Sorted Issue 61
Our 10th birthday special edition stars Bear Grylls, Jeremy Vine, Patrick Regan, Paul Blakey MBE, Gary Grant, John Lord plus our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
Angels Head to the Streets, Festivals and Clubs ~ by Paul Blakey MBE
Every weekend hundreds of people head into town and city centres. These people are not there to have a drink or spend the night clubbing but rather become Angels to help others have a safe and fun night out.
Street Angels was launched in Halifax, West Yorkshire in 2005. The town had the reputation of being the Wild West of West Yorkshire as between 8 and 12,000 people would visit the town on weekend evenings. Coach trips and visiting football fans, attracted by cheap booze and more pubs and clubs than any other town of in the UK, sadly meant that violence, binge drinking, sexual assaults and under-age drinking were commonplace.
Wandering round the town to see the problems for himself, Paul Blakey remembers, “My wife and I observed many horrendous incidents in the town centre. Police were struggling to control fights; we found trails of blood and vomit; people were passed out in the gutter and there were things happening in alleyways we would rather not have seen. As Christians we thought our town deserved better and we felt called to make a lasting difference. This led to the idea of a café being opened in the town, which was run by the YMCA and Churches Together, as a safe place drop-in.”
Meeting the police a few weeks later, Paul shared the idea and the town centre police sergeant, Dave Apsee, became excited. Several agencies had talked about the problems. TV crews and local newspapers had sensationalised the issues. Paul explained, “If we were prepared to do rather than talk, the police were keen to work with us. Dave then asked if we could launch in two weeks’ time, Friday 25 November 2005, to tie in with the change in the licensing laws. We said yes – Christmas not being that busy a time for Christians!”
Emails were sent to churches, and a front page headline in the local paper said “Drop by if you are drunk” (not quite the expected tone). Paul commented, “On that first Friday, if we are honest, not having a clue what we were doing or what to expect, we were amazed when 50 people turned up to volunteer. [There were] far too many to sit waiting to help people in our small café, so we took flight to the streets and Street Angels was born; safe people who would patrol the town (on day two onwards in fluorescent yellow jackets) and [we would] offer a safe place drop-in on Friday and Saturdays between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.”
It worked. In the first 12 months violent crime in the town centre reduced by 42%. The Home Office carried out an in-depth study as to why Halifax police had lied about how bad the town was– they worked out they hadn’t, and put the amazing change down to the police being willing to work in partnership and people who cared out on the streets of the town centre helping others at a time when it was most needed.
Since then the Angels have spread their wings far and wide. The second Street Angels was set up in Watford in July 2006, with other towns and cities quickly getting on board.
Christian Nightlife Initiatives Network was set up in 2008 to support the replication and growth, and since then they have expanded into work at festivals and sporting events, inside club venues and overseas in Magaluf, Tenerife, the Seychelles and soon, America. The Street Angels in Magaluf have received much media coverage, from Newsnight to Songs of Praise. During the 2017 season the group launched The Gap café to offer a safe place and presence in the daytime.
Club Angels was a response to the needs inside club venues and started in Leeds in 2011. Teams of young Christians put on T-shirts saying “chat, help, listen, care – PS we’re Christians ask us more if you want” and hang out in the queues, the toilets, smoking areas and on the dance floor to see what happens. The Club Angels team are there to offer emotional support, a sick bowl when needed, but also to pray with clubbers and staff and have conversations around life, spirituality and faith.
The work of Festival Angels was set up as a response by local churches to Leeds Festival. With 85,000 festival-goers in and around Bramham Park, a lady from the Methodist church believed that the church needed to be at the festival. Through conversation with organisers Festival Republic, they were offered a marquee to run a café. In the first year a few people from the local church ran a Prayer Café and in the second year extended the opening hours. By year three Festival Republic were so impressed with the Prayer Café that they asked if they could extend the hours so that it was open all the times the festival was running, and also if they could take over the running of the Lost Property tent and have detached teams that patrolled the festival site.
Not ones to turn down a challenge the team said yes, rebranded as Festival Angels and began recruiting volunteers from across the region. Leeds Festival Angels now attracts around 170 volunteers every August Bank Holiday weekend. The team is ready to deal with absolutely anything. Sunny weather means suntan lotion and bottles of water are in high demand, whereas torrential rain means the Prayer Café becomes a safe and welcome refuge from tents that are three-quarters submerged in mud. The Prayer Café sells thousands of mugs at £5 each with unlimited free refills of tea and coffee for the duration of the festival. The Lost Property team are on hand to reunite phones, wallets, cash, bank cards, passports, tent poles and car keys with the rightful owners. The most amount of cash in a wallet handed in – £650. The response from the owner when he discovered all the contents in place was something along the lines of “goodness me”. The work of Festival Angels is now expanding to other festivals, with Boardmasters in Cornwall in 2017 and other festivals exploring the idea.
Paul summarised, “The heart of our work is simply to love the person in front of you. Be it offering flip-flops to young ladies whose high heels prove to be too painful, to first aid, bottles of water, offering directions or giving out lollipops (that help to stop fights – yes, seriously). At festivals, including Boardmasters and Leeds, you will find the teams helping put up tents, running prayer cafés, heading up the Lost Property or handing out drinks to the security team. Our banners at the festivals proclaim, with a John Lennon-esque Jesus, that Jesus Loves Festivals – and we believe he does and that he would be there crowd-surfing the main stage and undercutting the cost of food from the burger vans. Inside clubs you will find our Club Angels with T-shirts saying ‘chat, help, listen, care’ and the volunteers are doing just that and creating better nights out for clubbers as a result.”
Why not get involved in a project near you? For more details see cninetwork.org or follow us on social media – facebook.com/cninetwork and twitter.com/cninet
Cold Silence and Solitude. Hiking in Sarek ~ by Corinna Leenan
In the summer of 1967 a guy halts his steps in a field in Wiltshire, retraces his steps the way he came for a few yards – then turns back. He repeats this to-ing and fro-ing for a while. At some point he steps aside and photographs the line which has become visible in the flattened turf as a record of his walking.
July 2017: I halt in the middle of a large snowfield in Laponia, turn around to see that our feet have worn a brown line into the surface and press the button of the GoPro to film Tom struggling towards me across the ice.
The guy in Wiltshire is Richard Long, English sculptor and land artist. His photograph is in the Tate Modern and bears the title ‘A Line Made by Walking’.
Long and I have this in common: We are both fascinated by the meaning of paths and leaving traces.
With repetition, small interactions like ‘walking’ become well-worn marks in the landscape. But by and large, the only traces we register as human interaction with the landscape are toilet paper, mostly, and other rubbish. They are annoying disruptions of the landscape – they don’t belong there. Long shows us that the path itself, the cairns built alongside the way, are, in fact, disruptions. But they seem to us as natural as the hills and streams.
To the objective we have in mind next, paths, marked trails and the absence of them take on great meaning. In any case, the idea of getting away as far as possible from signs of civilisation has always been intriguing to me, progressing further and further with each trip. Now, in a hut in the northern edges of Sweden, I’m poised on the threshold of an age-old dream. Getting away from it all. To do this we have taken three flights north, a three-hour train, four-hour bus and ferry to the end of the world.
Now we are congregated around an unfolded map of the Sarek National Park in northern Sweden, Laponia. We’ve come here in search for a truly remote place. One without marked trails and people and accommodation. We took along rations, tents and maps. The rest – cold silence and solitude – was already there.
Around the eastern edges of the national park runs the fat blue line of the Kungsleden with its STF mountain huts, hostels and cabins. The western edges are framed by the Padjelantaleden trail. Between these two lies an expanse of sweet empty nothingness, daunting, snowy, inaccessible Sami country, filled with glacier-laden mountains and big streams. The only trails here are the 1,000-year-old migration paths of the native reindeer herds, which the animals follow in search of forage grounds, and in turn the Sami people followed as they depended on the reindeer for food and livelihood.
