McCabe, who runs the Lillie Road Family Centre, Fulham talks of his work and their difficulties in finding a base in the country.
I have just been reading Arthur Schlesenger's biography of Robert Kennedy. What I have read has inspired me to write this comment on a personal experience of the 'built-in' injustices of the society in which we all live. Robert Kennedy grew up in the midst of wealth and privilege. It is interesting to learn that, just before his tragic death, he had grown into a man who, in the words of one of his friends, 'had a great rage against injustice and against the impenatrability and immovability of institutions'.
The incident I'd like to talk about seems petty in the context of the life and work of Robert Kennedy. But it does bring out a point that Kennedy had really grasped before he died; the fact that in every society we find two worlds; the world of privilege and the world of deprivation. folr those of us who find oursevies in contact with both, the full implementation of the christian message can be disappointing and frustrating. I run a small organisation that works with families and children in times of crisis. At the moment we have two houses, one in Fulham and a second in Osterley, about four miles outside the inner city. In both houses together we accommodate eight staff and nineteen children. It is not my intention here to give a Full account of the aims and methods of our
organisation. But a brief description is needed as a background to the point I am trying to make.
The children we accommodate in the house come from families going through crises. All the children involved have themselves suffered from the crisis and need temporary help and support. We work closely with the social services, the schools, and. above all, we work closely with the family. We take children we feel we can help and, although our intake is non-denominational, our philosophy and our approach is based on the same principles as Catholic education.
The children we are helping are deprived. They are deprived because they are all products of inner city estates, overcrowding, impersonal schools that are far too large, and of families that, like thousands or others, find it increasingly difficult to cope with a selfish and materialistic society. One of the examples of their deprivation (a deprivation all of us living in the inner city know only too well) is the absence of green fields, mountains, rivers and even real fresh air.
All of us need to get into the country sometimes,
just to physically and spiritually renew ourselves. For that reason we are looking for a 'a base' in the country to use at weekends and sometimes in mid week. We were given a sum of money to help buy a place. Ideally we'want a place within an hour or an hour and a half's drive from London. To find such a place within our financial limitations (about £9,000) is not easy. A month ago we found almost an ideal 'base'. It was a small house boat on the Thames, about an hour's drive from central London. What was attractive about it was that it could accommodate six children and three adults at any one time; it was ideally situated, moored to a very private mooring, with a large gardensite. Itr was ideal for fishing, boating and canoeing, and it was an ideal centre for touring the beautiful countryside of Berkshire. We made an offer to the boat-owners (helped by our understanding bank manager). Then we met the snag.
While the boat was owned by the young family selling it, their mooring depended on-lease. We had to see the landlord to negotiate the transfer of the
lease. The landlord refused us the lease on the grounds that we did not 'fit-in' to the requirements of those to whom he had prepared to lease. We were prejudged without being given the opportunity to prove ourselves.
The extraordinary thing is that many good and concerned Catholics would comment on this incident by condoning the landlord's action with the words: 'It's understandable that he wouldn't want to risk upsetting his other tenants'. But is it understandable? If that's our understanding of the radical message of the Gospel, we will always condone the existence of two levels in society. That concept is totally unacceptable to the full message of Christ.
We are still looking for our base in the country. We can do two things. We can look flintier afield and find a cottage that will mean a three or tour hour journey. That is not really appropriate. Or we can keep looking nearer London, hoping that the right place and the right landlord will appear. We are not looking for something for nothing. But we are defending the principle of equal opportunity and hoping that someone who feels as strongly as we do about the kind of incident I have described, will help us to achieve our aim.