of the presenter still to be confirmed, we think its somebody Craven.

Doctors: A quiet week at the surgery. Of the 5 staff, one is off with stress, one is on a Junior Doctors protest march, one has just quit to work for the private sector, and one is too busy with paperwork to see any patients. That just leaves the agency guy, who came in 2014 from Uganda for 3 weeks work experience and is still here. Subtitles. 

Doctor Who?: Like Doctors, but from the patients point of view. 

Doctor Where?: Like Doctors, but broadcast from a country with a life expectancy 20 years below that in the UK, whose doctors are being poached to fill holes in the NHS.

Song of Praise: Cut down version to make more time for shopping. Unfortunately the lady in last weeks live interview from Sports Direct, talking about faith in the workplace, has been sacked for not working on a Sunday. 

Escape to the Country: this week featuring two families, a UKIP member from Uxbridge who wants to build a new house for his retirement to Devon, and an Eritrean family trying to walk through the Channel Tunnel. 

Pointless: documentary on the value of promises made during election campaigns. 

Strictly No Dancing: it probably wasn't a good idea to send Tess Daly to report on the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Her sentence has been reduced to 350 lashes.

Downton Abbi: A footballers girlfriend looks for a stately home he can buy for a weeks wages. Quite a few to choose from in his price range, as it turns out. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's Wrong With This Picture?


"We are analysing your feedback". So says the government consultation page on Sunday Trading law reform today. The consultation ran for 6 weeks up to September, and here's what I sent in as my feedback.

Analysing my feedback? No you're not. David Cameron still wants to do what he promised not to, to make Sunday another shopping day just like any other. This seems to be yet another calculated lie by the government. Seriously Dave, you never intended to take any notice of this 'consultation' did you? If the government were still analysing the feedback, they wouldn't have planned to vote through the homogenisation of Sundays next week, thankfully now withdrawn due to pressure from Conservative MPs.

At PMQ's yesterday, Cameron had the chance to back existing Sunday trading laws, instead he said 'there is a strong case for change', and said that his plan hadn't changed, the government was still going to give local authorities the chance to scrap Sunday trading restrictions. 'Choice' and 'modernisation' won't apply to the people who have to work on Sundays, and as for Camerons claim that liberalisation creates jobs, the evidence actually points the other way.

Maybe there's a donor trail that has something to do with all this. There certainly isn't an evidence trail.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Moral Austerity: Steep Government Cuts to Promise Keeping

I'm starting to lose count of the number of promises the Conservatives made before the election that they have ripped up in the last 5 months. Forget the budget deficit, there is a widening trust deficit:

“I can assure you that we have no current plans to relax the Sunday trading laws. We believe that the current system provides a reasonable balance between those who wish to see more opportunity to shop in large stores on a Sunday, and those who would like to see further restrictions.”  Instead the government launched a hideously skewed 'consultation' on changes to the law, and plans to introduce back-door reforms have been headed off this week by rebel MPs

We will invest a record £13 billion in transport for the North....on top of our £50 billion commitment to build High Speed 2 – the new North-South railway linking up London with the West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester – and develop High Speed 3 to join up the North. (Manifesto p12)...electrifying the Midland Main Line from St Pancras to Sheffield.....electrification of the Great Western Main Line –bringing new fast trains on the route. (p12) 'frozen' in June 2015, with plenty of evidence that the Conservatives knew this wasn't a promise they would keep.

We will increase NHS spending every year. (Conservative Manifesto p9). All depends how you measure it. Rising in cash terms, but falling as a % of GDP.

we will back British businesses (p18)  (unless they make solar panels, steel....)

we will freeze working age benefits for 2 years from April 2016 (p29). I.e. they won't fall. A pledge Cameron repeated in the election campaign on a specific question about tax credits. 

Both promises broken.

