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What does a ‘liveable’ city look like?

September 19, 2014

This weekend, for the 22nd year in a row, many of London’s usually private buildings will be opened up for public access through the Open House London initiative. Underlying this initiative is a desire to help the wider community become more knowledgeable, engage in dialogue and make informed judgments on architecture.

While that ‘open house’ ethos is exciting in itself, welcoming in those who would normally be excluded, it’s not just for the architecture buffs who like the thought of free access to some of the capital’s most iconic buildings. Rather, many of the themes running throughout the weekend are those which resonate with the Breathe community, raising all sorts of questions about how we live well in our context. For example:

  • How can we design cities for human flourishing?

With major constraints on space, huge demands for housing, and the dramatic rise in the number of one-person households, how can space and design be used differently? Check out the buildings which are trying to foster community living, make the most of ‘leftover’ spaces, and ‘green’ up existing properties.

  • How can we create truly ‘liveable’ cities?

Infrastructure is under pressure as London grows. Look at how architects have responded to the challenges of keeping London moving, supplying energy and clean water, processing and recycling waste, and finding solutions to long-term problems like flood risk and pollution.

  • What’s the point of open spaces?

London has historically been shaped by public spaces, squares and parks to enable its inhabitants to thrive, but land use is coming under increasing pressure. How do we create a sustainable landscape for the future and build beautiful places in a world where there are major challenges in managing water and other natural resources? Why not visit some of the community-led open spaces or regeneration projects which have the concept of landscape at their heart.

  • How can we make the city greener?  

Parks alone won’t do that. It’s all about the sustainable design of buildings and infrastructure, and this weekend you can visit some great examples of recent projects which exemplify this, from a zero carbon youth centre to an eco classroom which grows zero-food-miles organic salads.

If you’re in London this weekend, why not spend a few hours pottering around the city’s buildings; enjoying the delights of the diverse design on show and seeing it through a lens of someone who wants to foster community, connect with others, live more generously and critique the consumer dream which London is so quick to promote? You can search buildings by borough if you’re after something closer to home and there are some great ways of involving all the family.

And if you’re elsewhere, why not have a look at the website for inspiration before plotting a route around your own neighbourhood? What can we celebrate and what can we critique about the area we live in? Let’s get exploring!


STUFF AND NONSENSE: Trying to move my feet

September 11, 2014

Cluttered Mind

There is ‘stuff’ everywhere.

Forget my house, the external factors of my life; let’s start with me.

I have a cluttered mind. I fill it with unnecessary stuff. I plug the spaces of my life with trivialities. Why? Perhaps I’m scared of what I am – afraid that without all the ‘stuff’, there won’t be much left.

Can I bear to confess my own need, my neglect of my soul, my forgetfulness of God? I suffer from chronic forgetfulness but, rather than addressing this, fill my life with more distraction.

Distraction covers the wounds for a while. But in the end, it makes them worse.

A distracted mind calls me away from reality. I’m absent minded.

A forgetful heart loses its warmth. I’m cold hearted.

This is me, much of the time, tugged and torn by anxiety. Sometimes I wake churned up by worry or fear and I don’t even know why.

Where do I start with all my internal clutter and debris? Past experiences piled up in a corner. Haphazard odds and ends of expectation decorating the walls – expectations of others, and of my own. The need for acceptance and approval hanging in every doorway. The profound tripping over the nonsensical. There’s so much – too much – here.

Forgetful Heart by Lucy Mills - image

Easier not to look, to blinker the eyes of my heart so that I do not see. Or pretend not to see. The piles of ‘stuff’ just get higher.

One day I look down and find that cannot move my feet. I’ve been trying to run, but I always bring myself with me: me and all my rubbish. I can’t escape. What now?


The word sneaks through.

Remember Me.

I realise the clutter of ‘me’ has squeezed out other memories. Memories of what really matters, of who really matters. Memories of One who loves me, who calls me and rescues me.

When I think of that One, a shifting takes place.

(I look around, panicking at the state of my heart. Hardly presentable!)

Remember Me.

My heart flutters back to the voice.

Remember Me.

Without looking down, I try to move my feet. And find that I can take one step forward.


