Back to School

September 12, 2019

Everyone’s back to school!

It’s a new season. Isaac’s now in Year One. Anu’s starting nursery. And I (Peter) am about to start a PhD.

I’ve been given funding by the ESRC to undertake a 4-year integrated PhD and MSc in Data Analytics and Society with the University of Liverpool’s Geographic Data Science Lab, under the supervision of Professor Alex Singleton.

My title is The Geodemographics of British Streets. And this is the brief I’ve been given: This PhD will develop a method that creates a public geodemographic classification; that in addition to utilising the best of open data; couple these with other data sources and generate more timely and accurate measures of populations and their contexts. The project will develop innovative techniques that utilise street geometry in their specification, estimation and testing; as the site for social interaction and the construction of neighbourhoods.

Wait, what? What about the Bookshop?

Okay, let’s rewind a little.

Last year I was invited to get involved with Tree of Life Christian bookshop. They said they wanted to establish themselves as a House of Prayer, and also asked if I would take over from the outgoing Bookshop Manager. And as I prayed about it I found myself very excited by the possibilities. I put five thousand words down in writing to try and suggest what I thought God might be saying.

This was too much for the trustees to quickly digest, so I rolled up my sleeves and started trying to serve however I could (from chopping vegetables in the kitchen to coding bookscanning app to leading four hours of weekly prayer for the city to spending hours in the basement trying sort into ten thousand second-hand books into a rational order to giving away evangelistic cups of tea to passers-by outside the shop late on a Friday night), all the while waiting patiently to see whether there might be a clear long-term role for me.

After six months again I tried again, this time limiting my various thoughts to five proposals to the trustees suggesting how things should move forward. Unfortunately, this resulted not in encouragement to press forward but instead in the clarity that I if I wanted the freedom to press forward with my ideas, I needed to find new wineskins for new wine. The trustees offered me a thousand of their second-hand books to help some new venture get started, and I assured them that I would complete the task of cataloguing every last one of their books (– this is now finally finished, and you can now search the 10,000+ book catalogue online –), and making sure there was a system in place that could be maintained by others after me. And in the meantime I began pushing doors to see whether this seed of a vision might be able to take root elsewhere.

Taryn came with me to look at an alternative location available to rent for £500/month. And as well as a location, I needed some sort of a team, and some starting capital.

But although a few friends were encouraging, the necessary ingredients didn’t seem to be coming together at all quickly.

An Unexpected Alternative

Then one evening, feeling discouraged and rather stuck, I somehow came across a webpage for a fully-funded postgraduate course in Geographic Data Science.

Amid the frustration and discouragement of finding that the invitation to start something new at the Bookshop had turned out to be a dead end, I had actually really enjoyed the technical challenge of putting together the database systems to track the catalogue of books. And thinking strategically about mission means I have spent a reasonable amount of time looking at maps…

So that evening I hastily put together a CV and a personal statement, and the next day rather sheepishly informed Taryn that I had applied. Not really expecting it to go anywhere – but since nothing else quite seemed to be coming together, what was the harm in trying?

A few weeks later I got an email asking me to come for an interview. And now I’ve been given the place.

Except – does this make sense? Does this fit into what God has called us to? And if so how?

We have spent a lot of time wrestling with this question in prayer and conversation, and we believe it does. As well as being a chance to develop some very strategic skills (for proof of the relevance of geographic data to Christian mission, consider Operation World or YWAM’s 4k World Map), it is an open door to engage with Liverpool’s 70 thousand strong student population.

And it gives a clear structure for these next four years, around which we will continue to be committed to those same priorities which we have tried to pursue ever since we got married:

A large portion of my time will obviously be spent doing this PhD, while Taryn’s major focus will be mothering our small children. But around that we are committed to maintaining strong rhythms of prayer, relational mission and creative worship. If you’re interested, here’s a copy of our anticipated weekly schedule.

It does also mean that I will be receiving a PhD stipend of £15,009 per year, so we won’t be wholly dependent on your financial gifts. But we hope that many of you will continue, or even begin, to partner with us out of a sense of holy excitement and vision for us as we step through this door the Lord has opened. You can (as before) give tax-efficiently through Stewardship or directly by setting up a standing order (get in touch for our bank details).

We have been so blessed by your faithful support (whether you give financially or just pray for us) in the various shifts and changes in direction over these last couple of years. Please continue to pray for us as we enter this exciting new season.

Your family in Christ,

Peter & Taryn Prescott w/ Isaac, Anu and Paul