At Christmas 2003, a 38-year-old woman named Joyce Vincent died in her flat in ‘Sky City’, a housing estate on top of the Mall shopping centre in Wood Green, London.
With the television and heating on, her body lay decomposing and undiscovered for around three years before it was discovered by housing officers. Why did it take so long?
One man spoke of overflowing bins and stair-wells that stank of drugs and urine. He also related how he had recently found a dead man in the lift clutching a bottle of drink.
Other residents highlighted the lack of community and the isolation on the estate. Nevertheless, the question remained insufficiently answered: where were the people who cared?
Fast-forward to 2013. Despite some improvements to security and a little more attention to cleaning the stair-wells, much about Sky City remains the same.
The estate has been a gang-set space for urban street collective ‘the Wood Green mob’. It is still a socially deprived, drug, drink and crime damaged residential ‘non-community’ that is in desperate need of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is changing though.
In September 2012, a new evangelical ministers’ fraternal, the North London Network, began meeting at the London Theological Seminary in Finchley, North London. It was suggested early on that some of its ministers meet on a weekly basis to do evangelism together.
Spencer Cunnah, pastor of Kensit Evangelical Church in Finchley and a member of the fraternal, said, ‘Frankly I initially thought that the suggestion was mad! How could it possibly work? But work it did!’
A team of ministers would meet for evangelistic work rotating between the areas where the pastors lived and served. The results have been encouraging, with many gospel opportunities, deepening bonds of fellowship and trust between the ministers.
Among the areas reached was Sky City. Grace Baptist Church, Wood Green, meets just around the corner from one of Sky City’s main entrances. For several years it has prayed and planned to work on the estate and has occasionally gone door-to-door with gospel presentations and invitations to church meetings.
However, they believe that now is the time for a more concentrated effort. With this in mind, the North London Network partnered with the church, represented by pastors Barry King and Ryan King, to discuss and pray over ways of effectively and strategically reaching the estate.
It was agreed that a community needs survey would be an excellent way of prayerfully exploring ways of serving and engaging the people of the estate, and a day was arranged with the caretaker to admit a team into Sky City for this purpose.
Residents were first asked what they thought was the greatest need in the community; the response was that, really, it is not a community. Several people could not give a specific answer, but then went on to list all that was wrong on the estate.
Others gave it some thought and, as if it had never occurred to them before, noted that they didn’t really know anyone and that everybody kept to themselves. However, this was not so if they were up to no good. One father said that he feared even letting his children go into the family garden, lest they be plied with drugs.
Through the survey it was confirmed that there is no ongoing gospel work on Sky City, the only active religious activity being from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The team noted down items for prayer from several residents, collected some contact details and secured open invitations to return for a further visit.
Where is all of this leading? The estate’s community centre is currently being refurbished, but Grace Baptist Church is on a waiting list of groups interested in using it once it becomes available.
The hope is that then, building on the contacts established with the fraternal’s assistance, they will be able to host ‘Grace in the Sky’, a brief series of simple and straightforward gospel presentations.
Their ultimate vision is to see a Christ-proclaiming fellowship established on the estate, an irresistible, gospel-driven presence, and what Sky City has long been missing — true community.