Lucy Mills is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world (2014, Darton, Longman and Todd).

The Possible World – on Earth as it is in Heaven?

September 4, 2014

My husband and I were at Greenbelt again this year, in its beautiful and rural new home. While it had its difficulties (the inevitable rain and mud!) it was inspiring and challenging; a wonderfully open space (geographically and theologically) where everyone is accepted and loved, whatever their beliefs or backgrounds.

This year’s theme was “Travelling Lightly” – which obviously resonates with us at Breathe. You can read a thought-provoking and motivating summary of some of the main talks on Tearfund’s Rhythms site. These sessions, often attended by thousands, were full of energy and passion. It was very encouraging to be surrounded by so many people grappling with the same big issues: climate change, poverty, forgiveness, marriage and singleness, to name a few.

There were also opportunities for much more intimate (but no less thought-provoking) conversations in some of the smaller venues. One series of these was particularly memorable for us. They were hosted by CMS, and introduced their new resource: The Possible World course.

the possible worldEach morning we gathered to hear from people living and working in a variety of contexts, who talked to one of the course’s themes. Throughout the course, you are encouraged to consider some of life’s big issues, and then apply your thinking to your local context. The themes covered are:

Jesus, a prophet. Me, a prophet?
Hospitality: All right for some?
Consumer culture: I want to live simply…but I like stuff
The environment: For God so loved the world
Human suffering: How can I show I care?
Injustice: So many issues, so few of us
Now what? Joining the prophetic and the practical

It is a practical, mission-focussed course that will help you, and those who you do the course with, to offer real and tangible hope to your community. You are dared to believe that another world is possible – one where God’s will is done, where strangers are welcomed, creation is valued, stuff is just stuff and justice is the norm.

The introduction to the course says,

“We are living at a time of immense global change, which presents great challenges for how we live as Christians. Here in the UK, our faith needs to engage actively with a culture that seems to be increasingly disconnected from the Church. People want to see a Christianity that works, that is authentic and actually makes a difference.”

My husband and I live in an urban, deprived area of South-East London. Our local church and our neighbourhood are full of people who have lost all hope in life, if they had any to start with. So many overlapping and overwhelming circumstances, often both in their past and in the present, some self-inflicted, many not, have conspired to rob them of hope. “To live without hope is to cease to live” (Fyodor Dostoevsky), but Jesus offers us life in all its fullness (John 10:10).

We were so inspired and encouraged by The Possible World conversations at Greenbelt, that we are going to run this course on our estate, starting next week. We are going to share a meal and fellowship, and together will dream of a new, possible world – where God’s kingdom comes, in Lewisham as in heaven. Together we’ll imagine a different way of living and will take steps to bring this new world to fruition. Please pray for us, and so many others, as we try to bring the faith, hope and love of God’s kingdom to the dark and suffering places of this world. With God, another world is possible (Matthew 19:26) – let’s join in with what He is already doing, today – in the confident hope that He will bring about the ultimate transformation of His world.

If you want to find out more about the course go to the CMS site where you will also find a link to purchase The Possible World resources.

Less is more: How eating less meat is good for all of us

September 1, 2014

Originally posted on Tearfund's Policy Blog:

burger image

My name is Matt and I’m a carnivore, I like nothing more than chowing down on my favourite quarter pounder with sweet corn relish, and it seems I’m not alone. In the UK we love burgers, but do we know much about  the links between what we eat and what it does to the planet?

A new study has been published, as reported by the BBC today, which says that the way we are eating is not sustainable in the long term. It suggests that as well as eating less meat, particularly beef, we need to get better at wasting less food and eating more healthily. The combination of these factors will be good for all of us and for the planet.

Changing our habits, especially the ones we love, is not an easy thing, but the rewards and the significance of doing it in this case are huge.

