“Our concrete cows are famous…”

Bishop Steven reflects on his visit to the Diocese of Oxford’s largest centre of population.

Feeding the donkeys with Bishop Colin and Joel, 12 from Oxford, at Pennyhooks Farm in Shrivenham. Photo: Charles Chadwick.

Christ the Cornerstone Church, Milton Keynes. Photo: Paul Cowan

At Summerfield School, Milton Keynes. Photo: Paul Cowan

From left, at Pennyhook’s Farm, Marie Read, staff support worker, Bishop Steven, Joel, Bishop Colin, Lydia Otter, on of the farm’s owners, the Revd David Williams, Area Dean, Jeremy Twynham, the Revd Richard Hancock, Vicar of Shrivenham, Sue North and Richard Hurford. Photo: Charles Chadwick.

With Amanda Hough, the headteacher and children from St Luke’s CE Primary School in Maidenhead. Photo: Nicholas Cheeseman.

Milton Keynes’ famous concrete cows

Just a few days after the terrorist attack in Manchester, I spent a day in Milton Keynes. One of the community visits was to Summerfield, a community school with an amazing blend of ethnic backgrounds and faiths among its pupils. I went to Summerfield’s to launch a competition for pupils across the city to design a poster to combat hate crime. The competition is arranged by Citizens MK sponsored by the local bus company and by the Open University.

I was there with representatives of the local mosques and churches, the bus company and the OU. The winning posters will be in an exhibition next month and the best ones will be on the sides of the buses over the next few months. Summerfield is the kind of school community and the poster campaign is the kind of project which will build a healthy coherent society for the future.

While we were there as guests and visitors the children sang a song, composed by one of school staff. It was set to the tune of the 1985 hit by Starship We built this city on rock and roll (once voted the worst rock song of all time by Blender magazine). The song reviews the remarkable history of MK: 50 years old this year and Britain’s fastest growing community: “Our concrete cows are famous…..We built this city called Milton Keynes”.

The MK story is a remarkable one. Fifty years ago, the population was just 30,000. Today it’s 267,000. That makes MK the largest centre of population by far in the Diocese of Oxford (Oxford itself is 159,000; Reading is 156,000 and Slough is 161,000). The city will continue to grow. Everywhere in the Diocese there are large new housing estates but in MK the population is set to rise to 309,000 by 2027 and 400,000 by 2050. MK is at the centre of the Oxford-Cambridge economic arc; a centre for the advanced technology economy and of higher education. The city is applying to be Capital of Culture in 2023.

The children of Summerfield School were immensely proud of their city. So is everyone else I’ve met who lives there. I came away strengthened in my view that MK is a key part of the Diocese of Oxford: we need a greater awareness of the city in all we do together. There is great work going on across the churches to build a great city, to work with the poorest and to plant new churches. But there is more that needs to be done to keep pace with the growth and change taking place.

I have now visited nearly every Deanery: this week it was Maidenhead and Windsor then Vale of the White Horse. Reading is still to come this month. The welcome everywhere continues to be amazing and there are good things to see in every place. Thank you.