The boy who hated concrete
In the 1970s, Canon David Wyatt was appointed to one of the UK's poorest parishes in the country – St Paul’s in Salford – a place with vertical concrete buildings and no trees.
Plenty of children were playing truant and running into trouble, and Canon Wyatt remembers one boy in particular, who was about to be expelled from his primary school for violent behaviour. “I saw him throwing stones in fury around the church and asked him why, and he said, ‘because I hate all this bloody concrete’.”
The priest asked the child if he wanted to do something about it. Nobody had ever suggested to the boy that he had any power to change anything, and he and his friends soon found themselves smashing up an abandoned tarmac playground next to the church, and planning a garden. They were given fruit trees, roses and rich soil, and over the next few months more and more people became involved.
When it was finished, the garden was the first lovely place in the area. People in the notorious Appletree estate were inspired – if they lived in a place called “Appletree”, the least they deserved was apple trees. So more concrete was destroyed, and another garden was made…
Now the area around St Paul’s is a living example of the belief at the heart of the Christian gospels that there is a duty to care about the beauty of God’s creation (“I have never met anyone who treats architecture and nature with contempt, who doesn’t treat humans in the same way,” commented Wyatt). But it has also benefited hundreds of non-churchgoers, and has inspired communities throughout the country.
Celebrity environmentalist David Bellamy went so far as to term Canon Wyatt’s realised vision as “the best example of urban regeneration I have ever seen in a developed country: a shining example of the Grace of God.”
And the boy from the primary school? “That’s a good story,” says Wyatt. “He became a landscape gardener.”