Policy in practice

<strong>The Social Entrepreneur: Making Communities Work</strong>

Andrew Mawson <em>Atlantic Book

This worthy tome is premised on the old cliché that if enough people did enough of the right things, the world really could be a better place. Andrew Mawson was, as he puts it, “tired with policy papers and academic theory” aimed at tackling social problems, so he set up the Bromley-by-Bow community centre in east London, which provides education and health care, and helps people find jobs as well as deal with problems that life throws at them.

Mawson and his associates bought the three-acre site for £1 back in the 1980s and, despite bureaucratic objections from the NHS and local government, made a success of their project. It wasn’t instant, but they learned from their mistakes and made lasting bonds with the community.

The book comes with some pretty hyperbolic endorsements – “Andrew Mawson is social justice in motion,” says the Big Issue founder John Bird – and awful chapter titles. However, it also makes some sensible recommendations, and Mawson’s is an impressive tale.

And yet, just as he constantly had the frustrating experience of not being listened to while he was trying to make his project work, one wonders how much notice most people will take of the book itself.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Now it gets really dirty