The routes in and out of the mountain area are dictated by the large glacial troughs that separate Sarek’s massifs and provide corridors into the heart of the national park. We’ve chosen the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå river as an entry point and will be coming out through the Rapadalen valley delta at the other side after seven days. The only escape route is back the way we came or onwards, as high glaciated peaks block any other exits. We also knew that the deep valley systems up there acted as a weather channel, driving through the bad weather and clouds from the Atlantic.
News of old snow and new travel far as we are warned both by Finnish travellers and Swiss that the valleys are filled knee-deep with snow. We decide to go anyway.
We’d already tested the effectiveness of the Laponian road, transport and communication systems: through some form of communication between the captain of the small tin ferry, which carried five passengers across the lake to Sarek, his friend and two bus drivers, we were lucky to hold in our hands the next morning the vital knee support that Tom had left on the bus the day before and which had conquered the seeming edge of the world between Ritsem at the end of the road and Gällivare. That’s the beauty of such networks when they work, which we really appreciated for that purpose, but were keen to get away from in the next few days.
We are convinced that finding any discarded belt buckle or even the sight of another footprint in the mud down in this valley would be very upsetting. As it happened, the only sign we saw of other people was a tiny red speck on the side of a mountain far away, which, by some freak of nature, caught my eye and we identified it as a Hilleberg tent through Tom’s binoculars.
Snow is slowly collapsing into the river around us, the sides of the snowfields are breaking off in huge chunks, and slowly melting pools of water sit on top of blue icy sheets that still cling onto the rocks and ground beneath. We have found new permutations of snow – we’re used to the white and blue snow of the Arctic winter, but now in the summer the snowfields are charred on the edges, dirty with the turf and mud underneath.
The tracks we’re on are worn by generations of furry feet stamping on the bilberry-carpeted tundra. As J. Amato writes in his On Foot: A History of Walking (New York University Press), “a tidy definition of trails and paths would put humans on paths and animals on trails. However, this distinction becomes confounded as travelling humankind fused paths and trails in its search for passable ways and good surfaces leading to water, food, salt and wildlife”. Most animal trails are local and circling and often converge and diverge at a spring, riverbank or waterhole, but select trails, such as we are on, stake out lengthy seasonal and regional routes of migration.
The thought that the reindeer trail proves to be the most efficient way (even by caloric measure) to ascend or descend a hill, or provides the best way to cross a terrain, furnishing routes through high and low lands, swaps and wetlands and identifying fords for river crossing, is a shining beacon as we battle through mud, snowfields and dwarf willows (which, unfortunately, are still head-high).
We repeatedly lose the trail when it disappears under snow and mud, the art of spotting it, trying to find it again in the contours of the landscape, maybe catching an elusive glimpse of a darker line running up the eroded front of a hillside, becomes our main occupation. The path connects the Sami who work and live on the land to the landscape and the reindeer – it is a working path rather than a pleasure path.
And a pleasure path it sure isn’t.
The long days of ten hours walking take their toll on us. At night, I’m in the tent aching and can barely shift myself from one position to the other. Two painkillers and one sleeping tablet later I manage to get into at least a dozing state. The light of the midnight sun doesn’t help our sleep. With the sun persistent in the sky there’s no real sense of time, only weather.
We’re walking precariously over rivers on top of snow bridges with the water gurgling in the cavities beneath. Hollow caves line the edges of the snowfields and the first step onto the ice sheet is always tentative as we expect the ice to break away under the added weight.
The next morning there’s a new powder coating of snow reaching further down into the valley but it doesn’t quite reach the tents. Snow settles firmly on the peaks as we walk further into Sarek’s heart where we reach the central point, the bridge at Mihka crossing the roaring Mihkajohka, tumbling from the central massif, and the hut which houses only an emergency radio telephone.
We’ve reached the point of no return – the only way is on.
Exped Adventure runs this expedition in August 2018. For more information visit expedadventure.com. Any questions or enquiries email email@example.com or call Jamie on 07854197584 (01539 822967).
Heard It on the Grapevine ~ by Jake Taylor
He’s one of the BBC’s highest earners – a broadcaster who has spanned the realms of radio, TV and politics. As Jeremy Vine prepares to release his memoir What I Learnt… he chats to Sorted about how he’s balanced his personal faith with his reputation for impartial interviewing and a radio show
that covers all sorts of current affairs.
“The first was Power of Attorney and worries over that. The second one was: ‘Have you ever given the kiss of life to a tortoise?’ The third one was that we revealed a ninth Strictly celebrity, who was Susan Calman. And then the fourth one – hang on, let’s just make sure I’ve got this right… ‘What were the Corn Laws?’”
Jeremy Vine has just determinedly cycled home following a midweek slot at Wogan House for his eponymous BBC Radio 2 show. The bizarre list he now reels out as he grabs a cup of tea and a muffin represents the topics he’s just spent the last two hours dissecting with the help of a 7.5 million-strong army of devoted listeners.
Power of Attorney, tortoises in mortal peril, dancing celebrities and agricultural legislation from the 1800s? It is, says Vine, “a very good example of the joy of BBC Radio 2”. It is also the bedrock upon which The Jeremy Vine Show has gone from strength to strength since the Surrey-born broadcaster took the hot seat some 13 years ago. Now boasting one of the biggest audiences on BBC Radio – and a recently revealed salary to match – Vine has steadily made his way into the top tier of the corporation’s available talent.
In light of this, he’s often the man called upon to go where no other BBC broadcaster dares. Be it presiding over a giant Swing-o-Meter or charging around the country interviewing farmers from Felixstowe and builders from Bognor come Election night, or fronting flagship programmes such as Newsnight and Crimewatch, Vine is somewhat of a multi-genre media marvel. But his journey from regional journalist to one of the nation’s favourite radio hosts began in earnest some 40 years ago.
“There was this particular thing that happened when I was 12,” he explains. “I wrote to Maggie Norden, who was the presenter of a Capital Radio show called Hullabaloo. They had a young DJ slot which was introduced by Kenny Everett, who was my hero, and she had me on. I played records for ten minutes; terrible choices when I think about it now. I played James Galway’s ‘Annie’s Song’. I can’t believe I chose that – kids now at the same age would choose Kanye West or something. So my child is much cooler than I was at her age, which is always a worry. But I just remember walking into Capital Radio, this big studio at Warren Street in Central London, and thinking: “Oh my goodness, I want to work here.”
“I had this crazy idea that I wanted to be a DJ and my mum said: ‘You may find that when you’re 30, 40, 50 you don’t actually want to play records. You might want to think about something else.” But she was very gentle about it. I then sort of went towards journalism as a student and so on, and then I ended up when I was 38 joining Radio 2 and playing ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen. So I rang my mum and said, ‘Well, here we are now, I’m playing records. I’ve finally arrived.’”
Music may be Vine’s first true love – his admiration for Elvis Costello in particular knows no bounds – but The Jeremy Vine Show doesn’t really revolve around the records played; rather, on the eclectic conversations that take place between Vine and his outspoken, endearing – and sometimes utterly outraged – audience, the length and breadth of the UK.
These calls, all 25,000 and counting of them, also form the focal point of Vine’s latest written effort, entitled What I Learnt: What My Listeners Say – and Why We Should Take Notice. It’s a humorous and heart-warming collection of on-air anecdotes and Vine’s own memories, underpinned by the seismic shifts in world politics that occurred last year both at home and abroad. And then there’s his concept of ‘i-Power’ – or the way in which individual human experience is outweighing expert insight.
