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Saturday, 25 June 2016

Bob Holman & Phil Evens: Affluence and position as inconsistent with Christian faith

In 1970 my father, Phil Evens, entered social-work education by becoming a lecturer in applied social studies at Oxford University. There, he discovered that he did not fit into the exclusive network of “North Oxbridge Society”, and so he moved nearer to his ideological home and working-class identity by setting up an Applied Action Research Community Work Project in 1973. It was called the Barton Project, after the council estate on which it was based.

His experiences and other contributions to the development of community work were published in Community Work: Theory and practice (1974) and The Barton Project (1976). Both books applied his Christian faith to his work, and called for the active involvement of Christians in community work and other public services.

Similarly in 1976, Bob Holman 'resigned his professorship in social administration at Bath University to become a community worker on the city’s deprived Southdown estate. He saw his affluence and position as inconsistent with his Christian faith. He and his wife, Annette, and their two children, Ruth and David, moved from a comfortable middle-class area in the city to a home next to the estate and he started the project where he then worked.'

In 1976, the Barton Project project lost funding, and my father's job was restructured away. He returned, somewhat disillusioned, to his roots in Somerset, where he became self-employed as a landscape gardener. During this mid-life crisis, he and his family began worshipping for the first time in the C of E, and he continued, as he had done for many years, to set up and run Christian youth clubs. Involvement in wider aspects of Anglican ministry led to his call to train for ordination.

At Trinity College, Bristol, he set up the Voice of the People Trust, to sponsor Christian ministry in urban priority areas through community-work projects linked to parishes. Work on the trust was carried out in conjunction with his ministry, first, as a curate at Aston Parish Church, and then as Vicar of St Edmund’s, Tyesley.

'After a decade in Bath, in 1987 [Bob Holman] went to live and work on the vast and deprived Easterhouse estate in Glasgow. He always wanted to show what could be done to motivate and involve people and bring communities together. Bob spurned any distinction between himself and other residents, calling himself a “resourceful friend”. His daily work involved filling in social security forms, accompany young people to court or helping a neighbour to raise a loan for a new cooker.'

Holman, who died on 15 June, became a regular contributor to the Guardian which published some extracts from his writing following his death:

'I will not lose my Christianity. It came before my socialism. The example and values of Jesus Christ led me to seek a societal implementation through politics. The writings of Richard Tawney and the practices of Keir Hardie and George Lansbury led me into the Labour party. But Christianity is more than politics. It will be with me to the end.'


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