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Ely riots show young people’s need for hope

by
30 May 2023

The deaths of two teenagers in the west Cardiff suburb sparked riots last week. Peter Sedgwick, whose wife, Jan, is a parish priest in the area, describes how the church is seeking to bring healing

Alamy

Balloons are released into the air during a vigil in Ely, on Friday

Balloons are released into the air during a vigil in Ely, on Friday

TWO things were striking about the riots in Ely, west Cardiff, last week. First, they came without warning; second, they overwhelmingly involved young people.

We have lived on the Ely estate for nine years, and my wife, Canon Jan Gould, has been Vicar of the Church of the Resurrection, Ely, for 17 years. There have been other incidents on the estate in past years, and all of them happened suddenly.

For example, in October 2012, a van driver who was mentally ill and had stopped his medication drove his van around Ely, killing one person and seriously injuring 12 others, many of them young.

In December 2017, completely false rumours circulated on social media that a primary school head was going to discipline pupils because of poor behaviour at a Christmas carol concert in the Church of the Resurrection. This led to a large disturbance outside the school, which had to be dispersed by the police; it resulted in much social tension.

None of these events were expected, and, in all of them, there was anger, distress, and a need for reconciliation. In all of them, Canon Jan, and the church community, were central to bringing calm and healing.


LAST week’s riots involved more than 100 young people, and, after the riot, many of them stood around in the road where the accident had happened, creating a shrine out of flowers and balloons, their anger spent (although buses were stoned on Wednesday in Ely), as if they did not know what to do.

At a vigil on Friday, when balloons were released, more than 800 people came peacefully. There was an enormous sense of love and support for the families of Kyrees Sullivan and Harvey Evans, the two teenagers who were killed in an e-bike crash.

The Church of the Resurrection was open on Saturday, and many young people came to light candles, to be silent, and to weep. There were no words, except heartfelt messages written in the visitor’s book. “God bless and ride hard” said one message from a friend.

As Canon Jan stood outside to chat to them as they came out, two things were striking, as they had been all week. First, she was recognised as embodying the love of God, and this came out when she and the Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd Mary Stallard (very new in post) walked the estate together. Second, young people were at a loss to know what they should do, or how to behave. As Canon Jan said repeatedly during more than 35 media interviews, these are young people with energy that is not being channelled in any way.


FORTY years ago, there were manual jobs that gave young people a sense of pride and skill: in the brewery, the paper mill, and local factories. All of these have gone, swept away by globalisation and automation. There were also many youth clubs, and they have all gone, too, closed by spending cuts.

One valuable initiative which does remain is Making Music, Changing Lives (MMCL), a charity that provides almost free music tuition for schoolchildren. It was founded by Canon Jan, who was a professional musician before ordination.

MMCL has a good orchestra, and children who take part in this find that their lives are transformed. After the hit-and-run tragedy, many children expressed their feelings of grief and despair by playing their instruments at the MMCL weekly session. We need to bring back many more such venues for young people on this estate.

This is a warm-hearted, loving, and close-knit community, with a great wound: the sense of hopelessness among many young people. Most of Cardiff is prosperous, but there is an arc of poverty across the city. Some of it is centred in ethnic-minority areas, but at either end of the arc are St Mellon’s (another estate) and Ely.

The big difference from the disorder and riots of the 1980s is that this is driven by young people, with no job prospects, and a minority being into drugs and crime. For years, kids have not been helped by the educational courses that they take, although the teachers do their best; sadly, a significant number leave school at 16 with no future, either in work or in education. There are schemes for them when they leave school, but they don’t work very well. Above all, young people need their energy channelled into constructive activities, a good police/community forum, and much more effective education in secondary school.

There is very much a drug problem on the estate, although it is important to say, categorically, that there is no evidence linking the boys who died to drugs. Bikes and scooters have been a menace for a long time, driving head on into oncoming traffic. They tear up and down the local playing fields where we walk the dogs. Every evening in the summer, for years, we have had petrol motorbikes doing wheelies on the road outside the vicarage and riding on the central grass verge. It was bound to go wrong sometime.

On the whole, the police are very good, although clearly how they handled the deaths of the two lads, and the communication breakdown on the police van following them, was disastrous. They have much to learn, but it is a difficult job that they do. The community forum packed up a few years ago, and it needs to restart.


THEOLOGICALLY, this is about incarnational ministry, earning the respect of the community, with the MMCL venture showing how spirituality how the arts can transform lives.

There have only been four incumbents of the Church of the Resurrection (The Res) since 1934, and every week there are two to three funerals there. A joint funeral for Harvey and Kyrees will be held in the church. In the Covid pandemic, in 2020, there were 17 suicides in three months, all of whom were young people, and an average of ten funerals every week; and, although the church was not allowed to open, all the funerals were conducted by Canon Jan.

At this season of Pentecost, it is important to realise that the Spirit poured out in Acts 2 is the same Spirit that was present at creation (Genesis 1.2). It is a broken society in Ely at the moment, but also one where the church is deeply respected, and brings healing.

In an article, “Crime and Violence”, published in God in the City (ed. Sedgwick, Mowbray, 1991), Al McFadyen spoke of the pathology of violence in inner-city areas, and the need for the demons of disorder to be met and overcome. Importantly, he spoke of how much there is a need for proper order in such communities.

The task of the Church, the Government, and the police is now to heal the disorder, so that the community can again be a place of well-being and flourishing. There is much to do, and, above all, a need to show Ely’s young people their future as one of hope and promise. It is far from that at the moment.


Canon Peter Sedgwick is a retired Anglican priest married to Canon Jan Gould, and lives in Ely, west Cardiff.

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