How Eastbourne's Josh Babarinde is navigating both entrepreneurial and political spaces ahead of May's elections


Josh Babarinde OBE is standing for election in his local town of Eastbourne, hoping to win election to the local council. While he aspires to find success in local politics, he’s devoted part of his time to playing a role in halting the spread of the virus by becoming a qualified COVID-19 Vaccinator. 

”The training was great. It was very thorough. First, I had to do a written application, and then I had an interview. There were a lot of NHS and St John Ambulance training modules I had to complete. They were on everything from safeguarding to data protection, to how to get consent, to how to prepare a patient to get a vaccine, to how to insert a needle, and how to store the vaccine. There was loads of information, hours of hours of time spent studying to the NHS standard. And so worth it.”

He had initially been looking to steward at a vaccination centre and believed that could be his form of contribution. However, he soon found that he could volunteer as a vaccinator himself, an opportunity he describes as a ‘privilege’. 

He has garnered positive attention for his willingness to boost public resilience to the virus. However, for Babarinde, this is part of a wider ethos of solution led action to push through the change that he wishes to see. 

“I’ve always been the kind of guy that rolls up my sleeves and gets stuck in. I’m not one to sit on the sidelines. To be honest, part of that is because I’m impatient in achieving the change that I want to see, so in this context I thought: what can I do to help us get out of this as quickly as possible? What can I personally do to help support people during this pandemic?”

This has already been seen in the early stages of the pandemic. The ‘social entrepreneur’ was involved in the quick turnaround of two initiatives geared toward assisting the elderly in his hometown of Eastbourne. First, he set up a community call centre. Through the work of volunteers, they were able to reach 5000 of Eastbourne’s elderly community. They signposted residents to services including emergency food parcels and prescription collections, and also kept those struggling with loneliness much needed company. 

After this came a donation drive to source video devices and smartphones. These were donated to care homes so residents could keep in touch with their families. 

Once again, challenge finds solution, and in doing so stems the flow of some of the pandemic’s most pressing challenges.

Beyond the pandemic, the clearest example of this relationship where Babarinde is concerned was with the success of his social enterprise business Cracked It. It was targeted at young people with convictions and at risk of offending. It taught them the skills needed to repair phones. They then transitioned into fully recognized technicians and gained employment as a result. 

Looking ahead to politics

Babarinde has also made strides in politics. He was on the OBV Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme dating back 10 years ago, and he stood as a parliamentary candidate in the 2019 election for Bethnal Green and Bow. 

He says that part of what drew him to another one of OBVs initiatives, the Pathway to Success programme, was the mentoring aspect of the scheme. For Babarinde, his greatest lessons in politics have not come through the lecture halls, but ‘from people who have been there and done it’. The other factor which drew him to apply was the added benefits of working in a supportive community. 

“I was really looking for another inspiring community of people who are like-minded and are facing similar challenges to me to bounce ideas off of, to spur me on, to come and help me - and vice versa!”

He added, 

“The Pathway to Success cohort and wider OBV family was a great way to do that. The moral support that lies behind that is critical. I really want to help drive the OBV ambition for civic and political life that is diverse and looks more like the people that it seeks to serve. No single political party has a monopoly on that cause, it’s got to be done across parties and I think OBV is a great vehicle for that. I’ve wanted to give back to that ever since I graduated from the OBV Shadowing Scheme “

As with many other candidates in May’s election, the virus has led to a change in traditional campaigning efforts. Candidates had been unable to engage in door-to-door canvassing until March 8th, and Babarinde admitted that lockdown had compelled him and his team to ‘think innovatively’. But he remains confident that his campaign in his local council will find success due to an emphasis on relationship building in the long term.

“I’m the kind of person that loves being in a room with people, looking people in the eye and really engaging with their spirits. What has campaigning looked like? Lots of telephoning! But, we’ve been calling them, not just during election time but for example since the start of the pandemic. No political questions, no ‘will you vote for me’, just ‘how are you?’ and ‘how can I help you?’.

All too often politics is transactional and all too often politicians only speak to people when they want something i.e. at election time and that is unacceptable. Politics is an all-year-round discipline; politics is a process that happens on pavements as much as it does in Parliament; it’s not just an event that happens at election time.”

Naturally, his team has taken an approach that has seen them focus on social media as an outlet to campaign ahead of the elections. There has also been a push through Royal Mail to assist with an ‘expensive but necessary’ drive to promote campaign literature while leaflet delivery by volunteers was restricted by the government. These are just some of the practices he believes will have a prominent place in future elections after the pandemic. 

He has been encouraged too by the number of people involving themselves in campaigning, despite the difficulties of lockdown. For Babarinde, whose social entrepreneurship has earned him an OBE, and whose work during the pandemic has seen him win even more supporters in his native Eastbourne, May’s election is another step toward gaining the platform to help achieve his ultimate goal:

“My goal is to eliminate the role that luck plays in shaping the course and quality of people's lives. My mission statement is to do what I can to instead allow people to go as far as their talents and motivations take them.”

Mayowa Ayodele


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