Posted on 16 October 2019
Toynbee Hall, a pioneering place for social reform in the East End of London, has recently completed a major renovation.
Created in 1884 by Samuel Barnett, a Church of England vicar and his wife Henrietta, Toynbee Hall was a response to the growing divide between the local rich and poor.
Future Leaders of the Country
The radical vision of the couple was to get the rich and poor to live more closely together in an interdependent community. Toynbee Hall was to be an environment that would seek out potential future leaders of the country and have them live with some of the East End’s poorest people.
Everyone would be a volunteer, helping for the common good. It was hoped these potential future leaders would see the problems of poverty close-up, thus developing practical solutions to take into their professional careers.
Indeed, many of the individuals that came to Toynbee Hall as young men and women, went on to bring about radical social change in Britain and maintain a lifelong connection with Toynbee Hall. These included Clement Attlee and William Beveridge, both political pioneers of post-war social reform.
The recently completed 2019 building renovation is part of a large-scale regeneration scheme that will combine Toynbee Hall’s practical advice services with heritage projects showcasing its pioneering social reform principles.
The renovation also includes a permanent exhibition, documenting a history as diverse as the community it serves. This ranges from supporting the 1888 match girls’ strike for fairer wages, to campaigning against anti-semitism in the 1930s, and launching a debt advice service in 2006.
There is a framed photograph hanging on a wall of the recently refurbished Toynbee Hall that shows its first ever residents, the class of 1885.
The 14 white male scholars and one female had travelled from the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge to live and volunteer at the hall – thus experiencing the East End’s extreme poverty first hand in order to develop new ways for bringing about social change.
The current intake of five residential volunteers are Toynbee Hall’s first since the early 2000s, and live rent-free in exchange for around 15 hours work per week – dedicated towards projects that celebrate the charity’s history or further its aims for social change.
Toynbee Hall chief executive, Jim Minton, says the exhibition and heritage projects – combined with practical services, provide an opportunity to learn from the East End’s strong history of social change. He explains:
“It’s appalling that today so many Londoners still face real challenges which keep them in poverty. Community-based organisations like Toynbee Hall have a huge responsibility to help people meet those challenges, but also to amplify their voices and advocate for change locally, across London and beyond.”
“We want our redevelopment and the new exhibition to show the ways that throughout the past 130 years people living in the East End have taken on the challenges facing them and built a stronger community together.”
Images from toynbeehall.org.uk/