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Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams says people in South Holland feel left behind

Welsh Anglican bishop, theologian and poet Dr Rowan Williams is well aware of the challenges facing our area after frequent visits over the years.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, who was in the Long Sutton to celebrate Father Jonathan Sibley's 21 years at St Mary's Church, says employment, migration and mental health are particular concerns.

“It’s a corner of England that a lot of people forget about and they don’t always recognise the reality of rural poverty. People have the image of the countryside being lush and comfortable,” he said.

Dr Rowan Williams and Father Jonathan Sibley
Dr Rowan Williams and Father Jonathan Sibley

“But for lots of people, it is about getting by with quite difficult conditions, getting by with long distances to travel without much access to public transport, and isolation. In some communities there is a sense of low aspiration and those with aspiration want to get away from it.

“All of those contribute to the challenges facing the community and the essential thing to do is what a lot of groups here are already doing, and that is to work from the ground up and give people the sense of some control and investment in their community and society, identifying what they see as the problems, and not what bureaucrats see as the problems.

“Then it’s about discovering what can be done on a local level as well as keeping up pressure on government and public authorities, and I’m impressed by the amount of focus there is in this area on that grassroots work.”

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams

Dr Williams was aware of the area’s high Brexit vote back in 2016 and said: “The sheer amount of pressure that people are feeling here needs to be felt and those human desires and aspirations recognised. I don’t pretend that’s a solution to the overall challenge but I think the Brexit vote here, as in many other areas that felt left behind, has a lot to do with the sense and the feeling of being dumped on.

“Migrants are always there as a convenient peg on which to hang a lot of grievances that have to do with many other things. It is sad but it is not unintelligible that it happens.

“You can identify this group and they look like obvious scapegoats sometimes. But the fact is, the vast majority of migrant workers are doing exactly what anyone would do, and that is trying very hard to make a decent living for themselves and their families. These are people with three dimensional lives, with families and challenges just like ours.”

On a brighter note, he added: “What is inspiring here is that the church is still very much part of the community, hundreds of people coming through the doors during flower festival week, and people have enough confidence in themselves to do things that are generally celebratory of the place they are in, whatever the challenges.

"They have the attitude that this is a place worth living in and a place worth making things work, and that is lovely.”

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