I'm posting this not because I'm a standard lefty Anglican, but because I think trust is vital, and people who break trust, especially those who have specifically asked for it, need to be called out. If we get to a stage where words mean nothing, where they are said for effect (to get votes) rather than for meaning or truth content (i.e. you actually mean them) then we're stuffed. We can't afford to get used to a situation where we are routinely misled, and accept it as a fact of life, whether it's politicians, phone salesmen or advertisers.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Cameron is a serial promise breaker. This is not one or two incidents, where there's an understandable train of events that has derailed best intentions. Its systematic, habitual, deliberate, and seemingly done without shame or apology. If he suggests to Samantha that they renew their wedding vows, she should be seriously worried.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Dude Samaritan

Cake-or-Death-Christian-Church-Religious-Cartoons-by-Alex-Baker-Good-Samaritan-Big-Lebowski-Jeff-Bridges-The-Dude-Abides-345-(August-17-2015)

From the excellent Cake or Death cartoon blog. I was sad to see that ASBO Jesus wasn't cartooning any more, but I guess once you've produced about 1000 of the things, a break is well deserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When Should My Parish Church Be Demolished?

There, I trust that picture makes perfect sense.

Alright then... the CofE (not before time) has just launched a major report and review into the use, upkeep and management of its 16000 church buildings. Nearly half the Grade 1 listed buildings in the country are Anglican churches, and many of those are in rural areas, with small populations and even smaller congregations.

The chart above, from the full report, illustrates the big presenting issue. Each vertical line represents a set of the 16000 churches. The line & value in the middle is the average congregation, and the upper and lower lines are the 75th and 25th percentiles. In other words, 25% of CofE congregations are larger than 81, and 25% are smaller than 16.

Outside the CofE, I'm not aware of many groups with a membership of 15 who own their own premises, let alone own premises which are grade 1 listed.

It's even trickier in rural areas. 25% of the congregations there are in single figures, and another 25% are between 10 and 19.

Putting the buildings on the back of a truck and shipping them to where they're needed (new housing estates, replacing urban churches like my own which are now too small for a growing area and congregation) isn't really an option. So far we have muddled through, but the dead stones need to serve the living stones of the church, not stifle them.

If the local church becomes a fundraising body with 'keeping the building open' as its top priority, it is no longer the church Jesus Christ came to establish. Marshall McLuhan observed that we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us. In many places the church (i.e. the people) is being forced out of shape by premises which may be beautiful and soaked in prayer, but are a burden more than they are a blessing. Any local church which couldn't conceive of its existence without a church building would be best served by losing the building anyway. Once masonry (of either sort) defines a church, it's in serious trouble.

There's an open consultation running for several months, and a few ideas already being floated. My fear is that it could turn out much like government planning law: lots of people agreeing in principle that 'something must be done', but hardly anybody wants it done here. At the other extreme, we don't want a Beeching-like cull that destroys all the branch lines.

PS I wonder if there is any causal relationship between a church not being listed, and it having a bigger than average congregation? It would make sense....

update: helpful piece from Ian Paul.
and another from the National Churches Trust.
Richard Chartres lecture on the Diocese of London, reported here a few days ago, talks about creative uses of church buildings in urban settings. The report and consultation is maybe a chance to think more creatively than 'keep them all open at whatever cost' or 'close them all down'.
and quite a bit on the mixed blessing of buildings in this sermon by the ABofC

Monday, October 12, 2015

How is being a Christian like being a Pumpkin?



Maybe this year I'll get one....

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Prayer for #WorldMentalHealthDay

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Our Education Secretary Has Forgotten What Schools are For

Bring back Michael Gove, all is forgiven.....
Speaking at the Conservative party conference, Ms Morgan said: "We're going to give more working parents something the best schools already do."
"We will be giving families in thousands of schools a 'right to request' their school provides childcare for a full working day, before and after school and during the school holidays.
"If enough parents call for childcare at their local school, we will expect the school to take reasonable steps to accommodate it, in a way that works for them.
"Because we want working parents to have the confidence their child is in a happy and safe environment."
Schools are places of education, they are not a babysitting service. Nicky Morgan has forgotten what schools are for. The schools should exercise their 'right to refuse' this silly policy. I despair that the Conservatives have picked up where Labour left off: the more time parents can spend at work, and the less time with their children, the better. As the school day expands, and free nursery places get pushed back to a younger and younger age, there'll come a point where the government simply seize our children at birth and kick us out of hospital to go and find a job.

Monday, October 05, 2015

What the World Eats, Or Doesn't.

Germany: The Sturm Family of Hamburg. 

Food Expenditure for One Week: € 253.29 ($325.81 USD). Favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta.

