Leisure, Voluntary Action and Social Change.

Bob Snape is a Reader in Leisure and Sport and also Head of the Centre for Worktown Studies at the University of Bolton. His research centres on the history of leisure 1850–1939. He has published on a number of voluntary organisations, notably the National Home Reading Union and the Co-operative Holidays Association. His current research is focused on leisure and voluntary social service in post-World War One social reconstruction.

Much of the early historiography of leisure in Britain was concerned with mid-nineteenth century rational recreation and the moral improvement of sports, games and amusements through philanthropic and religious intervention.  The idea of ‘recreation,’ with its utilitarian overtones, was well suited to the period; by opening parks, building libraries and museums, establishing Sunday schools and forming social institutions for young adults, for example the YMCA and YWCA, the use of spare time could be moulded to encourage moral behaviour and civilized manners. However, by the later nineteenth century the concept of recreation as part of a civilising mission became less credible as social investigations, notably Alexander Mearns’ The Bitter Cry of Outcast London, published in 1883, revealed extensive drunkenness and vice and both spiritual and material poverty in the capital city. Rational recreation, it appeared, had not worked. Christian socialism and a nascent social science argued that social problems could not be addressed by focusing on the individual but through social solutions and radical changes to social structures and institutions. Accordingly charitable philanthropy, which worked on the principle of case-work, identifying and helping the deserving poor, was increasingly criticized by advocates of social work who saw change in society as a prerequisite for individual betterment. The decades on either side of the beginning of the twentieth century saw a contest between advocates of charitable philanthropy, exemplified in the Charity Organization Society, and social liberals and Fabian socialists who sought to displace its model of philanthropy by social work. By 1930 charitable philanthropy was by no means extinct but social work, by then widely referred to as social service, had become dominant within policy discourse. The relevance of this to leisure is that it was within this transition that a modernizing social idea of leisure superseded that of recreation. In other words, the historical development of voluntary action from charity to social work and of rational recreation to leisure were closely entwined, not just in terms of practice but also of theory.

The processes through which this came about are detailed and complex.  From the eighteen-eighties social and philosophical interpretations of leisure became of interest to social policy makers and cultural commentators, producing a discourse of leisure and voluntarism that flourished until the Second World War but which remains largely overlooked in the historiography of both leisure and voluntary action. Through the work of John Ruskin and William Morris, leisure acquired a humane value but was not, as the social economist John Hobson pointed out, equally distributed. A major influence on debate around leisure was Thomas Hill Green and his school of social idealist philosophers who articulated a model of the good society and the political obligations of the citizen, thus connecting the use of leisure with social change and citizenship. The work of these social critics and philosophers helped shape theory and policy around social work and leisure and was diffused through a multiplicity of channels which included monographs and journal articles, particularly those published in the International Journal of Ethics, seminars, and discussion circles concerned with the social sciences. There was too, from the eighteen-nineties, considerable correspondence between social workers in Britain and those in the United States of America where similar concerns about urban working-class life and citizenship were becoming pressing.

After the First World War the demand for radical social reconstruction led to increased interest in voluntary action in terms of community building. The National Council of Social Service, established in 1919, saw the enhancement of community well-being as one of, if not the most important, of its tasks. Its first conference was held in Manchester in 1919 on the theme of ‘The Leisure of the People’ with a range of papers outlining proposals for varied forms of voluntary action through and for leisure. Leisure had important theorists in the inter-war period, notably Ernest Barker, a classicist who as Chair of the National Council of Social Service New Estates Community Committee re-articulated Aristotle’s work on leisure and civic action as a model for voluntarism through housing estate community centres and Cecil Delisle Burns, Stevenson Lecturer in Citizenship at the University of Glasgow, who saw a new leisure of mass culture, voluntary association and shared experience as a harbinger of a modern civilization. More radical understandings of leisure and social change through voluntary association and action were proposed by left wing associations, for example the Kibbo Kift, Woodcraft Folk and various worker-sport organizations.