“It all started because in 2015 I was in a café and I was just wondering how many calls I had taken on Radio 2,” he says of the origins of the book. “I worked it out with this formula, which I have put in the book, and it ended up as 24,908, I think, and I thought, ‘Oh … that’s quite significant,’ so if my show’s taken that many calls, we are soon going to hit the 25,000 mark. That started getting me thinking about what I had learnt from taking that many calls, because I’ve got to have taken something from 25,000. I think I’m the only person who has heard every call – excluding my own holidays.
“The producers are sometimes busy, the audience is listening on Monday but maybe not Wednesday, but I have heard every call. So in the end what it came down to was reflecting on the power of the smallest voice and then, what was so interesting was we had Trump and Brexit after. I thought, ‘… This is now quite a thing.’ People start talking about the post-truth world and I thought that all of this ties in together. It’s like the listener Phyllis Capstick from Sheffield, who says that experts built the Titanic and that’s why she is voting for Brexit, because experts think that we should stay in and she says that they built the Titanic. That logic is really powerful.”
Of course, not all of Vine’s listeners make him sit up and take notice … : “The 25,000th was just a guy who shouted ‘sperm bank’,” he sighs. “That wasn’t particularly useful.” But there’s no doubt that The Jeremy Vine Show represents a microcosm of real life in all its irregularities and uniqueness. With an audience of millions, this midday slot on Radio 2 certainly carries with it a certain influence, but Vine is quick to point out that it is in fact the listeners – and not himself – who bring this influence to bear.
“The strange thing about my job is that as soon as I express an opinion I am dead, in a way,” he laughs. “So I always think that I can have values but not views. I can certainly think that litter is terrible, and that a car crash was a terrible tragedy, and look at what happened to that family – that’s awful. But I can’t have views on party politics and stuff. So in a way I don’t preach and in fact, the whole thrust of the book is that it’s not the people listening to me, it’s me listening to them. So bizarrely, it’s a radio show presented by its own listeners and I am just lucky to be able to listen to what they say.”
Vine’s decades-long career in journalism has seen him interview a host of high-profile figures, from Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe to the infamous incident in which he played then Prime Minister Gordon Brown a recording of Brown calling a female voter “a bigoted woman”. The latter – a moment described by Vine as a “lightning strike” – won him the Sony Award for Interview of the Year.
When it comes to his own show, however, there’s a new balance of power. With a central place in conversations that cover every facet of life from reptilian resuscitation to paedophilia, murder and animal cruelty, Vine is often tackling the dark and the light-hearted in the same two-hour slot. As a practising Anglican, is there ever a time where his faith conflicts with his radio responsibilities?
“No, I think people misunderstand the whole impartiality thing,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that you don’t have any values. I think that the thing that links us through our own humanity is that these things are not very easy to pin down. But there is something that connects us all, which is something about breathing the same air on this planet at this time in human history, probably no more than that. I don’t think I’ve ever had to say anything that I disagreed with, because I’ve had to be balanced on stories which I don’t think there’s another side to. But I think for me it is a very small price to pay – for the best job in the world – to not put your own views out. I can’t think of anything recently where I have had a view which I’ve had to stop myself saying.
“I would always challenge politicians because they are used to it and that is their job. If they leave the studio without being challenged, they will think: ‘What’s wrong with him?’ But I think you should work on the principle that the listener is always right.”
It’s not just on-air that Vine has to be aware of this concept. An avid user of Twitter, the 52-year-old has embraced the connectivity which the internet affords us – even if he does hold some major reservations when it comes to the oft-publicised negative aspects of social media.
“It’s a complete minefield,” he agrees. “I think that social media is very dangerous for some people. I’ve just actually read Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed [Picador], which is all about people who have done one silly tweet and literally their life is over. Social media is very judgemental and I’d love to say that it’s all here today and gone tomorrow, but it hangs there as well and it’s then searchable. It scares the living daylights out of me, to be honest.
“Every time I think about it, I wonder why I am on Twitter, given that every single tweet has the power to end your career. But I have managed to do 40,000 without having a disaster yet. I’ve changed my own social media rules a little and I’ve promised myself I won’t criticise anyone on there, even if it is just criticising Arsenal’s goalkeeper. I just think: ‘Let’s spread a little love.’”
This ambition to give something back using the medium of the internet has even led Vine to write in What I Learnt… that “social media is the opposite of the Bible”. It’s a phrase that sounds almost contentious from a man who trades in impartiality, but in truth the reasoning behind Vine’s bold statement is far simpler.
“The Bible says it’s better to give than receive and on Twitter it’s better to receive than give,” he explains. “A lot of people ask me why I am on it or why they should be on it and the answer is: if you’re not a public figure, the reason to be on it is to hear what other people are saying. People think that you’ve got to go on it to make public statements and actually you could just sit silently and follow the Dalai Lama or follow your five favourite film stars or whatever, and that’s just as good a reason.”
In a sense, Vine has occupied a unique position in British current affairs since assuming his midday start on Radio 2. As the show’s audience has grown, he has been party to the views and opinions that some may consider too outlandish, or even irrelevant, to pay attention to. This quasi-aloofness is clearly one of Vine’s pet peeves – he credits this world view as being influenced by the inclusive attitude of his parents – and in the midst of his curated maelstrom of public opinion, Vine could have been among the first to have seen the distant rumblings of discontent that would one day manifest themselves on a global stage.
But this perceived wresting of power from the supposedly learned minority back into the hands of a vocal majority isn’t such a controversial idea in some cases. He is, of course, an individual whose views so often correlate to the instilled neutrality of his employer. But Vine’s take on the social shifts that have dominated his radio waves under the very noses of those who seem surprised by their appearance in the spotlight is a vision of a world where, perhaps, to have these conversations is a far better option than to keep strong views suppressed.
“I feel that we’re not so much institutionalised; maybe that’s part of the ‘i-Power’ idea,” he concludes. “OK, as crazy stuff emerges, someone says, as they did on my show a couple of years ago, that they think the whole world is run underground by a conspiracy of lizards. I think that if somebody said that to you, you would probably say: ‘No, I’m sorry, you’re wrong,’ but it’s not for me to say that it’s wrong.
“People can shape their own truths a lot more, and the only place where that is safe is probably with religion because obviously that doesn’t hurt anyone else. So I think in a way we’ve become much more respectful of people’s choices and what they believe in.”
The Bear Truth
Survivalist, television star, Chief Scout, Sorted contributor and all-round action man Bear Grylls
has been with us from the very start. In this exclusive chat to Editor Steve Legg, Bear talks about his journey with the magazine and Running Wild with Barrack Obama.
You always seem to be working?
I like to stay active. I’ve got so many old injuries but I know I am better when I am in the thick of it. I don’t want to arrive at the end of my life in a perfectly preserved body. That would feel like a waste. I want to scream in sideways saying, “What a ride.” I am proud of it. Sometimes the boys at night will put their hands on my face and feel the wrinkles and crow’s-feet but I like those things. They are gentle reminders of many great adventures.
Can anyone be a survivor? Has everyone got it in them?
Yeah, for sure. Knowledge is just one of many tools for survival, but the real key to it is about heart, the determination to keep going despite the pain and fear. And that ‘never give up’ spirit is in all of us. I think sometimes it gets covered up in life by a lot of fluff, but when things go wrong that’s nature’s way of blowing that fluff off and you get to see what people are really made of.
Where did you learn these instincts?
By experience and by mistakes. But I have done this stuff all my life – from early days as a kid with my dad and then in the Scouts and then in the military.
Have there been moments when you thought “this isn’t going to end well”?
There has been a ton of them, from parachute failures to being caught in rapids, close shaves with sharks and crocodiles... but again I try to focus on the good times, the times it worked out. And I always say to the crew, “You only get it wrong once.” If there is doubt, then there is no doubt, stop and we’ll reassess, no ego, we’ll find another way round it.
Would you want your kids to follow in your footsteps and do this type of thing?
