A Broad Church

Terry Connor clocks up a quarter of a century this month with the
Catholic Children’s Society (Arundel & Brighton, Portsmouth,
and Southwark).

When he joined, Catholic societies were run by priests and often
staffed by nuns, brothers or monks and offered residential care and
infant adoption services.

As director, Connor has engineered a huge shift in provision. Now
there are a couple of specialist residential facilities; day care;
community-based work; adoption of older children, often with
special needs; adoption counselling and tracing; a Sure Start
partnership; work with under-fives and homeless youngsters; and
projects in schools. And it’s open to everyone.

The decline in attendances at church services has meant fewer
people dropping cash in the collection plate. But Connor says:”The
fact that attendance is falling may impact on our voluntary income
[the source of a sixth of the £6.5m income] but we have many
other sources of voluntary income apart from parish

“Also because people attend mass less regularly or stop going, it
doesn’t mean that they stop being generous charity donors.
Generosity and mass attendance are often different

Although he has given half his life to one agency, Connor started
out with a degree in Latin American studies from Newcastle
University. He became a graduate trainee with Croydon welfare
department, thinking it might have something to do with probation.
He then moved to Southwark for four years as a team manager, but
six months on the picket line in the social work strike of 1978-9
disillusioned him.

“The strike showed that local and central government didn’t regard
social work as the significant part of local government that I had
hoped that it was,” he says. He started to study law, intending to
leave social work.

Then he saw an advertisement for the society and thought the
voluntary sector might have a different ethos.

He joined as assistant director but within four months the
director, Father Howard Tripp, was appointed bishop of Southwark.
Another parish priest was drafted in, saw that Connor was a
qualified professional and up to the job, and suggested that he
should be promoted to director.

The society, one of 24 in the UK, covers the south east of England
below the river Thames. It doesn’t chase contracts, respond to
tenders or set up services for local authorities. Its aim is to
provide services attractive to a local community.

But how does a religious agency operate in an increasingly secular
society? Connor says: “Our work is for all children and families of
any faith and none. What can be a problem are stereotypical views
about Catholics and the prejudice that accompanies them. Many
people perceive the Catholic emphasis to be on conformity and
surrendering personal inclination to the dictates of authority.
Whereas my emphasis, and that of most of my Catholic colleagues, is
upon the dignity of individuals, community and interest in one’s

“With this philosophy everything, no matter how contingent it
appears, becomes part of a coherent whole. There is nothing
conservative or didactic about the work of the society, although
this could be in the minds of those unfamiliar with our

Connor also plays his role on the national stage: he chaired Baaf
Adoption and Fostering for six years, and was vice chair of the
National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations. As chair
of the Catholic Child Welfare Council, he helped merge it into the
new umbrella agency Caritas, of which he is now chair.

He says that he constantly asks himself why he has spent 25 years
with one agency and whether he should move on. But he knows the
trustees well and they trust him.

“If I ever get up and can’t face going to work, that’ll be the time
to go. As it is, I enjoy it and I can ask: what will be the next

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