Settlements, Social Change and Community Action – Good Neighbours

Edited by Ruth Gilchrist and Tony Jeffs.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers


ISBN 1 85302 764 2

Settlements were based on the idea that, if the products of the
public schools and Oxbridge came to live among the poor, they could
influence them for good. This approach led to criticisms from
people like George Lansbury – later leader of the Labour Party –
that the settlements did much for the settlers but did not give
locals control over the settlements.

Today’s settlements are very different and their scope can be
seen in the various chapters here which include discussion of their
work in adult education, the arts, disabled children, legal and
money advice, family centres and much more. By 1999, the Birmingham
Settlement, for example, had an annual budget of nearly £2.5
million with 120 staff and 250 volunteers contributing to 24

In his chapter, Tony Jeffs shows that youth work has long been
associated with the settlements. My sympathies go out to the early
youth leaders who complained about youngsters making holes in the
ceiling with billiard cues. Jeffs explains that the youth work had
three features. First, it aimed to give youngsters enjoyable
recreation. Second, it did so within buildings which also served
other age groups. Third, it was embedded within a movement “devoted
to publicising the plight of the poor”. Today these features do not
mix easily with obtaining grants from local authorities who want
youth activities geared towards making up for deficits of education
and to provide young people with the skills which suit employers.
Nonetheless, Jeffs hopes that settlements will “sustain an
alternative creative tradition within youthwork… based upon
concepts of friendship, free association, cultural and spiritual

And what of local control? In a final chapter, Sarah Banks
records: “Some settlement staff expressed their frustration at the
composition of their boards and described vain attempts to elect
local people and service users.”

Bob Holman is a community worker in

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