They are smarter than me and I am sure will do something different. But they do love the adventure, they just don’t do it for TV. I love taking them climbing, paragliding, or exploring caves. We live on this little island in North Wales and every day there is an adventure for sure. It’s deep in their DNA.
How has having kids changed you?
Being a dad has given me a perspective about what really matters in life that is hard to articulate – but I truly know that my greatest wealth is found with Shara and our boys. They are where I find my greatest joy, and calm, and they so often have been that guiding light, helping me get home in one piece – that’s a powerful force for me. Losing my dad when I was young has taught me the value of just being there for them. They don’t care about who I am, they care about having my attention, time and love – and their hugs and kisses are like a drug to me – they are never enough.
President Obama decided to join you in Alaska for an episode of Running Wild. What did he tell you about why he wanted to do this?
Well, the White House reached out to us and said he was a fan of our show Running Wild on NBC, and could I take him on a mini-adventure to Alaska? One of the big reasons he wanted to do this was he wanted to see some of the effects of climate change close up. I have seen the harsh reality and it can be shocking. We all want to protect this incredible planet. It’s the only one we’ve got, and we want to make sure our children get to enjoy it too.
My overriding feeling after filming that adventure with him was, what a really genuine guy. He was excited to be there and he was … fun to be with. I mean, to be able to pull each other’s leg a little bit in a way that if we were in the White House in an interview situation would be impossible to do was kind of cool. It’s a time I will never forget.
What were some of those hurdles that you had to get through with the Secret Service?
Well, I think initially the Secret Service were quite wary, because they only have one job: keep him safe. This sort of thing was well off-piste for them. So initially, there was quite a lot of pushback. But I think as soon as we got our team with them on the ground, it was just a process of talking through the routes that we wanted to do and going through the process of evacuation plans if somebody got injured. All of that sort of thing. They actually were very respectful of our team with so many of them being ex-Special Forces buddies.
I thought initially they would have five or six Secret Service guys with us but that ended up like 50. It’s a whole team with the press corps, and they’ve even got a guy who’s there to make sure any food or drink is approved. So, it’s a cumbersome group to move around.
But once we got going, I tended to defer to him for what he was OK to do. And if he’s fine to eat what I find and share water bottles and climb up and down stuff, well, then the Secret Service, obviously, just went with it.
What were some of your conversations that the two of you had that stand out in your mind?
We talked about family, faith, hopes and fears as well as all the climate change stuff. When I said, “Were you ever sceptical to this?” he said, “I’m always a believer in science.” That seemed smart to me.
Was there a moment with the President that really stands out in your mind from filming?
If I look back at the whole experience, there are two moments. One was beforehand on the riverbank, waiting. We had this big journey just to get in there. They shut down the airspace, it was all quite frantic, you know? Suddenly, it all went still and I was waiting and I [could] see all the Secret Service, and knowing that there were snipers positioned around this mountain, the helicopters had landed and it was like, “Wow, I am really nervous.”
Then also I think at the end of it when I prayed for him. That was a special moment. I had just felt that here is a man who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and everyone is taking from him. I just wanted to help put something back in the tank.
What has your faith meant in your life, and at what moment did you realise that was going to be the case?
I had a natural faith as a kid. I just kind of believed in God and that God was good. It was very childlike and simplistic. And then when I got to school it was suddenly all about church and chapel and Latin and I thought, “Oh, I must have got this wrong.” But when I got to about 16 my godfather died, who was like a second dad to me. I was sat up late one night really upset and I remember I just wished that God did exist like I knew him when I was a little kid. And I remember saying a prayer asking God to be with me, and really that is a prayer of salvation. That was the start of my faith there. But it has been a lifelong journey to understand that faith isn’t about religion and church routines, it’s about being held and being loved, about finding home and about finding peace, and that is a continual journey. There is a lot of struggles and doubts within that journey, but through it all I do believe that Jesus holds us if we put our hands out. So that’s my story of faith, I guess.
How important is your faith when you’re out in the wild? Does it really come into play then?
Well, it’s easy to be self-sufficient in the everyday when things are going well, but the wild and life isn’t always like that. And I’ve learned that it takes a proud man to say that he needs nothing. So my faith is important. I’ve also learned that there aren’t many atheists in the Death Zone of Everest. I just don’t meet many people who have been through incredible experiences and come out of it totally without faith. More often I find that massive life moments often bring us to our knees and that when we stop trying to do it all alone and we reach out, then that hand is there.
Do you manage to get to church often?
I do go to church when I can, but not super often. Church is also in your heart and in great communities with friends who support you. We do, though, do a church camping week every year that is so special for us as a family.
Can faith make any difference at all to the everyday grind of life – to the pain, the frustrations, and disappointments that life always has? Does faith matter?
People say to me sometimes that isn’t faith simply a crutch? I used to say no but nowadays I sometimes think yes, maybe it is. I mean, what does a crutch do? A crutch helps you stand and makes you stronger. In that case, sure I need a crutch, especially when this crutch is so much more – when it is also my backbone, helping me stand tall and strong when I face overwhelming odds. Sure I need that.
Faith is like describing ice cream. Or swimming. It has to be tried to be understood.
My Christian faith says that we are known to Christ. Sons and daughters. Bought at a price. Blessed with light. That regardless of our mess, regardless of how many times we fall down, this Jesus picks us up. Sure I will reach out for that.
I’ve always liked the fact that despite moving in a pretty macho world you are not afraid to mention your faith. What would you say to a bloke who is maybe searching for meaning in his life but not as open to it as you are?
Well, faith is a very personal thing, and it’s right that it should be personal and quiet. At the same time I am asked about it so often by celebrities I take away into the wild. It reminds me that whoever we are, we all need spirituality in our lives, and if we can humbly share a bit of the light, then that’s a good thing.
That’s brilliant, Bear. One last thing. We know how busy you are, but you have always found time to be involved in Sorted since the very first edition. What’s kept us on your priority list?
Because we are a family and it isn’t all about what magazine is the biggest most powerful, it is about helping each other wherever we can. Like you guys, we are all just trying to be faithful to the calling of loving and supporting each other through thick and thin.
The Dream That’s Lasted A Decade
To celebrate Sorted magazine’s tenth birthday, editor and founder Steve Legg chatted with columnist and sci-fi author Alex Willmott about the journey so far.
As I reflect on a decade of Sorted magazine hitting the shelves, I’m reminded of how it all started – with a conversation in the school playground with my accountant, Leigh. I hasten to add that we both had kids at the school and weren’t just meeting there to go through my tax return. He was telling me how his ten-year-old son’s mates were bringing lads’ mags into the playground and we wondered about how great it would be if there was an alternative that was a good read, but didn’t objectify women and tell young men to merely follow their animalistic instincts. He said that you would need to be bonkers to start something in that industry, I thought ‘at last something I’m qualified for’.
I knew it was going against the tide of culture and print sales, and that there were doubters right from the off. But then when I heard some folk saying it wouldn’t work, it was like a red rag to a bull for me. I’ve never been one for being told what I could or couldn’t do. I had no money, advertisers or subscribers, but I had a firm conviction that finance follows faith. I stepped out and started gathering material and chatting to friends who wanted to be involved.
I had Brazilian footballing superstar Kaka on the first cover, and Emmerdale’s Tom Lister featured inside alongside features on money, pornography and football. Jeff Lucas, Rob Parsons, J.John, Ant Delaney and Baz Gascoyne joined us as columnists, as did journalists and sci-fi writers like your good self. We launched Sorted at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. That weekend saw a few hundred subscribers sign up and one supporter even sending us a cheque for £5,000 to cover the first edition. It was incredible. The schoolyard daydream was becoming a reality. The rest, as they say, is history.
