community work in the 1950s

Community work was not generally viewed as a distinct occupation until the early 1960s. Prior to this there were separate groups of workers such as community centre wardens, secretaries of councils of social services and development workers on new housing estates. Work on the Dicken's Estate in Bermondsey during the 1950s is a classic example of the last of these. London County Council approached Time and Talents about putting in a social/neighbourhood worker to live in one of the many new flats being built. The worker's task was to share in local life and to 'encourage a community spirit amongst the tenants, helping them with their problems and promoting the picture: the club room old entrance 2007best use of the Community Club' (Daunt 1989: 85). Work began in 1951. The flat (in Wade House) was opposite the new estate club room (which also opened in 1951). One room was used as an office/small meeting room. The estate club was run by an elected management committee and financed by a 6d weekly membership fee paid by each member flat (pensioners could join for free). It had a large hall plus a laundry room. The Club room hosted a range of activities including a toddler's group, a youth club (until it caused too much trouble!), locally organized variety shows, whist drives, films, and some classes. Annalies Becker - who worked there for five years - described it thus:

I lived on the Estate opposite the Community Hall, which was hired out for weddings and parties. The wedding celebrations at times became a bit wild and noisy. At other times the hall was used by a classical music group led by Lady Maud, who was bent on sharing the experience of exquisite musical enjoyment with all and sundry. But alas, the piano - so well tuned and cared for - on one occasion did not achieve anything but a string of cacophonies and, on inspection, it was discovered there was a breadknife lodged in the bowels of the piano! This had accidentally slipped in when the wedding cake from the previous night's festivities was being cut. Consternation! I was never allowed to forget breadknife in the piano story! (Becker undated)

Today the clubroom is still in use with the old laundry turned into a bar, and the main hall used mostly for hirings.

Much of the worker's time was taken up with visiting the old, sick and lonely, club children's parents and tenants needing special help. For the first five or six years the worker also spent time working with the management committee and the various groups associated with the club room. In addition, they arranged a number of direct activities, trips and clubs. Annalies Becker describes this work.

I also arranged for facilities for all age groups with a tenant's management committee. We had outings for the elderly, visits abroad for mixed groups, of teenagers, house visits for the elderly, fundraising activities for local and national Time and Talents activities. I also took Social Work students to get their practical experience. The settlement house was nearby and we co-operated closely. It was a wonderful all-round experience with a lovely supporting group and endless scope for wider service.

Students came to visit or stay to gain experience in visiting and club work; and an American Fulbright scholar undertook some therapeutic group work with some 'troublesome' 12 year old girls for a time (Daunt 1989). The project finished in 1960.

References: Becker A. (undated) Tread Softly. Scenes from my life. As told to Paul Marsden. Daunt, M. (1989) By Peaceful Means. The story of Time and Talents 1887-1987, London: Time and Talents Association.
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