1980 Review of Edinburgh Settlement’s Policy and Activities

This is a transcription of the 1980 review of Edinburgh Settlement’s Policy and Activities, which is a part of the historical archive held in trust.


The thanks of the staff team are due to those people who contributed, formally or informally – and whether knowingly or not – to the Policy Review: members of Council, Executive Committee and sub-committees; workers in the voluntary and statutory welfare sectors; and University personnel. Special thanks are due to Rodney Noble and Charles Stewart, who produced earlier discussion papers.
The staff team wishes to note its particular debt of gratitude to Isobel Lister, their colleague, who typed the first draft and Caroline O’Kelly, who typed the final version. Christine Dickson, Tony Graham, Sally Griffiths, Mairi Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Isobel Lister, Lis McHardy, Peter Ritchie, Frances Sturrock, Bill Wallace, Edith Wood.


Section 1: Introduction

The Background To The Review

1. In April 1980, following upon the resignation of the Director, the Council of the Edinburgh University Settlement instructed the Executive Committee to initiate a ‘review of the Settlement’s policy and activities’. (Executive Committee Minute 1744)
2. In October 1980, the new Director took up post. On his appointment it had been agreed that the proposed review of policy should be his immediate priority and in November of the same year the Executive Committee, acting upon the recommendation of the Director, approved the following Review Plan (Executive Committee Minute 1764):
‘The Review should include a comprehensive assessment of current policies,  functions and organisation and a statement of future options,  priorities and plans. This will involve a re-assessment of the Settlement’s present areas of operation and direct service,  the relationship of its work to the University and Community,  its financial base, and management and staff structures. The Review will try to envisage and establish a viable organisational model for the University Settlement which will take account of:  the Settlement’s resources and manpower levels, University and Community perceptions and expectations of its role,   current social policies and social needs, present statutory and voluntary social welfare, health, community and educational provision, and the economic, financial, social and political conditions and constraints which encourage or restrict its ability to promote new methods, services and policies. ‘
The same Minute also recorded that the Director “. .had initiated a joint policy review with staff and that (the) process of discussion and consultation (would) continue until early or mid-December 1980’.
3. This report summarises the findings of that joint review, and is submitted to the Executive Committee of the Settlement as a basis for further consultation and debate within the Settlement itself, the University and the wider community, for comment by, and discussion with statutory bodies and voluntary organisations in the Lothian Region, and for final approval.

Canon Samuel Barnett
Canon Samuel Barnett

The History of the Settlement Movement

4.  The settlement movement began in 1884. In the previous year, Canon Samuel Barnett, vicar of St Jude’s in Whitechapel, presented a paper  entitled ‘Settlements of University Men in Great Towns’ at St John’s College, Oxford.  The result of that address is described by Joyce Rimmer in her book ‘Troubles Shared’:

‘On the basis of eleven years’ parish work and his association with the Charity Organisations Society, Barnett concluded that it was necessary for educated men to live in poor areas and experience the problems of their neighbours at first hand. By learning about the causes of poverty they might be able to influence policy towards the poor.   Barnett envisaged a settlement also as a place to which the residents of poor areas would come for education and recreation.

Barnett’s paper created so much interest that the University Settlement Association was formed at Oxford to found a settlement in the East End of London. Oxford House was established in Bethnal Green in 1884 and in the same year Canon and Mrs Barnett moved into Toynbee Hall in the Commercial Road. They were shortly joined by fourteen men. ‘(Joyce Rimmer ‘Troubles Shared: The Story of a Settlement 1899-1979’ Phlogiston Publishing Ltd, 1980)
5. By 1890 nine more settlements had been established and in 1900 thirty-two were in existence.
6. The character of the movement, therefore, was firmly established, in its beginnings, during the ‘Era of State Deterrence and Voluntary Expansion’ identified in the Wolfenden Report,  wherein ‘.. . the deserving poor had to be distinguished from the underserving’ (Report of the Wolfenden Committee ‘The Future of Voluntary Organisation Croom Helm Ltd, 1978)  and voluntary effort ‘..  (was) geared to the moral improvement of the poor; that was the real purpose of charity’ (Derek Fraser ‘The Evolution of the British Welfare State’, McMillan Ltd, 1973). Settlements owed their origins to the tradition of Victorian Philanthropy and to the social, political,  economic and intellectual conditions which contributed to its development and ultimate demise.  In 1914, Werner Picht, writing about Toynbee Hall,  offered the following observations:
‘A Settlement is a colony of members of the upper classes, formed in a poor neighbourhood with the double purpose of getting to know the local conditions of life from personal observation, and of helping where help is needed.  The settler gives up the comfort of a West End home, and becomes a friend of the poor. He sacrifices to them his hours of leisure, and fills his imagination with pictures of misery and crime, instead of impressions of beauty and happiness. For a shorter or longer period, the slum becomes his home. Only seldom does he show himself at his Club, at the Theatre, in Society. This means the loosening of social and personal ties, in many cases the foregoing of the prospect of an early marriage, and the neglect of favourite pursuits. It means a sacrifice of life.’ (Joyce Rimmer ‘Troubles Shared: The Story of a Settlement 1899-1979’ Phlogiston Publishing Ltd, 1980 p. 6)
Although by 1947  there were seventy-two settlements in the United Kingdom, the movement itself was vulnerable and its underlying concept redundant. It had failed to take account of,  or keep pace with, developments in social science and social policy. Already impoverished at the level of organisation and management thinking, the post 1945 period finally saw the demise of the original settlement principle as housing programmes were developed and implemented and entire slum areas devastated, removed and their populations re-located. Few settlements survived the 1950s,  and in the 1960s,  as George Clark commented:
‘Few who were involved in the current of radical social change gave serious thought to involving settlements. There seemed little point or purpose. ‘ (George Clark  ‘The Blackfriars Experiment’, Blackfriars Settlement, 1973)
The 1970s witnessed not only a re-defining of the movement’s purpose, but also (and more importantly) a broadening of its constituency to  include a new kind of community organisation more representative of recent trends in community organisation (and community development) thinking and practice. The (significantly) renamed British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres (BASSAC),   recognises the diversity of traditions and approaches among its members:
‘We have 36 member organisations. Some of them have a long history, and an equally old building, dating back to the days of the ‘settlement movement’ which started in the 1880s whilst others are very newly formed often as a result of a community-initiative. These member organisations generally work within a defined urban community, and most have premises not only as a work base but also as space for community activities.’ (BASSAC  ‘BASIC  issue no. 20, November 1980)

