Telling Charity Histories

The National Archives and the Pilgrim Trust launched Archives Revealed last month, a new programme of grant funding for organisations including charities to scope archiving projects and create new collections. So I thought I’d share some charity histories that I’ve found over the past few weeks.

Charity histories are important because they tell our stories in their own right, but they also tell our stories as part of the fabric of society – how do we fit into the grand narrative of the welfare state? How have we changed as society has changed? How do we respond to crises and opportunities in the communities we serve?

Our stories also tell us something about how we see ourselves. Some make use of extensive archives. Others present a particular face or image. They are written for a purpose; researchers should be alive to whether some bits are emphasised or downplayed, and how they exist in a wider context – the narrative of our collective sector.

We need more stories – big and small, national and local, from all types of organisations. There are all kinds of records in the back of filing cabinets, in people’s attics or buried in hard drives, waiting for someone with the time or motivation to go through them all. Archives, national or local, might be interested in your records (and researchers like me always are), or you might want to tell your own story. Charlotte Clements, Georgina Brewis and the Charity Finance Group have produced some great resources that can help you to both think about cataloguing and archiving, and to improve your record keeping overall – find them at Voluntary Sector Archives. The new funding from Archives Revealed could be the perfect opportunity to get started, if you’ve got the right project.

In the meantime, I’ve been searching out (mostly late 20th century) charity histories for a project, so I thought I’d share them here. I’ll keep updating the list as I find more, and do send me yours if I’ve missed it!

Action Aid Action Aid has a brief history on its website; it was founded in 1972 by businessman Cecil Jackson-Cole.
Addaction Addaction was set up in 1967 after Mollie Craven, who was caring for her son, wrote to the Guardian calling for people with lived experience to come together. The Guardian has the original letter, linked to here.
Carers UK Carers UK was founded as the National Council for the Single Woman and Her Dependents by Rev. Mary Webster in 1965.
Charity Finance Group CFG started in 1987 – here’s a timeline of its history and achievements.
Child Poverty Action Group CPAG has published a report by Pat Thane and Ruth Davidson about their 50 year history. They also have a timeline on their website, including images of archival material.
Crisis Crisis was started by Bill Shearman, a Conservative activist, who used his political connections to gain cross-party support for the campaign. The Crisis website has a full timeline of its history.
FPA The Family Planning Association (full disclosure – I’m a trustee) was set up in 1930. The website includes their history in two parts, and the organisation’s archives are in the Wellcome Trust.
Friends of the Earth Their first campaign involved dumping thousands of empties at Schweppes HQ. FoE’s website includes a 45 year timeline of the UK organisation.
Friends of the Earth Birmingham This local branch is running a project documenting its 40 year history, tweeting stories and archival material.
Greenpeace Greenpeace’s history includes the history of the global movement as well as the UK campaign, started in 1977.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants JCWI was founded in 1967. Its 2016-17 annual report includes a celebration of its 50 year history.
Motor Neurone Disease Association Set up in 1979 by a group of people with lived experience of the disease. This PDF provides a brief history.
NACRO Crime and social justice charity NACRO celebrated its 50th birthday in 2016. Its website includes a timeline of its history.
Oxfam Oxfam has a timeline of its history since its beginnings in 1942.
Parkinson’s UK Parkinson’s UK was founded as the Parkinson’s Disease Society in 1969. It has a timeline of its history and research progress on its website.
Rethink Founded in 1970 as the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, Rethink’s website includes the original letter to the Times from John Pringle, who was living with the condition.
Runnymede Trust Runnymede Trust has an oral history project documenting its history in the context of the struggle for race equality between 1968-1988 (nb some links are broken)
Shelter Shelter, formed in 1965, has a dedicated mini-site celebrating its 50th birthday.
Stonewall Stonewall was set up in 1989 – there’s a history of the organisation and its place in the fight for LGBT equality.
Toynbee Hall Toynbee Hall was the original Settlement in the UK, established by Canon Samuel Barnett in 1884. Eleanor Sier (@trulynella) also shares archive finds on twitter.
Victim Support The first Victim Support scheme was set up in Bristol in 1974. The website provides a brief timeline.
Women’s Aid Established as the National Women’s Aid Federation in 1974. The website includes a timeline of its history.
Royal Voluntary Service RVS has an extensive archives project. It also tweets material at @RVSarchives.
Muslim Aid Muslim Aid was founded in 1985 by community leaders from 17 Islamic organisations in response to the humanitarian crisis in Africa. The website includes a brief overview of the organisation’s history.
Big Issue Foundation The Big Issue Foundation was founded by Gordon Roddick and John Bird in 1991, in response to concerns about increasing levels of rough sleeping. The website states: ‘The two believed that the key to solving the problem of homelessness lay in helping people to help themselves.’
Leonard Cheshire The disability charity was founded in 1948. Its mini-site, ‘Rewind’, features over 600 digitised items from its archive, focussing in particular on the history of its early ‘Cheshire Homes’.
Disabled Living This Manchester-based Charity was formed in 1897 as the Band of Kindness and Children’s Help Society, to encourage children to be kind to animals and in turn their fellow citizens. It evolved into a charity supported disabled children,
and now provides information, advice and support around aids, appliances and equipment for disabled people of all ages.