Leisure and voluntary action were thus inter-twined in several different social, political and cultural contexts. Social change was not always a sought outcome; several organizations remained conservative in outlook while numerous expressive voluntary associations existed solely to enable or promote participation in a hobby or a sport. The histories of those organizations which did seek social change through leisure, however, open a new and revealing window on social policy and voluntary action in a period of rapid and extensive social change in Britain. Leisure, Voluntary Action and Social Change in Britain 1880-1939 (London:  Bloomsbury, 2018) attempts to capture these patterns of integration of voluntary action and leisure and to re-introduce some significant and relatively forgotten thinkers on leisure, social citizenship and voluntary association.

For publisher’s webpage click here.

To see a preview of the book click here.

For more information and book discount click here.

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Recording Leisure Lives: Cultures, Communities and Class in Leisure in 20th Century Britain – 27th March, 2018. 


© Bolton Council. From the Humphrey Spender Worktown Collection of
Bolton Library and Museum Services

A Tenth Anniversary One Day Conference at the University of Bolton,
presented by the University of Bolton and University Centre at Blackburn

Second Call for Papers

The annual Recording Leisure Lives conferences were established ten years ago by the Centre for Worktown Studies. Their inspiration was Bolton’s identity as Mass Observation’s ‘Worktown’. The Worktown project was an in-depth study of working-class life in a north of England industrial town. Although intended as a contemporary anthropological cum sociological exercise with the potential to enhance the well-being of the working-class, its documentation now constitutes a globally renowned historical archive.

The Centre for Worktown Studies invites you to its tenth annual Recording Leisure Lives conference on 27th March 2018. The theme of the conference is intended to provoke discussion and debate on the social and cultural contexts of leisure in twentieth century Britain. In particular it aims to explore ideas and meanings of culture, community and class in the context of leisure. In terms of class we are particularly interested in, for example, cultural hierarchies, mass culture, religion, politics and radicalism in leisure. We remain open, however, to other interpretations. The theme of community implies both spatial communities and also clubs, voluntary associations, hobby societies, civic groups, play groups and national regional and neighbourhood leisure organizations. In terms of class we hope to receive papers based around themes of socio-economic divisions, a
leisure class, and other socio-historical constructions of class. It is neither expected nor necessary that papers should cover all three strands. There will also be an open stream for general papers on leisure in 20th century Britain.

We would be delighted to welcome VAHS members to this tenth anniversary conference. A second call for papers (we already have enough for parallel sessions) is outlined below. We welcome papers from academic lecturers and researchers, doctoral students and practitioners –   please do pass on the conference details to anyone who may be interested.  This year’s conference will be held on 27th March at the University of Bolton.

Paper proposals on leisure in 20th century Britain are invited. 

Sub-themes include  Cultures – National, Ethnic, Religious, Class, Sexual, Radical; Communities – Clubs, Voluntary Associations, Hobby Societies, Civic Groups, Play Groups, Spatial Communities (National, Regional, Neighbourhood); Class – Working and Middle Class, Leisure Class, Politics, Economics, Work and Mobility.

There are also open streams on any aspect of leisure.

Keynote speakers include Martin Johnes, (University of Swansea) author
of Christmas and the British: A Modern History and Carolyn Downs
(University of Lancaster), author of A Social, Economic and Cultural
History of Bingo (1906-2005): the Role of Gambling in the Lives of
Working Women.

Please submit abstracts for paper proposals (max. 250 words) to r.snape@bolton.ac.uk by 12th March.

To attend the event, please contact Bob Snape, r.snape@bolton.ac.uk or Bethan Atkins
B.Atkins@bolton.ac.uk and they will forward a booking form to be filled and returned.

The conference website is at http://www.bolton.ac.uk/Worktown/Conferences.aspx

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Disabled Ex-Servicemen of the First World War and Christian Charity in Inter-War Britain

Bethany Rowley is a PhD student at the University of Leeds. Her research examines religious charity and the experience of disabled ex-servicemen in inter-war Britain. She is a team member of the European Research Council funded ‘Men, Women and Care’ Project at Leeds University.

