Volunteering: embracing diversity and inclusion

How can we improve our volunteering programme at The Children’s Society? A couple of weeks ago myself and two of our volunteers, Hilary and Rod, went to find some answers to that very question when we attended a volunteering forum at the St Alban’s Centre in London.

St Alban's Centre in London on a bright October morning

I’d been to a previous volunteering forum in Birmingham in March. These events are a chance for volunteers and volunteer managers from across The Children’s Society to get together and share ideas on how to make our volunteering programme better.

The theme for October’s volunteering forum was “Embracing Diversity and Inclusion”. We spent the day discussing how we can embed diversity and inclusion into our volunteer programme here at The Children’s Society. This means working out what barriers there might be that prevent people from volunteering with us and finding ways to remove those barriers.

What we’re striving for is to have a diverse range of people volunteering for The Children’s Society, with all the skills, experiences and insights that they can bring with them. Not only that, we want our organisation to reflect society as a whole and the children we work with so that we’re able to do the best we can to help those children.

A break for tea after some interesting discussions

It was a packed day. First we heard from The Children’s Society’s Volunteering Team who explained what we’re doing now, how diverse our volunteer base is and where we need to improve. Then we heard from a panel of guest speakers from different charities and organisations across the country, who talked to us about what they are all doing to improve diversity and inclusion. We picked up lots of ideas from the panel, ranging from making it as easy as possible for volunteers to get their expenses reimbursed, to providing different ways for people to apply to volunteer roles so that they can choose the way that is easiest for them.

After lunch we heard a talk about unconscious bias: the ways in which we can be biased for or against certain things without even knowing it. We learnt about the different ways we can be biased, whether that’s by our own expectations and stereotypes or through being influenced by the opinions of others. It was sobering and thought-provoking stuff, but really fascinating as well.

Thankfully we were shown how to avoid being swayed by our biases. One way is to avoid making important decisions when there’s little time or when you’re tired and stressed, as these situations are when you can be most influenced by your biases. Another way is to find out what biases you have; that way you can make an extra effort to not be swayed by them. To help with this last one, we were told about the Harvard bias tests which you can take to discover what unconscious biases you may have. Warning: the results of these tests can be surprising, as you may be more biased than you think!

Finally, the last part of the day was a group session where we discussed the different things we could do to embed diversity and inclusion within volunteering at The Children’s Society. This was a really productive session and there were lots of ideas and actions to take away.

Overall, it was a really interesting day. There was a lot of food for thought, and I certainly have some ideas for how we can improve the volunteer experience here at The Children’s Society Archive.

They also had some copies of our snazzy new volunteer handbook at the volunteering forum, so I brought a few back with me

Want to get involved? If you’re thinking about volunteering with us at The Children’s Society, take a look at our volunteering pages to see our current volunteer opportunities.

A funding emergency on the outbreak of the First World War

The First World War had an immediate impact on The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society). According to our Annual Report for 1914, for the first time in its history the Society took in over 1000 children, partly as a direct consequence of the outbreak of war. (Click the image below to see a bigger version.)

The Waifs and Strays Society Annual Report 1914

Despite fundraising events coming to an abrupt end when war was declared, the Society was not deterred, and it was determined to play a useful part in helping towards the war effort. The Society’s philosophy was

we do not throw ourselves today into “the fighting line” – it is not our place – but we do offer our experience, gained during many years, as a valuable asset “at the base,” – where women’s sorrows and children’s wants are crying out. Our gates are always open to all those who knock at them in real need, and … our door-bell … has been rung incessantly and with intense urgency within the last few weeks.

The nation was in shock, but it was not long before everyone was back at work again, with an overwhelming feeling that every one of the efforts must in some way be linked to the war.  So, rather than dances and fetes (such “frivolous forms of entertainment” were deemed inappropriate in the circumstances) more sober meetings and gatherings, and sales of work continued and provided much needed funds for the Society.

Girls at St Chad’s Home, in Far Headingley, Leeds 1914
The funds raised proved vital as more and more men joined up, leaving increasing numbers of children without guardians. The rise in admissions and the increase in the Society’s costs caused concern, but much good work was done by the Society’s War Emergency Fund which enabled “a really substantial start towards meeting our new obligations.”

Here are a couple of letters we received from supporters in 1914, and which were sent to the editor of our supporter magazine ‘Our Waifs and Strays’.

Dear Sir, – I herewith enclose £5 as a donation to the War Emergency Fund, but I wish to be kept ‘Anonymous’. I have foregone my holiday this year on account of the war, and send you what I have saved in consequence.

Dear Sir, – I enclose postal order for 10s., being a subscription to the funds of your Society from my sister and myself. We are concerned lest, in the necessary demands made by the War Fund, such charities as yours, which are already established and in working order, should suffer. We therefore send part of our subscription to your fund.