View original 359 more words

Opening up a can of worms: Getting Practical, Having Fun

August 27, 2014
I started using a wormery a few years ago for two reasons – firstly to minimise my food waste and find a use for the bits of fruit and veg that usually go to waste, and secondly to minimise spending on organic vegetable fertilizer.
It breaks my heart to stick unusable bits of fruit and veg in the bin. I used to try and find a use for them as best I could, but there are only so many banana skins you can tie to your tomato plants…and honestly, beetroot leaf chutney does not taste great, regardless of the seasoning tricks you employ.
We grow a lot of vegetables in my house and by default, we eat a lot of vegetables too. It’s a pricey habit if you’re covering the soil every couple of weeks in organic, high nutrient, high mineral, pathogen-free, non-toxic, Soil Association approved fertilizer.
With only a small balcony to grow from, a wormery seemed to me, the most space efficient way to convert organic remnants into something useful and effectively free, minus the start up cost of the wormery. Two huge wins ticked off as a result too – turning kitchen waste into organic compost and by recycling my waste at home, I’m saving on effects and concerns surrounding domestic waste collection transport and disposal.
I have watched this cyclical process whereby the food that I grow becomes food for me; food for my worms; is seeped back into the earth, creating food for the seedlings and new plants that will eventually become food again for me and the worms. I am more aware of the balance by which we are all held in God’s hand and how beautifully and carefully our world is made.
Psalm 89.11 – The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.

Love Food, Hate Waste….use what you have!
Rachel Morgan is 26; knitter; cyclist; Christian; yogi; courgette cake baker; matcha drinker; HUGE Alan Spence fan; and wormery advocate! Follow her on twitter @RMReflexology

Love, time and money (what about what God wants?)

August 17, 2014


We all love the chance to take a break in August don’t we – to rest, to spend more time with family and friends, exploring new places or our interests. And for those of us working full time it also seems that we start this break mentally and physically exhausted.

Ten years ago I was living in Oxford and working full time in south west London. The carshare left the park and ride at 6.30am and four of us took it in turns to brave the M40 and M25 in the morning rush. We returned to Oxford around 12 hours later. By the weekend I was exhausted and at the same time I was also involved in the leadership of a small Baptist church in the city which made for a busy weekend as well as several busy weeknights. Two friends at the church about my age, Clare and Daniel, often questioned this pattern of work and why on earth I was doing it.

I found this challenging at the time but also found them a great example. They both worked part-time locally – Daniel as a music teacher and Clare in one of the city’s museums. Although they were living on much less money than others I knew in work, they always seemed to have so much more time – for growing vegetables in the garden, visiting older people in the church, and providing music lessons to others. So now ten years on, for the first time since leaving university I am working part-time. I got agreement from work to go down to 3 days a week, and for 2 days I volunteer my time community organising in Wales.

There are so many good reasons for us all to be working less hours for well-being, justice and sustainability reasons, as outlined brilliantly in nef’s influential report 21 hours. But here I want to focus on one of the barriers that people often give for the impossibility of reducing their paid hours – money; when reducing hours would mean not having enough to live on.

One of the biggest successes of community organising through Citizens UK so far has been on the living wage, and getting agreement and support for it across the main political parties. With around 5 million people working in the UK not earning enough to live on, what you earn per hour is really important. In-work poverty comes up a lot in conversations I have while doing community organising in Wales. The vast majority of cleaners, shop workers and catering staff earn the minimum wage or only just above this, which is not enough to live on. I have talked with lots of people doing 2 or 3 different jobs a day working from early morning until nearly midnight just to earn enough to pay the bills. A lack of meaningful work also comes up a lot in talking with individuals – something which could be addressed by the creation of many more well-paid part time jobs through people currently working full time in these jobs reducing their hours.

So for many people to increase the time each week they spend outside of paid work, an increase in what people earn per hour would be needed. The principles of the living wage are key to this. It is great to see that there are now more than 800 living wage employers including Barclays, HSBC, Nationwide, Nestle and many charities, with ongoing campaigns to encourage Tesco, Amazon, football clubs and others to pay the living wage to all their staff, and strong support from John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

As Christians following a God of justice who calls us to love our neighbours I believe we should be supporting living wage campaigns. Even with a living wage not yet being paid to all, when we say we couldn’t possibly reduce our hours and live on less (when we would still have more than enough to live on) what is it we think we will lose? Two passages in the Bible seem to be key here: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money’ (Matthew 6:24); and for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’ (1 Timothy 6:10). We are called to love God and our neighbours. From my experience of working part-time and from what I saw in the lives of Clare and Daniel and so many others, there is so much more to gain – personally and for society and the earth. I recognise that I have been able to make these choices to reduce my hours, which not everybody can. And I feel that I am only just at the start of learning what it means to live on less. What have you learned that you would recommend to me and others?