I think some of the greatest moments have taken place whenever we’ve landed a new deal to get the magazine stocked somewhere new. We’ve sent free editions to 63 Prisons, HM Armed Forces and rehab centres around the UK. I cannot describe how much I love knowing that we are reaching those who desperately need to rediscover laughter, humility, hope, adventure and the stuff that makes life good. Through honest and passionate writers, I also think it’s safe to say that we’ve reminded pockets of secular society that the teachings of Jesus cover much more than beards, sandals and rubbish renditions of Kum Ba Yah.
Getting Sorted into WHSmiths was massive for us. The first time I saw my magazine sitting alongside titles that have huge corporations behind them was a realisation that all the hard work and stress that come with running a mag had been worth it.
It is hard work. We don’t have a big organisation behind us. I work out of a tiny office in my house and store a pallet of magazines in our garage. Boxes of Sorted compete for space with my kids’ bikes, crazy magic props and camping gear. I’m the editor, book-keeper, receptionist, marketing manager and advertising guy.
I have had to learn new skills again and again. Finances have also been tough. At one point we had to use our wedding gift money to pay Sorted bills (I have a very supportive wife). The printers weren’t so happy getting paid in John Lewis vouchers though. We frequently got to the end of the month not really knowing how we would pay the mortgage or buy shoes for the children. But in the midst of some really tough times, I’ve always known that this is more than just a project or something I do to prove the scoffers wrong. For me it’s always been a faith thing, as strange as that might sound. And if Sorted magazine was meant to be, as I and many others believed, then it would work by the grace of God.
So far, the mortgage always has been paid, even the wedding gift money got reimbursed eventually, and slowly but surely, our subscriber numbers have increased and we’ve been able to expand what we do. It’s been an honour and a privilege to see the scraps of my efforts turned into a magazine that is now one of the country’s fastest growing titles.
It’s a fact that starting something from scratch is tough, but what a buzz when I ponder on how we’ve grown from 5,000 copies of our first magazine to more than 60,000 of our landmark London 2012 edition, seeing free copies given away across the Olympic parks.
We still give hundreds of thousands of free copies away in bars, restaurants, tube and railway stations, gyms and health clubs, plus Southampton international cruise terminals. When we hear how the magazine goes literally to the ends of the earth, bringing happiness and hope to people’s lives along the way, I still get butterflies.
Another amazing sign of success has been the celebrities who have graced our covers and have been genuinely excited about being in our title. I don’t like to think of myself as a celeb fan boy, but when Bear Grylls and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson are having an Instagram conversation about sharing our front cover, that is exciting.
Sorted has always promised the usual mix of traditionally ‘blokey’ content – tons of football, good books, films – as well as articles such as ‘How can I be a better dad?’ and ‘How can I be a good influence in the workplace?’.
I think we’ve shown that there’s a market for a different kind of men’s magazine. It’s certainly a far cry from the heady cocktail of babes, boobs and bums that comprised the original lads’ mag, Loaded, when it was first published in the early 1990s. And people seem to like what we have to offer. Let’s be honest, other magazines have folded, but Sorted has gone from strength to strength.
Our iPad and iPhone versions are growing in popularity but my main focus is on our print edition, and I encourage guys, once they have read it, to pass it on to a mate, or leave it at their doctors’ or dentists’ surgeries, or at the barber’s. Research by the magazine industry reveals each copy is read by an average of five people. Plus, our monthly Sorted Man Up Podcast has regularly featured in the top three UK Spirituality Podcast charts and we even made it into the Top Ten in the US, peaking at number seven.
This means that last year we probably impacted more than 1/2 million men who wouldn’t normally consider what it means to be spiritual in a physical reality, let alone step through the doors of a church. It’s exciting stuff, and hearing from readers whose lives have been changed because they picked up a copy is truly humbling.
The Inside Man ~ by Hugh Southon
John Lord was a villain through and through. He was addicted to drugs from an early age and was considered a menace to society.
Not my words but his, although had you told him that, way back in the days before he accepted Jesus into his life, you might have been in serious danger, because he wasn’t the type of man you fooled around with.
He lived on the rough Ancoats estate – a mile from Manchester city centre – and as a youngster became involved in crime and drugs which saw him go from small-time burglar to associating with one of the city’s most feared criminal gangs. Now in his new book, Inside Out (Verité), this quietly spoken man has told the extraordinary story of how his life was turned around while he was serving a ten-year prison sentence for armed robbery and organised crime.
When he looks back at his old life today, he says, “I just had to write the book Inside Out because it is an incredible story of God’s amazing love and grace. It’s been a long time in publishing but I had to get it done – when you see a miracle in your life it can’t be kept to yourself.” He added: “I know that I have always been a bad lad from day one but given the environment that I grew up in, it seemed natural for us to be involved with crime and drugs. I can’t explain it any other way than say, it was just a way of life.’’
I’ve known John for many years and the transformation in his life, the before and after, is an extraordinary story. I know that life hasn’t been easy for him since becoming a Christian, but he realises that God is his priority, and his trust in God has been implicit throughout the difficult times.
He recalls his life on the Ancoats estate where, as a member of a seven-strong family, he grew up in an area which was renowned for its high crime rate, drug abuse and violence. John admits he grew up in a tense place – fear spread throughout the neighbourhood. Gangs usually hung around the streets and there was never a moment when they weren’t thinking of committing crimes or fighting rival gangs in the area. He remembers that everybody he knew at that time messed around with drugs, which could be anything from sniffing glue, smoking cannabis, dropping acid, taking speed and crack cocaine.
He was involved with gang warfare which developed into serious violence, leading to clashes with local gangs: these became known as ‘The Clayton Wars’. He explains: “It’s all described in the book. Guns, knives, machetes were the usual weapons, along with crossbows, bottles, bricks and petrol bombs.’’
We were sitting in a quiet Devon pub having breakfast, and I was finding it difficult, despite having known him for so long, to reconcile the change in a guy whose life was completely turned around by a dramatic prison experience which almost defies belief.
It was clear that the retelling of such stories didn’t sit comfortably with him now, and he rushed on to get to the bit that really mattered. He became excited when he started to share about his experience with God inside prison. He has a remarkable story: I feel that every prisoner should hear about it, as it speaks of a “miracle-working God”.
He said: “When I was in my teens my girlfriend and I started selling dope, but with the amount of alcohol and drugs that we were taking daily, the sales just didn’t cover the £300-worth of drugs that we were injecting every day.” His life continued to spiral out of control from there, which eventually brought him to face serious charges of conspiracy and armed robbery on a hotel. He was remanded in prison along with four others and spent 12 months awaiting trial, during which time he repeatedly attempted to escape from custody.
John spent 20 months in solitary confinement, being moved from prison to prison all over the country. He was a high security prisoner and was deemed as a real threat through his violent behaviour. His incredible story tells of a life-transforming experience he had while in solitary. It was the beginning of a new life for him: a start of a whole new journey.
As he entered Walton prison in Liverpool, the words of the judge continued to ring in his ears. The judge had branded John as a “menace to society” and had made it clear that if it was up to him, he would “not only lock you up, but I would also throw away the key”. John says that although the judge had totally written him off, God had other plans for him. After being sentenced to ten years, John’s old life was over and an entirely new and unexpected one was about to begin. John Lord was about to become a new man with a new mission.
He had had a book which was thrown into his prison cell by a prison guard which was called Escape to Reality, written by Michael Tony Ralls (New Wine), who had lived a similar life to his. John decided to read it.
He found the book very interesting as he could relate to the story about living the high life through crime and drugs, but his interest soon waned when the author started to share about his conversion to God while in prison. John threw the book into the corner of his cell and it wasn’t until a few days later that he felt the urge to pick it up again and read it through to the end.
After finishing the book, he was challenged by the big question: Is God real? And if he was real, then could God love him? He continued questioning things and looking over his wasted life when another big question arose: If God does exist, then would he forgive him and help change his life?