The Report goes on to say: ‘Most member organisations would see their function as fourfold:

  • to provide services for the local community (such as youth club, advice centre, etc)
  • to innovate and to pioneer new ways of meeting social needs and to raise issues which require attention
  • to act as a resource for local community initiatives and self-help schemes
  • to campaign for social justice with and on behalf of victims of privilege and bureaucratic abuse.’

It is against the background of these national historical developments that the history of the Edinburgh University Settlement is examined.

Edinburgh Settlements on Guthrie Street
Edinburgh Settlements on Guthrie Street

The History of the Edinburgh University Settlement

The Edinburgh University Settlement Association was formed on 9th November 1905. The first meeting of the Association received a Report (Minutes of the first General Meeting of Subscribers 1905) from a steering group (The Provisional Committee) which had been-formed in February of the same year to do two things:

‘To find a Residence in which a limited number of men could live,  who would constitute,  so to speak, the kernel of the Settlement,  and who would be under the guidance of a Warden and …. to find rooms in which the work of the Settlement could be performed,  suitable for meetings, discussions, games, clubs, gymnasium, etc. ‘

Premises had been purchased in High School Yards to serve as clubroom and an adjacent house leased from the University to be the Residence. Warden had been appointed. The aims and aspirations of the new organisation were summarised by the Rev. Professor Paterson who moved the adoption of the Draft Constitution:
‘The Association would be entirely undenominational, not tied to any one Church, and, on the other hand, it would not be carried on upon a secular basis. Among its objects would be religious as well as social and educational work.  Another feature of the Constitution was that it was proposed to trust the Warden to a very great extent.   He (Professor Paterson) thought that it was sound policy that the utmost care should be taken in discovering the right man for the Wardenship, and then that he should be allowed as free a hand as possible. The third feature in the Constitution was that one of the objects of the Association was to promote the study of social problems, particularly among graduates and students of the University, Professor Paterson thought that it was very desirable that it should be clearly understood that this Settlement was to serve in a measure as a School for the study of social questions,  and of social methods. If it did not develop that character its work would not be distinctive. It was not merely to be an addition to the numerous Missions which were at present at work in the City, but it would be a School for the education of future workers in the promotion of social service.’ (Minutes of the first General Meeting of Subscribers 1905, p. 3)

  1. The Edinburgh University Settlement, at least in its early days,  had as its central concept the idea of a settlement ‘…   as a place where undergraduates might settle as University colonists in the slums of the great cities, to alleviate need and poverty around them. (EUS ‘Report of a Working Party on Edinburgh University Settlement’)

1. In its formative years, the Settlement was involved in a range of charitable activities; clubs for men, women and children, play centres, debates, lectures, musical events, health visiting, saving schemes and a day nursery. The focus for these activities was the poor, heavily populated neighbourhood then surrounding the University. (J R Waddington ‘Settlements and Their History’ 1963)
2. The 1920s and 1930s witnessed the depopulation of much of the City Centre, a growing economic recession,  and the phenomenon of mass unemployment. In the late 1920s a second set of premises was established in Cameron House,  Prestonfield and ‘.. work carried on simultaneously in the city centre and at this new out-station in the suburbs.’ (J R Waddington ‘Settlements and Their History’ 1963)   In effect, the Settlement had decided to move at least part of its operation to the area which now housed its former clients. The tradition of pioneering social work provision continued; in 1925 an Occupation Centre for the mentally handicapped was opened,  in 1931 an Occupation Centre for the unemployed was set up,  and in 1933 Kirk O’Field College was established by Sir David Wilkie and Sir James Barrie.
4. The 1939-45 war, the effect on social services and welfare provision of the Beveridge Report,   and the emergence of an entirely new set of social problems (documented elsewhere by historians and urban sociologists) had implications for the Settlement: the lean years of the settlement movement as a whole coincided with a loss of direction and sense of purpose in the Edinburgh Settlement,  although innovative programmes continued to be carried on, particularly in the area of youth work. In particular, the concept of the Settlement as a focus for neighbourhood work and a training agency did not survive the 1960s: inappropriately organised to meet the demands of the new thinking embodied in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and unable,  for valid historical reasons,  to locate itself in the (still emerging) neighbourhood based practice of the community development approach,  it withdrew to a physical/and restricted philosophical) base within the University: Cameron House and High School Yards were sold and Wilkie House in Guthrie Street became the headquarters for the Settlement’s operation
5. The present activities of the Settlement date mainly from the late 1960s and early 70s;’ Mental Health activities had been a feature of the Settlement’s work since the 1920s but developed their present ‘club’ focus in the 60a; the concept of the Service Group was a development of the residential principle; the Adult Learning Centre grew out of the adult literacy programmes of the early 1970s; while Kirk O’Field College remained a constant factor throughout.
6. This summary suggests that the recent past of the University Settlement is not representative of its entire history, nor is it typical of the way in which other settlements have developed.