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Chapter 1 – Welcome to 21st Century Darkest England

Early one winter evening I made my way to visit a man and his two teenaged sons. Education Welfare had contacted us at the Eden Project to ask if we could provide any support for this family. First calls are always unnerving, and this one was no different. It was obvious at first sight that this dwelling was little more than a squat, with the windows boarded and the door so splintered around the lock that it no longer held shut on its own – a sure sign that this house had been raided by police, and no doubt others, on more than one occasion. I pushed the door, knocked and shouted all at the same time, mostly for my own benefit. I heard the clanking of cutlery and a tall, lanky man strode into the dark hallway. ‘Hiya,’ he bellowed in a thick Mancunian accent and greeted me with a warm, vice-like handshake. I introduced myself saying I was from the church and he invited me in, introducing himself as Tony.

The stench in the house was pungent. I could see down the hallway and through the kitchen: brown moth-eaten rags hanging at a smashed window pretending to be curtains, and a kitchen sink black with dirt & grease. My boots clunked on the bare floorboards as I followed Tony into the lounge. There I met Justin and David (aged 11 & 13) for the first time, two of the loveliest boys I have ever met, dressed in what could just about pass for school uniform. The television provided the only light in the room, and as we talked over its noise all their faces were lit up in glorious technicolour. They each had a huge plate of mashed potato covered in gravy, a rare feast prepared by a loving Dad for his children. No explanation or excuse was offered for the drug paraphernalia which lay openly on display on a box in the middle of the room: a lighter, a packet of Rizla skins, charred foil and some old tobacco tins. They did not draw attention to them and neither did I.

The story that unfolded, and continues to unfold, is worth a book in itself but part of the tragedy is that for 5 months this little family had been in debt to a loan shark. What started as a £40 advance to feed Tony’s habit had got them trapped in the grip of a merciless oppressor who confiscated Tony’s benefit book, accompanied him every week to the post office and took all of the £107 which he received to keep him and his boys alive. The randomly calculated interest on the loan meant that the debt always outweighed the ability to pay. The threat of violence and of harm coming to the boys prevented any cry for help, so all that Tony and the boys could do was scavenge for out-of-date food in the skip at the back of Kwik Save, beg and steal what they could to survive and pray to God that somehow things would change, somehow things would get better. Now here I was, being welcomed into this paradoxical world of love and fear, laughter and tears, hope and despair – being welcomed into Darkest England.



Andy Hawthorne


Chapter 1

Welcome to 21st  Century Darkest England

Chapter 2

Good News to the Poor is – ‘You ain’t poor no more!’

Chapter 3

Incarnational Living

Chapter 4

Transformational Experiences

Chapter 5

To a Captive Audience

Chapter 6

Building Communities

Post Script Hidden Tracks

Going Further