August 6, 2013
Lord Mawson at The Bromley-by-Bow Centre
Lord Andrew Mawson will join the ‘faculty’ for The School of Curiosity ‘End of Summer School’ 23/24/25 October in Villefranche-sur-Mer. You can book here http://bit.ly/15v1iWi. Here’s a little bit about him….
Andrew Mawson arrived in the run down London neighbourhood of Bromley-by-Bow as a fresh-faced Reverend taking on his first Parish. He found a church with a leaking roof, £400 in a bank account and a congregation of twelve people, all aged over 70. On the face of it the future didn’t look too bright.
He became frustrated at what he saw as a voluntary and social sector having endless management meetings, spouting ideology and with endless talk about equal opportunity, whilst all around lay poverty and decay.
He says “There were people like Karen who lived in a tower block with three kids who would say ‘well I don’t want to join a committee, but what we really need around here is a decent nursery and a health facility’. I was hearing massive frustration from people and thought that maybe here was an opportunity”.
Curious about the energy and frustration all around him, he began to just say ‘yes’ and back people and their passions. He found the sculptor Santiago Bell, who had been imprisoned in Chile by the Pinochet Regime, sharing a flat nearby. Santiago set up a studio in the church and began to produce amazing works from wood he found in skips. More people began to come to see what was happening. Janet, who had been a professional dancer set up a dance school in another corner of the church; Eve came and set up a nursery; then Sue created the Pie in the Sky café.
By now momentum was gathering and Gordon, the architect, came up with a plan to rip out the church and create a central canopy area, which could be used by any faith, an art gallery and Britain’s first integrated nursery.
When Jean, a local lady suffering from cancer died after being badly let down by the NHS, Mawson decided that if the NHS would not build them a health centre they would do it themselves. They did, using the same hand-made bricks that they have at Glyndbourne.
What grew out of a church with a leaking roof is today known as the Bromley-by-Bow Centre. It employs over 100 local people has an income in excess of £2 million and includes the integrated health centre and a three acre park, providing over 125 activities every week. Several businesses have spun out of the centre.
Mawson says “Human beings if they can connect in a certain way can become amazingly powerful things. If you start from people and their passion you can get 120% commitment. Instead of building a theory of society as government tends to do we need to rebuild society around passion”.
Today Mawson is using exactly the same principles to regenerate St Pauls Way, an area of East London adjacent to the Olympic Park. It will include a new £40 million school, a health centre, redeveloped housing and a new £1 million streetscape.
It all began with some simple ideas about backing people in a crumbling old church. The clues to the macro lie in the micro.