This British family spend just over £260 per week on food.

This family in Chad spend about 80p
Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp.

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23.
Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat.

'Hungry Planet - what the world eats' has 27 snapshots from round the world of a weekly diet for different families. If you've not caught it yet, Hans Roslings superb BBC programme on ending world poverty is still available on Iplayer, and is really worth a look. It combines brilliant presentation of the stats, with simple stories of how well-targeted aid and help could transform lives.

I showed a selection of the Hungry Planet photos to a school harvest assembly today, where we were collecting for the local food bank. One little boy got it straight away: 'why don't we send all this food to Chad?'

Saturday, October 03, 2015

London: Lessons for the Church of England

A couple of days ago Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, delivered a lecture on the remarkable turnaround in the Diocese of London. For the last 20 years, London has been just about the only place in the CofE which has been growing, whilst all but 1 of the other 42 Dioceses have been shrinking, some at an alarming rate.

In terms of England, London is an exceptional place, but there are other Dioceses (Southwark, Chelmsford) which also cover parts of the capital, and there are particular things that London Diocese has done that others could learn from. Some will be more controversial than others.

Here's a few of them, with some quotes from the lecture.

The mission of the church is to all sectors of society, not just the most vulnerable: We can regret this now, but at the time it seemed to be inevitable and even meritorious that the Church should retreat from what could be regarded as imperial over-reach to associate itself with the voiceless in the back streets. Sympathy with vulnerable local communities also led the church into sustained opposition to major new developments, notably Canary Wharf where no attempt was made to establish a Christian presence in what was effectively a new town with a working population which now exceeds that of Leicester.

Scrap the boards: there was an energy-sapping superstructure of boards and committees for Mission, Unity, Ministry, Social Responsibility and the like, all of which had been established during the period of decline with the professed aim of widening participation in decision-making and stimulating action. The result, of course, was the very opposite as I discovered as Chairman of the Board of Ministry. Over-worked members of the Diocesan staff found themselves discussing the same issues over and over again in slightly different forums. There were ideas in plenty and not a few “initiatives” but little energy left over for implementation..........No one has ever said to me “if only we had a Board of Mission we would have done some mission”. Instead a black hole of energy was closed and, as a result, effort directed to supporting those individuals and places which signalled life and possessed the missionary gene.....We significantly reduced the number of Diocesan advisers in the belief that financial resources were better deployed in local mission initiatives.
If a Diocese doesn't have a focus and a vision, everyone will do their own thing, and internal divisions will increase: a sense of drift and consequent fragmentation as people identified with their own parish or Area over against the “Diocese”..... introduction of Mission Action Planning focussed attention on growth rather than on the various divisive issues.

Back the missionaries, even if they aren't your type: The local hierarchy was unwilling to see HTB as much more than a conventional parish in the Area, and in particular was keen to restrict the numbers of curates that the Church could employ, even though there was finance available to enlarge the staff. The restrictions were fuelled by a liberal distaste for charismatic evangelicalism and a conviction that the supply of curates should be evenly spread throughout the Diocese, irrespective of the capacity to pay

parish clergy need to be held to account: in one parish which sociologically offered good prospects for the Church of England, an elderly single- handed parson was replaced by the standard bearer for one of the extreme churchmanship factions. The new man was given two able curates financed by the London Diocesan Fund, and within two years the electoral roll which had stood at 110 had been reduced to 75. It apparently occurred to no one that this was a scandalous situation. What right had any outsider to criticise parochial policies?

Technique is no substitute for holiness: The one thing that cannot be delegated is one’s own prayer and study of the scriptures. An MBA in ecclesiastical administration is no substitute for the development of a beginner’s mind and acquiring the teachability with which the Spirit can work.

Find new purposes for old buildings: Chartres gives several examples of redundant churches which were given a new focus - e.g. as a centre for reconciliation. Not every building has to be used to house a congregation, but neither do they all have to be sold off. 

Abolish the 'tax on growth' system of collecting funds from parishes to finance the work of the church: We reduced the mysteries of the old formula by inviting each parish to pay for its ministry costs .... Well-financed parishes were encouraged to pay over the odds to support Christian ministry in areas of need. The effect was to abolish the fine on growth and release money to be spent close to where it was raised. It proved to be possible to support the work of the church in less affluent areas although, as so often, parishes which had been subsidised proved willing and able to rise to the challenge of greater self-sufficiency. 