The Aves Report: the old debate on volunteering and public services

This month I have mostly been reading The Voluntary Worker in the Social Services, known as the Aves Report. It was named after Geraldine Aves who chaired the Committee on the nature of volunteering in this developing public sector field, set up in 1966 and reporting in 1968. If you’re an avid voluntary sector fan like me, you might have noticed this age-old debate has popped back into the narrative over the past month or so, prompted by a letter from NCVO Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington. Ill-disguised historian that I am, I thought it was a good time to think about what it looked like in the olden days. (It’s another long read – sorry.)

What was going on in the 1960s?

Aside from the Beatles and naughty spies and all that boring stuff, there was also a significant re-examination of the nature of social work, its organisation and the role of local government in providing it. Conversations about a multi-layered conception of social work, encompassing neighbourhood-level community work as well as case and group work, played out across reports, committees and organisations like the Younghusband Report on social workers’ roles and training (1959 – I’m cheating), Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s report Community Work and Social Change (1968) and the Seebohm Committee report on local authorities and allied personal social services (1968). This one recommended that local authorities start to take a much larger degree of responsibility for social services, proposing the creation of specific local government departments. Government was also experimenting with longish-term, community-based projects like the Urban Programme (1968) and the Community Development Project (1968) in poor neighbourhoods and areas where recent immigration had brought with it perceived changes and tensions in local places. Voluntary organisations and volunteers ran like a thread through these programmes and debates, and at the same time new voluntary organisations like the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG – 1965) and Shelter (1966) were being formed as the country ‘rediscovered’ poverty and thought they’d better do something about it.

The Aves report on the role of volunteers in personal social services at a point where there was a sense that things needed to change. As the report itself says:

Social services had become more comprehensive and more complex than ever before, and there was increasing realization of the part that they needed to play. The aims of the services were becoming more explicit; their limitations as well as their potentialities were more clearly realized… it had become apparent that only by the intelligent mobilization of every resource could society hope to realise its aspirations to meet a very wide range of human needs.

So what does it say about volunteers?

The report includes some great material on volunteer roles, frustrations, relationships with social workers and views on the support they got (or lack thereof). There’s a real sense of celebration of the role volunteers played, including their relative freedom compared to bureaucratic services, a perceived stronger focus on individuals and human needs, and the ability to offer continuity where an individual might encounter a wide range of different professionals. It is not without criticism; things like ‘’friendly’ visiting’ comes under fire where it exists without any real purpose and without adequate support from organisations, and there’s a powerful reflection from a disabled person who feels they are a ‘captive audience’, obliged to keep up conversation with their volunteer visitor. There is plenty in there, both good and bad, that will be familiar to anyone who’s volunteered or worked with volunteers.