It was from this moment that John wanted to know the truth and felt moved to find out whether God was real. He went to the chapel in Walton prison, accompanied by two prison guards and a German shepherd. It was a Roman Catholic service and it was while he was being escorted out of the chapel that he stole a New Testament. Old habits die hard.
On another occasion, John was going to the chapel, but heard clapping and singing from another building on the way. He was told he wouldn’t be interested as it was full of those “born again Christian types” – the word ‘nutters’ might have been just as appropriate.
But that’s where he ended up listening to a “skinny little bloke” talking about God that shook him and challenged him to the very core of his being. He said: “I’d never heard the God-thing explained in such a way and then I saw a glow of light around him and I heard a small voice saying: ‘This man belongs to me and nothing in this world can touch him.’”
John thought it was his guards speaking but when he looked, they were all preoccupied with other things. Suddenly the meeting ended and he was escorted back to his cell. Then something more extraordinary happened. No sooner had he been locked up than the keys rattled and the preacher man entered and said: “I’ve come to speak with you because God loves you and not only that, he wants to set you free.”
It was the crucial turning point in his life. The pair talked for an hour. John finally accepted the offer to let God take over his life. He said: “I was like thousands of others who have gone through the penal system who hoped they would get one over on the authorities but was too stupid to realise I was fighting a losing battle.” After his decision to give his life to Jesus, he immediately felt better, saying: “I wasn’t angry anymore. I felt really good inside and although I’d been hammered with years in prison by the courts I felt quite brilliant.”
Thirty years on, John Lord remains faithful, but is honest and a total realist, making it clear that troubles don’t cease simply because someone becomes a Christian. He’s had more than his share, including the death of his son Jason at the age of 25, after a serious asthma attack. He has brought up two children single-handedly and admits: “At times I’ve had to hang on to my faith by my fingernails. There have been some very bad times but God has always brought me through.
“My life is in a good place now; I have a job that I enjoy. My children are doing well. I really want this book to have the same effect on the lives of prisoners that Escape to Reality had on me, and every penny it makes will be ploughed into publishing more to get it into every prison in Britain.”
John has now set up Inside Out Prison Ministry, which aims to help those that are inside prison to realise that there is a better way of life through Christ Jesus.
Toy Story ~ by Steve Legg
Sorted editor Steve Legg headed to Little Chalfont to speak to Gary Grant, the founder and managing director of The Entertainer, the UK’s largest independent toy retailer, to find out what has changed since his store opened in 1981, why treating kids like royalty is vital, and why family life is more important than opening on Sundays.
How did you build a multi-million-pound toy empire?
We moved to Buckinghamshire when I was three years old and we had no cash, so as a youngster I had many different jobs. I would sweep leaves up, clean snow off people’s drives and wash cars, and then when I went to senior school I had lots of other jobs, so I worked in a sweet shop, helped on a milk round and in a bike shop too. I had a morning and evening paper round and that’s how I earned cash and got going.
I left school at 16 with one O level in maths which has served me really well, and I started working full-time in the bike shop. The skateboard boom from the mid-1970s meant the shop was selling skateboards until the market crashed and I started a business on the side, wheeling and dealing, selling skateboards, bearings and other accessories … there was a conflict and I eventually lost my job.
Tell us about your first store.
In January 1981, I got a call from an estate agent mate who had a toy shop in Amersham on his books, and my wife, Cath, and I took it over, despite having no knowledge of the sector. We did the deal and in May 1981 the first Entertainer was opened. We called it ‘The Entertainer’ but we knew nothing about toys then. I didn’t want to be restricted to toys so I figured if it entertained you, we could sell it. Some 36 years later we have 140 stores and we are between 7–8 per cent of the Toy Industry.
When did you start exploring the Christian faith?
When I started in business there weren’t any boundaries … it was all about making cash. For the first ten years we made money however we could, and sold whatever we could sell. Then in 1991 my wife bought me a ticket for a men’s breakfast and I went along and heard a vicar talk about having a relationship with Jesus. I’d done RE at school and knew about the historical Jesus but left that Saturday with lots of unanswered questions. I went to church the following day and went home that evening realising God really loved me. By the end of that weekend everything had fallen into place.
Out of that experience I had to completely review everything I was doing in my life. I had to rethink my marriage – there was nothing wrong with it, but I was busy and away as I was hell-bent on making money – I had to review how I was running my business, what was my stance about Sunday trading and whether I’d want my staff working on a Sunday.
I value families and I think it’s really important as we see so much fallout in society from the effects of broken families, and it could come down to the fact that they are under attack, and I don’t want to see that, not on my watch. So we’ve never opened any of our stores on a Sunday and we’ve attracted the most amazing staff.
How did one store become 140?
October 1990, before my conversion, a customer told me I was encouraging children to play with darkness, and that if I stopped “the Lord will repay your business in other ways”. … When I became a Christian, I had three stores, and on this journey of stocking ranges that I felt comfortable with, I stopped selling Halloween products, Harry Potter-related merchandise and realistic weaponry, and in October 1991 we had one of the best increases of turnover in our first ten years of business.
Was the business hit hard by the 2008 Financial Crisis?
When The Entertainer faced its toughest time, we called in the local vicar and took the unusual approach of sending an email inviting head office staff to pray together. We had around 50 staff at the time but I was astonished by how many people – around 30 – turned up. We met weekly for around three months, praying for the staff of collapsed rival Woolworths, for wisdom for the government and for own economic situation as a business. In the end, our company – which at one point looked like it would lose £1m – ended 2008 with a £10,000 profit.
So the firm’s continuing success is no surprise, remembering the Bible verse: “Those who honour me, I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV). If our motive is right, God walks through those difficult times with us.
I’m intrigued by what some might call your non-commercial approach.
The Christian life isn’t a pick ’n’ mix, you have to jump in with both feet. It’s been the most amazing adventure for the last 27 years. It’s not just about going to church on a Sunday, it’s about how I behave during the rest of the week. So not stocking certain ranges I feel uncomfortable with, not opening on Sundays, being generous towards the staff when the wheels come off in their lives, and giving 10 per cent of our profits to charity is part of our DNA. This could be seen as non-commercial but I feel it’s the right thing to do. Business can be a tremendous force for good.
I went into a store one day and the shop assistant looked straight over the head of a child to serve the next adult, because they’d not seen them. So that gave me the idea to have a step by the counter. We are the children’s shop in town … So when they’re in our shop they’re special, they are royalty, so when you see a four-year-old walking up the steps with their toy and handing over pocket money, it’s fabulous.
You’ve achieved this with just one O level. Do we make too much of the importance of educational qualifications?
I think we’ve cocooned children. Looking back at my own childhood, when I was seven I’d completed my Scouts’ ‘bob a job’ card. We wouldn’t let a seven-year-old walk the streets doing odd jobs for strangers these days, because society has changed. Today I can’t employ a 16-year-old because of the red tape. When I was 16 I’d experienced so many jobs, so we’ve taken away work experience. I learn from seeing and doing. Other children learn from reading and writing. We’re all different people, so I believe we should give each child the chance they deserve.
Not every child is grammar school material. I wasn’t and I went to the ‘failures’ school because I failed my 11 plus and it was right for me. It’s such a shame that so many children are deemed failures. Every child has a nugget of gold inside them. Fantastic athlete, great musician, and if they’re good at English and maths, then that’s a bonus. Let’s find out what’s great with every child. We have young people working in the business with no qualifications and we’ve allowed them to be real people in the working environment.
I was in our Liverpool store recently and was chatting to a staff member who explained how she’d risen through the company ranks, starting with a six-week placement from the Job Centre, then a Christmas temporary job, onto a 20-week contract, then becoming supervisor, and now she’s assistant manager.
I don’t want The Entertainer to be remembered for how much money I make or how many shops we have, but how many people we’ve given opportunities to.
