Regeneration is in the air! Knowle West is becoming one of South Bristol’s more desirable residential locations. First-time buyers and even property developers are finding the substantially built houses a worthwhile investment. Added to this, Bristol City Council has recently publicised plans for a new hospital on the edge of Knowle West, which will mean new roads, houses and shops and other commercial opportunities.
This is having a positive effect on the atmosphere of the area. People are now choosing to move here. You may find this surprising given the estate’s poor reputation for crime, drug dealing, broken families and so on. However, despite its chequered history, many believe that change is in the air. Through persistent prayer and by the example of local saints, change will happen.
One such saint is Mary Smith, who was awarded an OBE for her voluntary work within the community in 2001.
I invited Mary for chat and a ‘cuppa’ one sunny afternoon in July. It soon became obvious that Mary is passionate about Knowle West. When asked how she felt about living on the estate her face shone with pride.
“My life-blood is here, and hopefully will be for generations to come. I absolutely love it!”
Mary was born in Knowle West in 1949 (she is happy for me to share this!). Reflecting on her impoverished childhood, she spoke warmly about her family and indeed her mother, whose sacrificial love for her nine children had a profound effect in shaping Mary’s personality and positive outlook on life.
Despite her humble beginnings and lack of formal education, Mary has shown great courage and tenacity in achieving much against determined opposition. In 1994 she established Knowle West Against Drugs (KWADS). It was Mary’s vision to bring hope and mutual support to mothers of ‘users’. Mary knew exactly what mothers were facing for she, too, was experiencing the same pain through her own son’s heroin addiction.
She said: “I wanted the families to be healed ― not necessarily the addict. It’s important to heal the mother and the family. They in turn will be stronger to manage the addict. The addict’s healing comes second.”
Other professional bodies have since taken over the work of KWADS, which continues to offer help and support to users and their families.
Later, Mary moved her attentions to the plight of ex-offenders and ex-addicts, who found it almost impossible to gain paid employment. She decided to create training opportunities in the construction industry, and so established a charity: The South Bristol Community Construction Company (SBCCC). Initially, various grants funded the purchase of derelict properties, which were refurbished by the trainees under the direction of qualified craftsmen. The profits from the sale of these houses enabled the charity to buy more. And so it grew. Eventually homes were made available for the homeless at very attractive rents.
Again, Mary has now handed that project over to others to continue the work. She explained: “I think I’m an enabler. I believe in ‘letting it go in order to let it grow’. It’s been a hard road but it has been so for a reason. I think there’s something in the future that God wants me to do and I don’t know what it is yet.”
I feel sure you will agree that Mary is a remarkable woman ― even more remarkable when you discover that Mary openly admits to being an alcoholic (she is happy for me to share this too). Even so, she has not had a ‘drink’ for eighteen years! This is how Mary movingly put it: “I’ve always had faith in God, and hope that one day my son Christian and I will be made whole.”
Most people say they have a ‘book’ inside them. Mary has many volumes! She is an inspiration to us all. She lives out her Christian faith as a philanthropist, an encourager, a campaigner for just causes, a courageous lady, mother and grandmother and a true Knowle Wester through and through.
I began by saying new people are moving to Knowle West, and many good things are planned. But I am glad that Mary and others like her have chosen to stay to reap the harvest of their labours.
Mary and Christian would greatly appreciate your prayers.