A Bishop in the Black Country

The Bishop of Wolverhampton, Christopher Mayfield, had spent the afternoon of Thursday 16th January in Lichfield. In the early evening he was back in Wolverhampton for another meeting before returning to Lichfield to address the Civic Society. This was a most stimulating meeting, effectively reminding us that although the built environment is the primary and legitimate concern of the Society, we should never forget that people are more important. Those of us who were disappointed that the Bishop of Lichfield was unable to attend this meeting were very adequately compensated by the presentation given by his surprisingly inexhaustible colleague from Wolverhampton.

Post Industrial Revolution social development resulted in the growth of an ambitious strata of society aspiring to escape from back-to-back housing, shared lavatories and stand-pipes, built in the shadow of grim and glowering factories - the source of both wealth and misery. Successive generations have climbed out of 'down-town' to the leafy suburbs, bathrooms and gardens. As the Bishop said "those with get-up-and-go have got up and gone".

The gradual erosion of the social fabric of the old communities, accelerated during the post-war building boom and the 1960s ferro-concrete monolithic high-rise epidemic, has been further degraded by more recent factory closures and unemployment.

Whereas many of us are among the numerous beneficiaries of society's changes, those who have not escaped are indeed "left behind". They are marginalised, powerless to exercise the choices which others have enjoyed and used. These are the people about whom the Bishop expressed concern. He described the Black Country as being made up of urban villages from which the ambitious have succeeded in moving, leaving behind those who now strive to seek an identity and are most frequently suffering from family break-up, unemployment and hopelessness. Some initiatives which he described included a 'drop-in' centre established by leather-clad bikers who, recognising a need in themselves, found a way of meeting that need in others. The Church has helped to nurture this project and has initiated others including the conversion of churches, establishing health clinics and language classes for Asian women and setting up a factory that provides skill-training for young people.

This was an evening of sociological exploration and explanation leading to a question time when the unanswerable was asked and responded to with a quick-footed avoidance of political partiality.

Ivor Mitchell
January 1992