One of the evident, but often forgotten, legacies that the Great War left to Britain was the unprecedented number of disabled ex-servicemen. There was no armistice on the war against the misfortune of mind, body, disease and deformity. Teachings on equality and kindness to the sick and lame are enforced throughout the Bible. With over one and a half million men receiving a war disability pension by 1929, this blog post questions whether Christian charities neglected these principles, arguably, at the very time they were needed most in twentieth-century Britain.

As well as providing guidance on how to behave towards the disabled, all Christian denominations define domestic relations. Being head of the household, the male provides for his family. Yet, many men were unemployable because of their disablement. This personal and financial loss was felt more intensely by those accessing charity. Seeking charity contradicts self-reliance. Yet, by giving charity, those providing care had power over the veterans receiving it. Gender historians Jessica Meyer and Wendy Gagen have examined correlations between First World War disability and masculinity, arguing that men became ‘child-like’ in their dependency on others. Whether religious identity declined because of an altered sense of masculinity through war disability, however, remains unexplored.

In 1918, there were six-thousand charities for the war disabled registered with the Charity Commissioners, and in 1936, Ministry of Pensions produced a directory naming more than five hundred charities still operating on behalf of ex-servicemen and their dependants. Jeffery Renznick’s John Galsworthy and Deborah Cohen’s The War Come Home, examine British charities formed during and after the war for disabled ex-servicemen, such as The War Seal Mansions, The Star and Garter, Roehampton, and St Dunstan’s. Whilst the religious aspect is again neglected by the authors, the number of charities highlights the importance of extending arguments of dependence to charities and welfare organisations. This is because in the literature, the ‘others’ whom disabled men were dependent on, refers predominantly to family members, largely women such as wives and mothers.

Leeds in West Yorkshire is a useful case study to highlight such issues. This is because parish records with charity subsections are available for every area in the city, providing insights into how Christian charities enforced or bypassed biblical teachings towards the injured servicemen of the Great War. Like the Poor Law, charities pre- 1914 were structured to distinguish the ‘deserving’ from the ‘undeserving’ poor. Unsurprisingly therefore, there were many Vicar led charities which aimed to help the poor in Leeds before and after the war. These include the Kirke’s Charity in Adel and the Eyres Park Charity in Armley. Yet, a specific disability or disabled ex-serviceman charity in the West Yorkshire Archives Parish records could not be found. This is problematic and highlights a disparity in religious aid. Why didn’t religion play a larger role in the rehabilitation process when religion was dominant in Christian charitable work aimed at the disabled prior to 1914, as demonstrated by Carmen Mangion’s analysis on Catholic care-giving and Mark Freeman’s work on Quaker charitable care? This is an interesting point which has not been studied.

In the latter example, Miss E. Eyre Park left a Legacy to her Vicar and Churchwardens for ‘the benefit of the poor’. The net amount received was £412 9s 6d, but instead of it going to the local poor, it was ‘invested by the Charity Commissioners as 5% War Stock’ (1916). Charities, even religious charities did not always act in alignment to what was requested of them by Christian teachings on equality and truth. It is therefore ironic that in the Armley Parish magazine of 1916, the Vicar stated:

‘Thousands of men are risking and some laying down their lives to save England. We must share in their self-sacrifice by making England a better place to live in, by bringing the nation back to obedience to the Christian Law for this is and always has been the Church’s work. Can anyone be so indifferent, slack or cowardly as to refuse to take a share in such a work?’

The vicar and parish he is preaching too does not take a share of this work. They offer no financial or social helped to the disabled veterans on their return to Armley. Fittingly, in the Armley Centenary Church Magazine (1877– 1977), there is no reference to the First World War or the immediate years following it. The disabled veterans appeared forgotten by their parish on their return to this part of the city.  Whilst more work needs to be done to draw any conclusions about how and why certain parts of the same city or different cities within the same county responded differently towards disabled ex-servicemen, this highlights how not all ‘heroes’ were offered help from their religious community and thus had little access to religious charities that understood the needs of disabled ex-servicemen. Christian attitudes to helping those in need appear neglected in this case study. However, to argue that Christian organisations on a national level abandoned their religious principles is perhaps misguided. Charities for example, may have believed in and preached the Christian vison but could not fulfil it for material reasons such as human and financial resources.