There are also some key themes about the nature and role of volunteering in relation to the state, which is what I’m most interested in:

  • The report is absolutely clear that volunteers should not be used to replace services, and should not be expected to do jobs where normally somebody would be paid. Voluntary workers, it says, ‘should be seen as part of an overall social work plan, not as a stop-gap for lack of trained workers’. Volunteers should complement, expand and extend the work done by professional social workers and services. It isn’t prescriptive about what volunteers should and shouldn’t do, but does make a call for clearer policy and role definitions in different service areas.
  • The report doesn’t talk about prevention. Obviously it is written at a time where this is not really on the agenda in the way it is now, but nevertheless there is no question that the people receiving help from volunteers need that help. There is no idea of preventing people from needing to use services, but rather volunteers are described as reducing loneliness, providing an ‘outside world’ perspective to people in hospitals or other institutions, befriending, being a conduit for service-user involvement and so on.
  • The Committee talked to different government departments about their views on volunteering. Some departments were more engaged than others, but it generally found that there wasn’t a great understanding, and that departments would talk about volunteers and voluntary organisations interchangeably. The report recommends establishing a national volunteer ‘foundation’; Government took them up on this, setting up the national-level Volunteer Centre (and the Voluntary Services Unit too).
  • There’s a serious tension between public services recognising the potential value of volunteering as part of service delivery, and having the resources and skills to make it a reality, particularly at a time when belts were tightening. In the report’s words, ‘the feeling was that voluntary workers could be very useful of only we had time to cope with them.’ There is lots of discussion about potential solutions to this problem, but throughout there is a recognition that the only way to increase volunteering is to invest in roles and services for recruiting and supporting them.
  • Volunteer bureaux weren’t such a big thing at this time. Councils for Voluntary Service and Settlements were well-established and had important roles in recruiting and supporting volunteers, as did other service-focussed organisations, but there were only a handful of organisations dedicated to advising and advertising to people who wanted to volunteer. The report calls for a much more comprehensive network. Noting the reluctance of the general public to donate to cover admin costs, it argues this should be funded by local and/or national government, given they will reap the rewards of having local organisations in place to organise volunteer recruitment, training and management.

How does this match up with debates going on today?

Well, it’s a very different narrative. It’s the perception of the purpose of volunteering that’s important here; for Aves it is clearly about complementing and extending, whereas in much of Sir Stuart et al.’s writing it is about preventing recourse to the state – an idea with a much longer lineage. This isn’t all that surprising; Aves comes after 20 years of the state as prime deliverer (broadly speaking), whereas Stu’s speaking after 20 years of New Public Management (likewise). The policy and rhetorical environment is different, as is the dominant ideology. Sir Stuart criticises people who take an ‘ideological’ position against government cuts, but his own is far from ideologically neutral (and neither is that of Aves, or mine). It says something about how far the conversation has developed and how far these concepts have been normalised that this is being presented as an inevitable path (or even, however tongue-in-cheek, as the only thing standing between us and our new robot overlords). I think we need to view this much more critically, and be careful with how we frame things like what volunteers do, what service users want and need, and the social care crisis within the conversation – which after all is affecting lots of voluntary organisations, whose business models are becoming unsustainable or whose beneficiaries are losing the services they need. I also think we need to talk to people who’ve been at the hard end of this, because ‘more volunteering’ is never going to be a remedy to the social harm inflicted by recent policy.

It is nevertheless striking how much of what’s in the Aves report resonates today. In my personal experience being a volunteer and working with them, the complaints of 1968 are still often complaints today (although I have been privileged enough to always volunteer for fantastic organisations who support me exceptionally well). So are many descriptions of the value of volunteering, and both pieces make the point that volunteering carries costs. Etherington says ‘it is time for the sector to renew its commitment to volunteering’. I’m not sure the sector ever disavowed itself, but it is worth considering why some of the same battles are going on, what new ones are being fought, and how we can keep on fighting in the right places.

I’m still exploring some of these issues – would appreciate any challenges, contradictions or other comments!