By Richard Weaver. Richard is married to Jennie and lives in South West London. He works for Tearfund as a Senior Policy advisor. He also working in community organising in Wales and as a Welshman is a passionate supporter of Cardiff City.

Food: the good, the bad and the ugly

August 5, 2014

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” Psalm 24.1

When you think of eating what comes to mind? We all enjoy a tasty meal shared with friends. It is so easy to buy what we want from a supermarket or to order whatever takes our fancy from a menu. But it’s not so easy to know where that food has come from, and who and what has been involved in its creation.

Our global food system leaves a lot to be desired:

I’m realising that what I choose to eat is not just a personal matter – my choices have a wide-reaching impact that I need to be more aware of. What I put in my shopping basket has an impact on the lives of millions around the world.

Let’s focus on a juicy steak for a minute – because it has a lot to answer for! Did you know that 1kg of beef requires 6.5kg of grain, 36kg of roughage, and 15,500l of water? This places severe pressure on scarce resources and has many hidden costs. Climate change, pollution, water use, ocean acidification, eutrophication, rainforest destruction – meat and poultry have a huge environmental impact. And don’t get me started on the methane that cows produce…!

Even if you don’t care about what is happening around the world (really?!) what about the impact eating meat has on you? Excessive meat consumption, especially processed meat, is proven to put people at risk from heart disease, cancers, strokes and various health risks associated with obesity, such as diabetes. If people in the UK ate meat no more than 3 times a week, it could save 45,000 lives and £1.2 billion a year for the NHS.

My husband and I are not strictly vegetarians (he is South African after all!) but are increasingly cutting down the amount of meat we eat, and when we do treat ourselves, we make sure that it is from “happy” animals / fish (i.e. organic, free-range, sustainably sourced etc) – quality over quantity. We are also loving experimenting with new ingredients, and often don’t notice the fact that a dish is meat-free. Win-win! Could you join us in becoming Part-time Carnivores?

Recently there have been a number of publications highlighting food issues:

We need to think about food and the choices we make to fulfil the command: love God and love our neighbours. We need to protect and repair God’s creation not only because it was very good, but also to show our love for our neighbours near and far, now and in the future.

What will you do differently?

  • Use your LOAF – choose food that is Locally and therefore seasonally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and Fairly traded.
  • Quality over quantity: eat less meat – see the Friends of the Earth Meat Atlas to understand the impact of meat – quite a long read, but even just scanning the contents page will definitely make you re-think your normal eating habits.
  • Love your leftovers and waste less – check out this recent Breathe post.
  • Plan ahead, shop with a list – taking time to plan your meals for the week will ensure that you only buy products that you know you will use, and will minimise your risk of buying more than you can eat before it goes off. Planning ahead will make it easy for you to take reusable bags shopping and check what food can be used up at home rather than being bought unnecessarily and resulting in older produce being thrown out. You might also find it easier to resist those not-so-special offers.
  • Know your labels – understand the difference between Use by and Best before.
  • Get involved with organisations which give potentially wasted food a good home and which help to build community:
    • Foodcycle - this UK charity combines volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create tasty, nutritious meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation.
    • The Casserole Club – cook double portions and give one to your neighbour.
    • Fareshare – redistributing surplus food to partner charities.
    • The Trussell Trust – the main organiser of local foodbanks.
  • Campaign for systemic changes:


Breathe’s motto is “Less stuff, more life” – this applies to our food too. If we can commit to seeking out food that has care for God’s creation at the heart of its production, even if it costs us more financially, and we value it more and therefore waste less, then our “less stuff” will ensure “more life” for us in the nutritional value of our food, “more life” for the animals and plants which are our food, and “more life” for the many people who currently struggle to get enough food.


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