Twelve people in the congregation and £400 in the bank – that’s the situation that faced Andrew Mawson back in 1984 when he became the minister of the United Reformed Church in Bromley by Bow. But though taking on such a church was a daunting prospect, Andrew knew that it was located in the heart of one of the most deprived communities in England – the situation was, to his eyes, ripe with potential.
Bromley by Bow is a community in the cultural melting pot of London’s East End. Situated by the North entrance of the Blackwall Tunnel, the area is one of the most culturally diverse in England, with 50 languages and dialects spoken within 10 minutes’ walk of the church premises. Andrew was aware that the location of the buildings meant they could serve a far greater purpose than being the home to the weekly Sunday services. The first step towards serving the wider community was that a nursery, run by local parents, moved into one of the rooms in the church building. Soon more activities followed, including a community care facility working with disabled people. A number of local artists also started to use the premises as a base as well as to pass on their skills to other local people.
Over the last 20 years that small church has evolved into the Bromley by Bow Centre (BBBC), an innovative community facility which offers around 150 activities, and sees more than 2,000 people pass through its doors each week.
One of BBBC’s most pioneering projects has been the establishment of a ‘Healthy Living Centre’ – which was the first of its kind to be set up anywhere in Britain. This integrates traditional healthcare within the context of wider community facilities and provides a real solution to a problem which has troubled the NHS for years – the growing waiting lists, in part caused by the fact that a huge proportion of the people seen by GPs don’t so much need medical treatment as a conversation and a sense of belonging. So, for example, at BBBC someone who is suffering from depression may be given medical treatment alongside the chance to explore and express their interests (perhaps in a pottery or woodwork class) which inevitably helps to restore their feeling of self worth and their zest for life. This simple but profound step of treating the person rather than the illness has proved so successful that the BBBC concepts are now being enthusiastically adopted across the UK.
BBBC also looks to encourage enterprise and has helped a number of local businesses to find their feet. Studio space is provided for stained glass window making, stone carving, woodwork, silkscreen printing, textiles etc. Local people can use the facilities to establish their own enterprises – people learn new skills and turn these abilities to profit by selling what they have made. A fully equipped ‘enterprise room’ is available to help people research and develop their plans. The centre sees itself as an ‘incubator’ for these ventures, recognising that some may stay while others may become selfsufficient and independent businesses.
Andrew Mawson is what community development professionals would term a social entrepreneur – where others see problems, he sees opportunity. But unlike more conventional entrepreneurs, his motivation is not making money and building a business empire; instead his goal is to empower others and build a strong local community.
If you would like further information about the Bromley by Bow Centre, ‘social entrepreneurship’ or to debate the issues it raises, visit: www.faithworks.info or visit the BBBC’s website: www.bbbc.org.uk.
Faithworks exists to resource and equip churches, Christian projects and individuals as they play their full part at the hub of their local communities as well as actively liaising with central, regional and local government. The Faithworks Movement is a partnership between various organisations including Oasis Trust, Christianity+Renewal and a wide range of denominations and church networks.
Chalke and Change Jargon Buster
We live in a world addicted to jargon. Computer nerds, businessmen, the military, politicians, Christians – all have their own specialist language. P.D.As, C.P.As, R.P.Gs, L.S.Ps and L.E.Ps; pdf. files, low-hanging fruit, collateral damage, early day motions and ministry times – society is littered with abbreviations and ‘in crowd’ terminology. The problem comes when one group or tribe wants to communicate with another. If the Church is going to talk to the government, other voluntary agencies, social services, the NHS etc. we are going to have to become bi-lingual. Each month Chalke and Change unpacks one key phrase of community development language and explores how it can be useful to churches. This month what is a ‘social entrepreneur’?
In the business world an entrepreneur is someone who has an idea for a new business and pursues it to make a profit. A social entrepreneur works in much the same way, however, rather than aiming to make as much money as possible, they work for ‘social profit’ – improving the quality of life in disadvantaged and excluded communities. They identify unmet social need and come up with solutions based upon the views of those most directly affected. They normally work in creative partnership with central and local government, business, churches, charities and other local and national institutions. One of their key skills is in constructing these partnerships for change.
Politicians of all persuasions are keen not only to recognise social entrepreneurs, but also actively to promote their role in the community. Tony Blair highlighted this when he said: “For the same reason we will be backing thousands of ‘social entrepreneurs’, those people who bring to social problems the same enterprise and imagination that business entrepreneurs bring to wealth creation. There are people on every housing estate who have it in themselves to be community leaders – the policeman who turns young people away from crime, the person who sets up a leisure centre, the local church leaders who galvanise the community to improve schools and build health centres.” The challenge has been laid down – the scale of the response from the Church and others is awaited.