Bow ties

In her latest column about The Mill community centre, Helen Bigham looks for inspiration elsewhere in east London

The Mill

The Mill always offers a warm welcome to visitors

In need of wise words my go-to book is AA Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

In my previous charity role I was based at home. Working now at The Mill I appreciate the opportunity to not work in isolation. Although my horizons have expanded I continue to value the importance of looking outwards.

With that in mind, I joined Waltham Forest Connected, a group made up of local businesses, charities and Waltham Forest Council. Recently I went further afield on a fact-finding mission to Bromley by Bow Centre. I’d heard great things about the venue and was keen to listen and learn, particularly about what works well and how they deal with challenges. They differ from The Mill as they have formal contracts including delivering employment skills, welfare benefits and social care.

Both our centres uphold a shared core belief in people and their capacity to achieve amazing things. Like us they provide the space, resources and support to help make things happen. Groups, events and activities are developed by local people who want to provide something for the benefit of the community.

Their centre is impressive, around four times bigger than The Mill, not including their beautifully maintained green space dotted with sculptures created by their resident stonemason. I felt comfortably at home, as similarly to The Mill they boast a labyrinth of rooms, artworks and mosaics on display. Bromley has its own hand-crafted wooden meeting table (no such thing as a new idea). A highlight for me, was while in their café, was a young man with Down’s syndrome who confidently entertained us on the resident piano.

Gratifyingly my visit is more than just hearing about other people’s efforts and experiences. Instead it offers an opportunity to develop the impact The Mill can potentially achieve through partnership working.

American comedian Amy Poehler suggests you need to “find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life”.

Hopefully this is the start of a budding friendship. Some people from the Bromley by Bow Centre are coming to visit us shortly and I’m excited to show them around The Mill. We’ve a lot to be proud of. Maybe we’ll be able to share a new idea or two?

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