Reform Diocesan structures so that people are accountable for their actions, and pursue a shared vision: Unity in the Diocesan team and in the structure of the Diocese has been an important ingredient in being able to pursue consistent policies addressed to growth. 

The current way of ever more thinly spread clergy is not sustainable: The healthier financial situation enabled the diocese to avoid the widespread formula of reducing clergy numbers by multiplying the number of churches for which an individual cleric is responsible. This may be an effective cost-cutting strategy but it is not an effective mission strategy and is calculated only to maintain congregations rather than growing them.

The parish system is good, but it's not enough: It is obvious that, while there is huge virtue in the parish church ideal, the parochial system in the Church of England, with its excess of law, is open to being manipulated by small groups who wish to frustrate unwelcome mission initiatives. In an urban setting, while flexible agreements about areas of pastoral care for each parish church are clearly desirable, mission to networks that are not principally defined geographically argues for an unfreezing of rigid parochial boundaries that have long since ceased to correspond to sociological realities. 

criticise well, or don't criticise at all: Publically expressed and constructive criticism should always be welcome, but subversives, “weevils of the commonwealth”, those who damage morale by cynicism and gossip have to be weeded out.

Invest in church planting: ....our pledge of establishing 100 new worshipping communities in London by 2020 ...My prayer is that it will be possible to learn from our experience -- and especially our mistakes -- so that other places will be able to surpass our successes.
Recognise where to engage: The need for greater clarity and a confident response to the incessant propaganda directed against so called “faith schools” has been recognised in the Diocese, and is one of the themes of Capital Vision 2020 which has risen to the top of the agenda in the current year.  
Prayer and vision are fundamental: The Christian community will continue to thrive as long as it is vision-led and not problem-led. Prayer of the persevering kind that marks the 24/7 prayer movement really does open the door to God’s future while the Holy Spirit never leaves himself without witnesses.

sorry about the uneven formatting! Good old Blogger....

Update: Cranmer has also done a presee of the lecture, with chunky quotes from it. Imitation is the sincerest form.... ;-)

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Unholy Statistics: British Humanist Society and Schools

The British Humanist Association has published a report on faith schools, 'Unholy Mess', claiming that As many as hundreds of thousands of children have been unlawfully denied access to religiously selective state schools in England

That's a big claim, there are 4700 Church of England state schools alone, with over 1 million children attending them. According to the BHA "almost all of (them) are failing to comply" with the official Schools Admission Code. 

Ok, just imagine this. A village of 4700 people. 70 people are interviewed. Some of them don't even live in the village, but are from a similar village down the road. If 43 of them had a significant weight problem, would you deduce that 'almost all' of the people in the village are fat?

Church of England schools were only 1/3 of the schools in the 43, yet the results are extrapolated to every CofE school, primary and secondary.  There are clearly some practices which need sorting out, but it looks very much as though the evidence has been interpreted to fit the BHAs agenda. 

The BHA's solution is not to recommend that the schools get in line with standard admissions criteria, but that they be scrapped completely. As a VW owner, I'm just glad they're not in the used car market, or they'd be calling for 1.2m German motors to be melted down tomorrow.

Update: a couple of responses
 Reverend Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said: “We would strongly refute any suggestion that our schools have a near universal noncompliance with the code. The OSA annual report tells a very different story to this over-exaggerated report, which equates small administrative errors or minuscule technicalities with major systemic failure. If schools were able to focus more time on getting on running their schools, rather than responding to these sorts of campaigns, children would be better served.


“The majority of Church of England schools do not prioritise their places on the basis of church attendance, and most of those that do still make places available for children in the school’s immediate community. Our secondary schools have an average of 10 per cent selection by religious criteria – this is based on church attendance only. We also have as many pupils on free school meals as the national average, some much higher."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We want every child to have access to the best education possible, and where there is evidence a school does not have fair and transparent admissions arrangements, swift action will be taken.
"We will consider the findings of BHA's report carefully. All of the objections they have listed have now been resolved."
i.e. all the issues can be sorted within the current system, rather than by scrapping it.