I recently had the privilege of visiting Bromley-by-Bow. A vibrant yet noticeably peaceful community centre in the East End of London. The staff there told me their story…
Set up in 1984 by Andrew Mawson, who arrived as a young vicar assigned to a church with 12 aging members and £400 in the bank, he in conjunction with Chilean artist Santiago Bell, spent time “loitering with intent” within their community. They listened to the needs of local people who were living in a drastically depopulated area following the closure of the docks and with them identified potential for renewal. The park next to the church was a no-go zone, local facilities were sparse and educational attainment was poor – with only 25% of school aged children from the area leaving with 5 A-C’s at GCSE level. In addition to this, tensions were high between the white working class and Bengali communities who lived alongside each other. Many of the very vulnerable people living in the community were socially isolated.
Today the centre tells a different story. A flourishing community with artist’s studios, a GP surgery, an on-line centre, advice services, community allotments, a landscaped park, an artisan café and an active church. “The notion that community is dead is ridiculous” Dan Hopewell, the Director of Knowledge and Innovation told me “our role is to catalyse and enable the community to play its role to the full”.
The centre is underpinned by a clear philosophy; the doors – all of them – are open! They avoid using CCTV and steer clear of becoming a ‘service provider’ in people’s eyes, understanding the disempowering dynamic this can introduce. Through the layout of their buildings, the events they hold and the relationships they build they are intentionally acting as a facilitator of community for the community.
As a Foundation focused on regeneration we aim to identify where good community regeneration is happening and learn all that we can from it. Bromley-by-Bow provides us with rich learning opportunities. The task however, is not to replicate their model but to translate it. The solution of one community can rarely be picked up, put in a box and unpacked at a new location, but the stories can be listened to, the learning shared and the model translated and contextualised in a new place by the people who live there. As Virgin Money Foundation launches its Ripple Fund we hope to support the development of community anchors like Bromley by Bow.
I asked the team at Bromley-by-Bow “When you listen to the community, which of the issues that create decline do you address first?”
“you find the stones that roll”.
Some issues take decades in which to effect real change, some doors stick and are hard to budge, but some stones roll easily and regeneration begins there.
Find the stones that roll.
Nancy Doyle, Executive Director