Six years ago, when Cyprian Yobera moved into Clevedon Street, one of the five, this enclave in the north-east of the city had seemingly been forgotten by everyone but the dealers, the prostitutes and local gangs. The council’s preferred solution was to knock it down. “About 50 per cent of the houses were boarded-up and covered with graffiti,” recalls Yobera, who comes from Nairobi in Kenya. “There was rubbish behind the unused houses, young people making them into dens, drugs being done, needles left lying around and petty crime was thriving.”
An odd place, then, to relocate your family from halfway across the world. But 43-year-old Yobera, his teacher wife Jayne and their two small daughters did not arrive by accident in an area designated in 2004 by a government survey as the most deprived in England in terms of income, unemployment, health, education, housing and crime. They believe they were called there by God.
Yobera is an Anglican priest and came to Harpurhey as part of a revolutionary project organised by the Church Mission Society. Once, dog-collared missionaries set out from Europe to convert the “heathens” of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Today, the traffic is no longer one-way: Africa is sending men such as Yobera back to minister to “heathen” Britain.
“Kenya has material poverty,” Yobera tells me, “but we saw poverty here in a new way â€“ a spiritual poverty. All sense of community was missing. Our minds were blown by that. Missionary work in Kenya is easy. You stand on a street with a guitar and a crowd will come. People there are very sympathetic to the gospel message. Here, even the basic Bible stories are absent. People only know Jesus as a swear word.