His home is an open house. When the doorbell rings for the second time in half-an-hour, the Reverend Canon Gordon Dey welcomes an impromptu visitor into St Christopher’s vicarage on Holme Wood, one of Bradford’s largest estates.

Betty Pedley has already popped by with a delivery relating to Play With Purpose, one of several community-orientated projects Gordon and his team have developed in the 26 years since he arrived here. Nadine Osuji from the Family Project also calls in.

In Gordon’s words, people like Betty and Nadine are “the salt of the earth”. He’s met many more like them here.

Gordon is aware of the bad press Holme Wood has had over the years, mainly connected with poverty and crime. But injections of cash into the estate, significantly the millions spent in the 1980s renovating an expanse of social housing, have helped to improve the area and its image.

The majority of residents respect their surroundings and that is largely to do with the work of St Christopher’s, the Salvation Army and the Holme Christian Community.

Everyone has a place and a purpose here, and everyone is welcome. As Gordon, who is about to retire, looks back on his quarter-century in Holme Wood, he sees one of the greatest changes as its growth into a more diverse community.

Eastern Europeans – mainly Polish – Africans and Afro-Caribbeans have settled here.

“I believe in here. It is a great place to grow up – my children have grown up here (two of his five sons were born here). This is our home. It’s not a place where we are just working,” says Gordon.

“I’ve never felt unsafe in Holme Wood. I love this place more than any place I’ve ever lived. We have loads of stuff here for children and families; it’s a very supportive community. There is a strength and stability about this community that is very impressive.”

His predecessor, Alan Kitchen, had laid down some important foundations on which Gordon and his team – he has 19 paid staff and 60 or 70 volunteers – gradually developed the successful structure which exists today.

Born in Wakefield, Gordon knew little about Bradford and had only briefly visited once while introducing a brand of yoghurt to the North of England. He was operating a milling machine in an engineering works when he was approached by a local dairy to market its new product. Bradford was one of the cities he visited as a sales rep.

He returned to the city after he was asked by Stanley Naylor, then-curate at St Christopher’s church, to preach at his ordination. Gordon was the vicar at Mixenden, Halifax, and before that, curate at Almondbury, his first posting after he was ordained 40 years ago.

Gordon and his wife, Lis, who he refers to as “the oil on the wheels”, eventually settled in Bradford because, having been based in Mixenden, he knew he could make a difference in another social housing area. Holme Wood has been part of their lives for so long that it will be a wrench when they leave following Gordon’s retirement on July 17.

Gordon will also leave his other parish – St James’s in Tong, a different community to Holme Wood.

“In Tong, the church has a big impact, especially with weddings because it is very attractive to couples, and also in ministry to the village. There was the restoration of the schoolroom into a place for the community, and creating new opportunities for social programmes has been important,” says Gordon.

His passion for the communities he has served is evident in his intention to continue the battle to defend green spaces. He is currently fighting the proposed housing development in the valley between Tong and Holme Wood. Public consultation is expected to begin this autumn.

Gordon says that while the community welcomes proposals for development within the estate, people don’t want to see development encroaching into the Tong Valley.

“That battle is still to be won,” he says.

He will miss the people most: “You just feel privileged to be with people here.”

Events commemorating Gordon Dey’s retirement include a barbecue in Tong Village on Saturday, July 9 – call (0113) 2852431 for tickets – and an open day at St Christopher’s Church, Holme Wood, on Saturday, July 16, from 2pm to 7pm.