The following are just some of the schemes used to raise money for the War Emergency Fund:

The organisation of the Society’s Pageant, small Sales of Work, Meetings, etc.

The Issue of special small collecting purses.

The sale of the Society’s “poster-stamps”.

The organisation of house-to-house collections or special local appeals.

The arranging of “Pound Days” (to provide food and clothing for the inmates of the Homes.

The issue of collecting-boxes, to be placed at church doors, or in shops, or distributed to people for collecting amongst their friends, or for their own weekly donations.

Our Waifs and Strays Supporter Magazine November 1914

(Click the image above to see a bigger version.)

Despite the war the Society decided it would go ahead with its annual Bazaar.  Instead of selling what may be called ‘frivolities’, useful articles, “particularly garments for wounded and convalescent men, for destitute families”, and “for the children in our Homes” would be sold instead.  Many ordinary people contributed items, and in some cases made items to be sold, and acted as sales people for the Society, but that’s a story for another post!

Remembering the First World War

Today marks 100 years since Britain declared war on Germany and the First World War began.

The next four years will be a time to remember and reflect on the war and all those it affected.

Thomas, who was in the care of The Children's Society and later joined up to fight in the First World War, photo dated 1915

People like Thomas, who had entered the care of The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society) around the age of six. He lived in the Rochdale Home for Boys and left the home in 1903, when he was around 16 years old. Like so many others, Thomas joined the army and went to fight in the First World War. The above photo of Thomas was taken in 1915.

As well as those at the front, the First World War affected those at home, and the Waifs and Strays Society saw many more children coming into care as a result.

We’ll be discussing some of the impacts of the war on the Waifs and Strays Society later in the week, so watch this space.

A visit to Westminster Abbey

Here at The Children’s Society Archive we have eight volunteers, and they’ve been a great help in the Unexplored Riches in Medical History project and with other projects at the archive. The time the volunteers give really helps to enrich what we do, so we’re always looking for ways to say thank you. This week, as one way of saying thank you, we took the volunteers on a trip to the archives at Westminster Abbey.

The north front of Westminster Abbey

The Keeper of the Muniments at the Abbey, Matthew Payne, gave us an excellent tour of the library and archives, telling us about their history and the history of the Abbey.

We heard that the library was originally kept in the Abbey cloisters, although most of those early books were dispersed at the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century.

The cloisters in Westminster Abbey

The archives and ‘muniments’, however, have been kept intact, with some of them, and the chests they were stored in, dating back to the earliest days of the Abbey, nearly 1000 years ago. Most of the archives document the work of the Abbey, including records of the work of the monks that used to live at the Abbey, and records of the property and land that the Abbey used to own.

As well as getting to see some of the documents, highlights of the trip included seeing architectural features of the Abbey buildings, particularly in the muniment room. We saw heraldic floor tiles from the 13th Century, ornate, painted ceiling bosses, and a large mural of a white hart, dating back to the time of Richard II.

The west front of Westminster Abbey

All in all it was a fascinating afternoon. Many thanks to Matthew and to Westminster Abbey for allowing us to visit and, of course, many thanks to our volunteers for everything they do.

More information about Westminster Abbey Library and Muniment Room can be found here.

More information about the history of Westminster Abbey can be found here.

A Legacy of Fun

The Children’s Society has many legacies left to it by people in their wills.  An example of such a gift was that left by a gentleman in recognition of the benefits provided to him for the period he spent in care at Hatton Home for Boys (1913-1944), a Children’s Society Home in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

Hatton Home for Boys, Wellingborough

Hatton Home for Boys, Wellingborough

Following a reunion of boys who were at the Home in the 1940s and that was held in Wellingborough in the 1990s, he wrote:

“As can be imagined, when this exciting reunion became a reality, floods of memories flowed and were exchanged.  There was special praise for our beloved Master and Matron Arthur and Kathleen Silverwood.

Mr & Mrs Silverwood, c1940

Mr & Mrs Silverwood, c1940

He continues:

“Memories of nights spent huddled in the Home’s huge cellar during air raids; helping Home Guards Units practice in the event of an invasion; pillow fights in the dead of night; summers spent under canvas at a nearby swimming resort”.

It’s wonderful to know that the gift this particular gentleman left was for the explicit purpose of being used to fund pursuits which were ‘fun and recreational’.  What a lovely gesture and idea!  In 2012 an award to this effect was set up and Programmes run by The Children’s Society can apply to it for grants.  So far funds have been awarded to Children’s Centres and Projects for activities and pursuits such as:

  • football training
  • music sessions
  • horse riding lessons
  • gym session
  • judo sessions
  • Easter fun sessions
  • swimming
  • an environmental play project
  • monthly youth club

and even an outing to a wildlife park, and a trip to the cinema.  Fun activities and recreational pursuits of which I’m sure our donor would have approved!