Relationship Nurtures the Belief Change is Possible – 21 Years of XLP ~ by Patrick Regan OBE
The phone rang back in 1996. My vicar called to tell me that there had been a stabbing in the playground at a local school, and that he had told them that I’d go in and see what I could do. I’d been in London a relatively short period of time having grown up in Chelmsford in Essex. I’d visited London as a school kid, and couldn’t get the tragedy of poverty and exclusion out of my head as the class caught sight of cardboard city – people living in boxes under Waterloo Bridge – some barely out of their teens, while others wore the scars of long-term homelessness. I fairly much decided then and there, I needed to do something.
I came back a few years later as a gap-year student with Oasis, and after getting married to Diane, we moved into a small flat on an estate in Lambeth and I took up the post of youth worker in a local church. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my heart was beginning to change and my life would never be the same. I was learning that God loves them all – even people like this – and that for me to be a blessing to them I needed to become a part of their lives, a member of their communities. I was reimagining how to ‘Love God’ and ‘Love People’ in the midst of the inner city.
When the call came through, Diane and I thought long and hard about what to do for that first lesson in the school. Hard wired into our DNA for most of us is the longing for someone in our lives to look up to, for a role model. The kids on the estate were no different, and with so many dads no longer part of their single-parent homes, a big problem was who the young boys were reaching out to to be the alternative role model in their lives. Inevitably it would end up being the bloke who was a few years older than them who was earning hundreds of pounds each week through drugs and other crime and had earned the respect and fear of those around him. If your role model tells you there’s no point going to school since you can earn more money illegally now, then you follow them down the hole that leads to gangs, drugs, criminality, prison and death.
My first lesson in the school would look at heroes and role models, and so began regular lessons, assemblies and lunch clubs, in schools. Even if a few kids could name a famous ‘hero’, I discovered they barely knew more than the name and not what they stood for, their values, how they conducted themselves or what they said and did. The kids would volunteer their heroes and each week we would learn something more about them. I taught on more than 200 heroes. We’ve seen time and time again that wrong choices lead to more wrong choices which eventually lead to people being defined by those choices – choose violence and murder and you will be defined as a violent murderer. What we wanted the kids to see is that right choices give them a freedom to choose their own path through life, to explore opportunities and relationships, and to aspire to be like their heroes.
And so began the work of XLP – Diane came up with the name. It’s a play on words. We wanted the kids to eXceL and it was a project: the eXceL Project. I learned that if I worked with the kids in their schools, and on their estates (their ‘turf’), and with their families, then so much more could be accomplished and what was accomplished seemed to last. This became the model for XLP – projects working in schools, on estates and with families. Our school’s projects include mentoring, literacy and numeracy support, arts and special lessons. On estates, we’ve got community double-decker buses that visit around 26 estate communities each week with fun, games, homework support, cooking sessions, topic sessions and a listening ear. We’ve got football projects on eight estates and bring together groups of young people who often at first ‘hate’ each other with a passion, but discover lasting friendships and common bonds. We have a mobile recording studio (in an old police riot van) that does sessions on estates with older young people who are often most at-risk to the influence of gangs and criminality. We have a mentoring project that works with the young people and their families, and we have excursions, trips and summer camps for kids who would otherwise never leave their estate or borough.
All the activities help build trust. I realised early on that a trusted relationship is the very first thing that is needed to help a young person. If they don’t trust you, they won’t work with you, so we spend a good deal of time and energy building strong trusted relationships. Secondly, many of the young people believe that things can’t ever change for them – they feel they are “born on this estate, will grow up on this estate and will die on this estate”. “My grandad didn’t have a job, my dad never worked, and I don’t need a job.” Breaking this cycle requires broadening their horizons and so many of XLP’s trips and activities are focused on breaking them free from the captivity of their own perceptions, and getting them to dream of the possibility that life could be different and better. And once they trust you, and once they believe that life could be better for them, then the third bit, the hard bit, comes in – they need to change and we promise to stick with them long-term to help them work hard to change and achieve something better. Trust, believe, change – that’s how I learned to do it, right from the beginning of XLP, and that’s how we do it to today.
We have made loads of mistakes and learned many lessons the hard way. We have prayed for and cried out for kids, struggled with bad things that have happened, and rejoiced when there is a breakthrough. Some of our young people each year are killed – whatever statistics come out, knife crime is still a huge problem in the inner city – and others go on to become wonderful role models for the next generation despite all their challenges. We keep praying, hoping and working with them; we don’t give up.
Steven had arrived from a troubled and violent life in Nigeria with his mum and two younger siblings. He bore the scars of his experiences and now at the age of 14 found himself the ‘man’ of the family. His mum worked 16-plus hours a day, six to seven days a week to try to make ends meet. Then, government cuts meant that she lost her job and they found themselves living night-to-night either on the street or sneaking into hotels through the back door to find shelter for the night. Steven was always hungry. He was angry. He smelled, given the lack of regularly available bathing facilities. When he stole, he stole food for himself and his family. He has been stabbed many times. Steven was fast, and gangs liked to use him when they mugged someone – they would grab something like a laptop from a commuter on their way home and Steven would leg it so fast no one stood a chance of catching up with him. If the other guys were caught they had nothing on them and were in the clear. One night Steven witnessed the gang beating up a guy they were stealing from. They punched the victim repeatedly in the face, even as he fell to the floor. This was too much and Steven wanted out.
Steven heard about a TV project XLP were doing with MTV and EMI, and auditioned for the show. We needed people who were prepared to talk about youth violence in London. He was chosen to take part. One of the opening scenes of the programme called “Pimp My Ride” was to be the police riot van, before it had been ‘pimped’ (transformed), coming around a corner on an estate to meet the four young people, including Steven. To make sure they captured the ‘surprise’ of the young people, they didn’t tell them what was going to happen. When the police van came around the corner, all four young people fled the scene out of instinct. Later, when we’d got them back, they began to record the show which transformed a police riot van into the mobile recording studio XLP still uses today, and gave the young people a platform from which to talk about the struggles and fears of living with violence in their communities. Steven gradually became more and more involved with XLP, trying to help other young people caught up in the life he knew so well to find a different way. He became an intern with the charity, and then a full-time employee and he now heads up XL-Sport – a project within XLP that helps young people through sports and fitness training. When William and Kate came to XLP, Steven talked with them (and even invited them to his wedding). Even with his XLP T-shirt on, though, Steven will still find himself regularly going through the ignominy of being stopped and searched on the high streets of south London where he works. Such is life for young people in the inner city however reformed or changed they are.
For Steven and so many young people, relationship was the key to change. Relationship nurtures the belief that change is possible. What is needed is a trusted relationship that does not condone wrong choices and behaviours, but encourages and supports a young person to choose courageously to stay in or go back to school and succeed, to stay out of or get out of involvement with gangs, crime and anti-social behaviour, and to set goals for the future and commit to working hard to achieve them.
And all this takes time. For Steven, it has taken him nearly ten years of incredibly hard work to achieve the change that has happened, and for me and others in XLP to travel his journey in relationship with him. Steven got married last year to a wonderful young lady. Steven is godfather to my children. He is a close friend of the entire family and my kids see him as a role model – a hero. He is a trusted colleague and one of the best youth workers I’ve ever seen. Day in day out, he is reaching out to young people, looking for the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. Steven has had some tough decisions to make along the way and his heart has been changed with the sacrifices he has made; his life will never be the same. He has learned that God loves them all – even people like him – and that for him to be a blessing to other young people he needs to be a part of their lives and their communities. Every day he is reimagining how to ‘Love God’ and ‘Love People’ in the midst of the inner city.
