Hi Steve! So tell us, how did you come to apply for the role at The Clewer Initiative?
I think there’s a few answers to the question. One was because Caroline Virgo [The Clewer Initiative’s Lead Officer] had come and spoken at a national event that CUF was running, and I was inspired by the topic there. Secondly I’ve worked in the field of poverty and social justice for a long time and my current role is general – I am a bit of a jack of all trades – and I was ready to do something with a bit more focus.
Modern slavery strikes me as being almost the lowest of the low in terms of how human beings are treated. I get quite upset or angry about how folks can have such disregard for human life. I think from a Christian perspective, if we can’t afford people agency or dignity, then the gospel has got nothing to say really. We know the gospel message of enjoying a life in all its fullness, and I find myself saying well what does this mean, life in all its fullness? If people can’t have basic human dignity and be treated as a human being, then they’re never going to get anywhere close to life in all its fullness.
Has this conviction been there throughout your working life?
I think somewhere deep in my DNA, I have a sense of right and wrong. I don’t like seeing people being exploited and bullied, and I see modern slavery as exactly that, people having their humanness stripped away.
I started my working life in Fenwicks, a department store in Newcastle. I was going to go into retail. I was working in the toy department, and some lads came in early one morning clearly knocking off school. I got chatting to them because they’d put the Sindy dolls and the action men in quite interesting positions. I thought it was hilarious! My boss said ‘we’re not running a bloody youth club, get rid of them!’. And I thought ‘there’s an idea’ so I went and started volunteering in youth clubs in the evenings and on Saturdays. Eventually I decided to leave that job and retrain as a youth and community worker.
So that took me into a very different world of seeing how not everybody lived in a nice comfortable house with two parents and a dog, and I began to have my world opened up to see privilege and difference. I started to ask questions about this thing that I did on Sunday – I went to church and it didn’t mean anything, it didn’t bite. It started to cause me to ask questions, and think the gospel has got to mean something, and speak into these kids’ lives.
Have you always been based in Newcastle?
Largely always in Newcastle, I did two years working for a church in West Yorkshire and my course was in Bradford. But at the end of the day I’m a Geordie lad, I came home!
What are you excited or nervous about as you join The Clewer Initiative?
Well I’m excited about joining at a new phase of its development. It’s a new post too, I’m not following in anybody else’s footsteps, so there’s the potential to make the role into something that hopefully makes the best of my skillset. I’m excited about working as part of a relatively small but growing team, and at the same time it’s part of something bigger. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, I like chatting! I’m going to have to move out of my geographical area, to places I haven’t been and don’t know, which is exciting and also a bit nerve-wracking.
On the whole I’m more excited than nervous. And I think you’ve got to have an element of nerves. In my current job I often have to stand up in front of congregations and talk, and you always get that moment where you think why did I say yes to this, but once I get going I quite enjoy it.
You’re clearly very passionate about your work, but what do you get excited about outside of the office?
My wife Helen and I like to cycle, we’re slightly fair-weather cyclists so this time of year is not the best! We’ve got two girls still at home, and five children between us. Having a good family life is really important to me, I treasure that.
And my running, I do a bit of running. I sound anti-social but when I cycle I’m happy to go with Helen, but I like to run on my own. I just set off and sometimes, even though I know the route like the back of my hand, I can’t remember doing it. It’s just good to have that time on my own and be aware that I’m alive. It makes me feel good, even if it is hard at the time.
Do you have a role model?
That’s a good question. There are one or two key people who have been around in this diocese who have inspired me over the years. A previous archdeacon who was very humble and lovely, who questioned me in the best possible way about what faith meant. A guy called Bob Langley as well was influential in terms of social justice. He said to me once that one of the key gospel messages is ‘things don’t have to be this way’, that struck me as pretty profound!
I love Barack Obama, I just think he is a fantastic orator. He strikes me as someone I would love to have a glass of wine with, or a coffee with. I often think about that question of who you would have round for your fantasy dinner – though I’d probably have the panel of judges from Strictly Come Dancing, they’re so entertaining!