My brain hurts!

To quote Monty Python’s Mr Gumby, “My brain hurts!”

This has been my feeling for the last few days, as I tried to get my head around what we have seen and experienced so far this week. It has been a very full on few days, not only because we have done a lot of listening and visiting, but because some of what we‘ve seen has created mixed thoughts and feelings.  What I write here will describe some of what I experienced in these three days, with further comment and reflections to follow as things fall a bit more into place…Some of my colleagues have written their reflections on visiting the Willows Centre in Ashford, Kent, available at  I won’t add too much to the picture,  other than to say that I too pondered what effective leadership looks like when passing such an initiative from the first generation of leaders to next.

Straight after this experience we began our specific time with Andrew Mawson and the experience of social entrepreneurship in East London, at St Paul’s Way.  This community was an eye opener to me, in many ways.

Despite preparation, I was unprepared for some of the housing I saw, and not in a good way.  The bleakness of housing design and the lack of beauty within the built environment were distressing.  I grew up in a working class, mixed residential and light industrial suburb of Hobart, and suddenly felt a great sense of privilege, compared to what I was seeing.  As Andrew Mawson and Liz Hodges led us around the neighbourhood, I found myself aching to see the improvements I hoped they were going to show us.  This was only heightened when we stopped our walk beside a building that looked like a large toilet block, and then realised it was the community medical centre!  This was to be our venue for the day, and it was a day that held a great deal for us to process, much of it in statements that were confronting or at very least challenging.

We had wondered on a number of occasions what might be the underlying theology that fires Andrew Mawson in this enterprise which, unlike the Bromley by Bow Centre, does not directly flow out of the life of a church community.  I should also mention that Andrew was asked to head up the St Paul’s Way project about 5 years ago, following some of the successes of Bromley by Bow, and it is quite different from the former.

The guiding theological principle, for Andrew, is simple: “… and the Word became flesh…”  In this is the motivation, even for a project not specifically ‘church’, to reflect this reality in action among people who need it most.  The second principle is that we start with the micro to change the macro, and the place of the micro is in relationships and connection points.

“The place to start with the big issues, is not everywhere, but somewhere”.

Andrew talked of his frustration at seeing report after report at all levels of government and planning that were “full of big ideas but no names and addresses”.

We were duly reminded that our trip here must not be about reports, but about what it leads to for the people who need it.

The line I wrote in my notebook at that point was “we mustn’t focus simply on systems, processes etc, but on breaking bread with the community

The sense of connection Andrew is describing, together with Atul and Joe, local Pharmacist and Dr respectively, is a powerful and observable thing.  He is passionate and driven, with a low tolerance for the systems that get in the way.  We have been confronted at times by dismissive comments about “academics, liberals and bureaucrats who live in Kent”, and the like, although some context as to what he meant by ‘liberals’ was helpful.  But there can be no doubting the passion Andrew has for the people he’s trying to serve, and for me, passion goes a long way!

To be continued…


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