We know that the boys at Hatton Boys Home often went on Scout camp, where they would learn skills and have plenty of outdoor exercise.  The Home’s Scout troop had their own Latin motto ‘Vive ut vivas’, which means ‘Live that you may live’.  It could be that experiences such as these prompted our donor’s specific choice of legacy.

Although the following photograph is not of boys from Hatton Boys Home it’s a good example of the fun our donor and his friends might have had at camp.

Group of boys from the Harvey Goodwin Home at a Scout camp 'making straw mattressess', c1913.

Group of boys from the Harvey Goodwin Home at a Scout camp ‘making straw mattressess’, c1913.

For more history about The Children’s Society, and to see more images from the archive please visit Hidden Lives Revealed.

Click on the links to find out more about Hatton Home for Boys and Harvey Goodwin Home for Boys.


An Edwardian Christmas

The excitement of Christmas has been building, and now it is Christmas Eve.

In Ambleside the Home is decorated with “holly, evergreens and pretty coloured paper-chains” and “how often the doorbell rings, and mysterious packets arrive!”

Whilst the children sleep the staff have been busy filling stockings with “delightful and beautiful things – apples, oranges, nuts, sugar, biscuits, and toys”.

The Gift Register for St Cuthbert’s Home for Girls in Darlington lists 3 dozen crackers, a box of oranges, turkey, a brace of pheasants, Christmas puddings and cakes, a large box of Christmas presents, 40 bags of sweets and a Christmas tree –just a few of the goodies generously donated on the days leading up to Christmas. These would be shared out amongst the children and would go towards the delicious Christmas dinner and party that was bound to follow.

Page from the Gift Register of St Cuthbert's Home, Darlington showing gifts donated by visitors at Christmas time, 1908

The staff would also give presents along with committee members, supporters, and people in the local community, such as the butcher. If there was a Christmas tree (these were sometimes donated as gift, as seen above!) the presents would be placed tantalizingly under it.

Christmas time (complete with Christmas tree and Father Christmas) at St Nicholas' Home, Byfleet, 1907

After prayers, and carols, and a church service the festivities would continue with dinner; a much looked forward to part of the day, and far from ordinary!

“Four whole turkeys with bacon galore! The former bought with special money so kindly sent for Christmas; then the Christmas pudding, of course, “all on fire” and with “something” in, which necessitated great care in eating”.

Christmas dinner at St Chad's Home, Far Headingley, Leeds, 1907

I wonder how many of us can remember something similar, or equivalent traditions, from our own Christmas or holiday celebrations?

Christmas in the Homes was a simple, happy day but it was always made to be special, with extra little treats and surprises.

(The quotes in this post come from The Children’s Society supporter magazine “Our Waifs and Strays” February 1908. Click here to see more issues of “Our Waifs and Strays”.)

Explore the history of our work in Greater Manchester

Archive Explored

The scale of problems facing children in Greater Manchester are among the worst they’ve been in The Children’s Society’s 120 year-old history there. That’s why this week we’re launching a new way of working in the area. We are combining a local charity’s responsiveness and knowledge of the community with the influence of our national organisation.

The Children’s Society has been working in Greater Manchester since 1889 and our archives are full of stories and information about the history of the area. As the Explore Your Archive campaign launches this week as well, it’s a great opportunity for us to showcase a timeline of our work in Greater Manchester.

Photograph of the football team at Heywood Home for Boys, Greater Manchester, 1916

The Explore Your Archive campaign is encouraging people to discover the stories, the facts, the places and the people that are at the heart of our communities. Archives across the UK and Ireland are taking part to raise awareness of the value of archives to society and of the rich variety of content that is held, preserved and made available to users.

Here at The Children’s Society we have a whole range of archives about our work in Greater Manchester. Click through to visit our interactive timeline to see some of these archival documents and to explore our history in the area.

The timeline is just the tip of the iceberg though. Our archive is full of over 130 years’ worth of records about our work to improve the lives of children nationwide. That’s over 130 years of fighting childhood poverty and neglect, and thousands and thousands of individual stories just waiting to be discovered.

Visit our archive website Hidden Lives Revealed to find out more.

Ian Wakeling, Head of the archive at The Children’s Society said, “This archive is amazing because it gives a voice to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our nation’s history. These are stories that are rarely told. Were Victorian families in poverty facing the same difficulties that families in poverty are today? What was it like to grow up as a child in care during the First World War? And what help was there for children who ran away from home in the 1980s? Exploring our archive will reveal the answers.”

Visit our interactive timeline to discover the history of our work in Greater Manchester from 1889 onwards and find out how we are working in Greater Manchester now.

See more archives from The Children’s Society and find out more about our history by visiting Hidden Lives Revealed.

To find out more about the Explore Your Archive campaign and how you can start your own adventure visit www.exploreyourarchive.org