I lost my heart to the young people in the inner city more than 21 years ago, and the overwhelming emotion that rises when I see others humbly losing theirs is a constant inspiration and encouragement for which I am grateful. One church leader pointed out to me many years ago, that vision and frustration are the same thing – when you have a vision for something that is yet to come into being, you are constantly frustrated that it has not yet arrived or isn’t coming quickly enough. I dreamed 21 years ago of excluded and broken young people finding positive and accepting relationships in an inclusive community that cares for them, nurtures them, and encourages them to become all that God wants them to be. That church leader was right, but I think I want to add that what has sustained me most when the frustration has been at its most intense, is the company I have kept – the journeying together with people like Steven and so many others, who have lost their hearts to the same vision, and who are willing to sacrifice everything to see it happen. Let me put it another way, it is about seeing God’s kingdom come through the dedication and sacrificial lives of followers of Jesus.
Patrick Regan OBE Founder of XLP
For more info www.xlp.org.uk
Walter's War ~ by Ali Hull
Each November, a smaller and smaller number of men and women who fought in the Second World War are there at the Cenotaph, marching in remembrance of their fallen comrades. There is no one left at all from those who fought in World War One. Their voices have fallen silent. But – every now and again – something turns up that brings them back to life.
Walter E. Young fought in World War One. He went out to France, he endured the squalor of the trenches, the mud, the lice, the periods of yammering boredom that alternated with the fear, the noise and the carnage. He was there at Ypres, and was captured by the Germans in March 1918. Finally released from a prisoner of war camp sometime after the war finished, he came home, got on with his life and never mentioned his experiences. He got married, had children, then grandchildren, then died, still keeping his experiences to himself.
It was only when his son, David, was clearing out the family house in Cressida Road, Upper Holloway, that Walter’s wartime experiences finally came to light. As Walter’s granddaughter, Hilary, describes in Walter’s War:
David … found three notebooks of his father’s meticulous handwriting, along with his war medals, a wealth of letters, official documents, newspaper cuttings and photos relating to that period. It seems that no-one knew of these details of his experiences in the Great War until then, most probably not even his beloved wife, Elsie.
Walter was not the only man to come back from the war and say nothing. The sheer horror of much that had been witnessed was just too much for many of the men. It had been appalling and they wanted to forget – and why burden their families with all that suffering? But clearly Walter had remembered, and had finally come to the point where he wanted to at least write it all down, even though nobody in his family knew he had done so. He didn’t write for publication, but what he produced is vivid, moving and illuminating.
Walter was already in the Territorial Army when the war broke out in August 1914, but he was reluctant to go. As he said, “I had no heart for war.” He worked for the Post Office, in London, and the Post Office had its own unit, the 8th London Regiment of the Post Office Rifles, part of the 47th Division. He started as a rifleman, but later was a stretcher-bearer, which meant he was unarmed, and there not to take life, but to save it. He was still acting as a stretcher-bearer in March 1918, when he was wounded. What lifts Walter’s memories above the usual level is the way he wrote. This is his account of what happened that day:
I dropped to the ground and called out “Oh, I’m hit” … As I went to the earth I murmured audibly to myself the words “at last”. Many and many a time I had envied men who had been wounded and how I had wished for a “blighty one” myself, but the weeks and months and even years had passed and it seemed as if I was to go on and on. And now I was hit … I fear the heroic spirit of keeping on in spite of wounds was not mine. All the way through, my heart was never in the war. And having been wounded in the execution of my duty and in the laudable task of trying to get back to my Company, I felt I was now honourably entitled to get back out of it.
But it was not to be. As he and his companion started to crawl back to what they thought were their own lines:
I saw some figures with rifles about 80 yards away and right where we were heading for. I could not believe that they were German soldiers, for only about five minutes before we had come almost past the spot where they now were … Then the figures began to come towards us and I saw the helmets and the long grey coats they were wearing. I could hardly believe my eyes. “They’re Germans!” I gasped.
And so began Walter’s time as a prisoner of war. He was a quiet man, and not one to draw attention to himself, but eventually he began to lead Christian services for his fellow prisoners, because he saw they needed the comfort that his own faith gave him. It wasn’t something he had done before and it wasn’t something he ever did again once the war was over and he was finally sent home. As he said, describing life as a prisoner of war:
Up in our barracks life was dull. There was practically nothing to do and little to read, though I had the New Testament that I had carried through the war … There came a time when, seeing the men passing their time aimlessly away, that the words “Sheep without a shepherd” came to me with much force and remained with me in a striking way, and I resolved to make an effort to have a Sunday evening service. I felt very incompetent and unworthy to attempt such a thing.
Among the documents that Walter had left and David discovered were the official letters sent to his mother once he had been captured. Initially, the Army officials didn’t know what had happened to him – it always took time for the Red Cross to pass on the names of captured soldiers – but that wasn’t going to stop officialdom. Now he had disappeared, clearly they didn’t have to pay him any longer, which meant, in effect, as he wasn’t married, they no longer had to send any of his pay to his mother either. Instead, they sent her a letter: after confirming that ‘Mr W.E. Young is reported as missing’ they went on to say: ‘I should mention that the payment of the balance of civil pay will now unfortunately cease.’
The war was grim – but it wasn’t unremittingly grim, nor, as we often believe, was it all spent in frontline trenches, being bombarded by enemy gunfire. Once the soldiers were withdrawn from the frontline, which was done regularly, they could find themselves in almost unspoilt countryside. Walter records days of peace, away from the battles. But it is his accounts of being under fire that really stand out. Early in the book, he records the first time he was under fire, in May 1915:
… the German guns started and for the first time we experienced the full fury of a modern bombardment. All day they pelted us mercilessly, never pausing for a minute. The shells were falling three or four at a time all round us.
Soon after, he was under fire again:
It was a pitch-black night. Shells shrieked over our heads and fell beyond the road. Some fell a little short. At last, when within 20 to 30 yards of the barricade, a shell came crashing right in the midst of us. It seemed to me as though it came right at me and the explosion was deafening and demoralising. We had instinctively flung ourselves on the ground. I felt the hot air of that shell on me.
On that occasion, Walter and his fellow soldiers ended up in a trench that was, further on, occupied by German soldiers – only a line of sandbags separated the two armies. Men had been wounded, and Walter recalls:
Some of us were on top filling sandbags to strengthen the position when suddenly bombs thrown by the Germans began to fall all around us. Wounded men cried out. One man was crying “Help me, somebody” piteously. I heard afterwards a bomb had exploded in his face, blinding him, and he died later. The awful suddenness by which a man, sound and strong one minute, could become a broken wreck the next … We crouched in our ditch peering, between bomb explosions, into the blackness. Just where I was, the bombs all seemed to burst about one yard in front of us, as though that was the limit they could throw. We were a bit dazed by the explosions but unhurt. Then someone gave the alarm that they were coming at us. The order “Rapid fire!” was given and we all blazed away as hard as we could. I doubt if any of the troops could have passed through that fire. Then things died down, and then again the alarm would be given …
And then things got worse. Walter’s accounts inevitably bring to mind the incompetence so well portrayed in Blackadder Goes Forth:
Men in a rear trench … probably intending to help us, began firing, but in the darkness and confusion many of their bullets were directed at us, so we were practically being fired at from all sides. I heard later that three men in succession were sent to explain to the rear trench, and each one was killed, but a fourth got through.
But it is not just the fighting he remembered from that night.
We looked out into inky blackness. Unnoticed by us, the dark clouds overhead had been getting darker, and then about the first hour of this Whit Sunday, during the height of the noise and confusion, occurred the most terrific thunderstorm I have known. It was as though this scene of violence and bloodshed had brought upon us the wrath of God. The rain came down with tropical violence so that within a short time we were drenched through and our ditch, called a trench, became under water … There seemed a power and majesty about the thunder that made guns seem paltry.
The sheer vividness of Walter’s writing is exceptional. Across 100 years of history, we can be back there with him.
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