Steel City – post-industrial raw desert

March 22, 2010



Steel City – Sheffield, Uk (March 20th 2010).

This photo reminds me of growing up in and around Sheffield when I was young. Life often seemed to be grey and colourless as a child living in my area of the world. As a teenager, when I had to make my choices for a career I remember feeling a kind of industrial, alienation. Life seemed to consist in performance at school, going to University and then working in some job linked to industry. There was no spiritual, only physical, material and nothing beyond. I did not know what it was, but I felt this Absence. Money and heavy industry were the big influences on our lives. An overcast, slate, polluted, bleakness that I wanted to escape, but feared I never would.

It has taken me about two decades some years living abroad and University in London to come to the point where I feel at ‘home’ here in Sheffield back at my roots, dug in and turned over, buried into the rich soil of this hilly ground that has been covered over for so many years by industrial grit and grime, steel girders and factory bricks, smoke and pollution, tower blocks and neglected park land. Now I love it here. This is my home. My home on God’s earth and I feel privileged to be a part of this sometimes grim city. I now see beauty in Sheffield’s brokenness. Glory in the grey shadows. Overcaste skies and twisted broken metal speak to me of the world we live in colonised by humans, but never finally ruled by our civilisations. Each society and its advances slowly and inevitably die. Only the scars on the landscape remain. Yet these broken towns with histories of poverty and pain are the raw material of a world in a process of change. They are the delapidated walls that will be rebuilt. The wounded lives that will be made whole. If only we could dream it and see it pulsating around us. If we could touch the breath of spirit and believe it. Trust that there is an echo in the bleak housing estates and factory buildings of Sheffield that cries out:

 “Save me!”

“Save me!”

” Help me, not because I am as I ought to be… but in mercy because I am battered and bruised… and disfigured as I am…with all the colour washed out of me…I have only greys and blacks to present the world… even my white has become grubby with the dirt of this life!”



God, I believe hears the cries of the despairing and torn. God notices the flaking paint work and twisted rails of rusted steel in a desolate park on a bleak hillside. God hears those cries of the lonely and lost…aching, breaking, hurting, sobbing. Some are too desensitised to even shed tears, they are solely numb…senseless to the growing dull throbbing pain, living a life without colour, vibrancy or light.

“Christ has no body on earth but yours,

No hands but yours,

No feet but yours.

Yours are the feet with which,

He goes about doing good,

 And yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”

Saint Theresa of Avilla


Is God looking for helpers? Does God search for those who will as the ancient writings stated: “Worship him not on a  a special mountain or in a temple, but worship God in spirit and truth“…even on a cold barren hillside? Or in a defaced housing estate? Some discern this echo. They sense traces of a silenced message. They hear voices…whispers crying out from the agony of the ruins of this post industrial city? Are we the ones called on to help mend the bent metal and broken souls? To cut away the suffocating weeds and instead plant.  Plant trees and flowers and vegetables that will grow and beautify the land and nourish the folk? To create work – meaningful work for those lost in numbing post-industrial bleakness, who cravingly tranquilise the pain with consumer spending…another purchase…another hit…another sweet taste on the tongue to quench the desire for more…the lusting for a substance that can take away the PAIN!!?

“My Pain!” 

“Oh please, somebody…TAKE AWAY… my pain!!” 


Sheffield – Steel City. This is my home . I love this place. I want to serve it and help it heal. This land, this town has a postindustrial honesty to it. She doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what she is. She is a second city for many, even a third, fourth or fifth rate city for those outside. Yet, for those who belong they know  her worth. She proudly wraps her weary arms around the perimeters of those who shelter in her embrace. Like, a mother with only a few quid in her purse, a bottle of milk and an empty fridge, but with a loyal and caring heart. She cares for her children even if she cannot prevent them being beaten down by the world’s gritty harshness. South Yorkshire people have many weaknesses, surely this is true as it is of any town. Yet, there is also a  sobring frankness and transparency about them. Like the landscape they don’t pretend to have any airs or graces – what you see is what you get – cold, crushed metal and dirty, charmless concrete and bricks, but the presence of a bare soul. The naked, unglamouress, raw honesty of the land and her people. For some she is a desert to be escaped. After all these years, I sense a place to build a home. A desert yes, a post industrial wilderness, but a land where beauty will flow, where springs of fresh water will sprout out of the ground and flowers will grow.



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