Themes identified by this blog will be examined further as my research progresses. For further information on Leeds and religious disability charities please see the ‘Men, Women and Care’ research site at: http://menwomenandcare.leeds.ac.uk/

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Feature: Community building in Notting Hill: online archive for nursery centre

Michael Locke is an independent writer, researcher and adviser, formerly employed by the University of East London, Volunteering England and NCVO. In this blog, Mike reports on a new archive of community history, which covers the ground of his witness seminar to VAHS, and highlights themes of community action and partnership with local authorities.

The history of community action to build a nursery centre in London’s Notting Hill is captured in a website launched in May (www.maxillaarchive.com). It celebrates the life of Maxilla Nursery Centre (1978–2015) through interviews with parents, professional staff and community activists, pictures and archives of reports and press clippings.

This website tells the big story which I featured in my witness seminar ‘A place in a community’ to VAHS in November 2015. My presentation focused on how I got involved in the campaign to create the under-5s services the community needed and then in the management of the centre and governance of the charity. You can listen to the seminar here: http://www.history.ac.uk/podcasts/voluntary-action-history/witness-seminar-place-community.

Maxilla Nursery Centre was a trailblazer in combining the traditions of nursery education, social services day care and the playgroup movement and offering year-round, full-day provision for children from babyhood to five years old.

©Barry Wilson

©Barry Wilson

Our campaign to build the centre was founded on members of the local community working in partnerships with the local authorities, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the Inner London Education Authority. As a voluntary organisation we found a mutual interest with local authorities in introducing new provision to meet needs in our community; and we demonstrated that we the community could run a public service.

The strength of our campaign was set against a background of community action in the locality during the 1960s. People had struggled and organised against poverty, racism and housing conditions. They had created Notting Hill Carnival and Notting Hill Housing Trust, as well as initiating the Law Centre, Social Council and Adventure Playground. These actions had developed the political commitment, skills, networks and community organisations – in current terms, the social capital and infrastructure – which our campaign drew on.

During the life of Maxilla the relationships between voluntary organisations and local authorities changed. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the local authorities accepted and funded our agenda. ILEA even provided the architect, Barry Wilson, who worked to our voluntary organisation as to a client. But by the 1990s, local authorities saw themselves as setting the agenda and as commissioning services. The voluntary organisation became, in effect, a subcontractor: “He who pays the piper calls the tune”, as a local councillor told us. And when another councillor called Maxilla a “Rolls Royce service”, it was an accusation of extravagance.

By 2006 the voluntary organisation had been defeated by reduced public funding and increased competition for charitable funding and had to back out of Maxilla, ending the provision for children under 3 and its parents centre. That left the nursery school element run by the borough; it became Maxilla Children’s Centre and kept alive parental engagement and support. Finally, last summer, the local authority moved the school out of Maxilla to merge with another nursery school.

The closure of Maxilla generated a celebration of its extraordinary work with parents and children for nearly 40 years. Lisa Nash, a former parent and governor of the nursery school, working with Corner 9 Arts Project achieved funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund – with further support from local funds – to create the archive that is now online.

The closure of Maxilla and the development of the website took me back into history. I dug out of my loft several boxes of committee minutes and reports from 1973 to 1987. With Lisa Nash and with Judy Wilcox – Coordinator of Maxilla Nursery Centre, and previously the Community Worker with the People’s Association who started the campaign and got me involved in 1972–73 – we pieced together events. We matched the records to our memories, finding a few inaccuracies in the memories. Lisa and her volunteer team recorded and filmed interviews for the archive. In an essay in the archive I reflect on how pragmatism came through more strongly than radicalism – perhaps more so for having been re-reading committee minutes from over 30 years ago.

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Feature: Charity in the Georgian Era: Lessons for Today?

Andrew Rudd is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter and has previously worked as the Parliamentary Manager at the Charity Commission. In this blog, he reflects on the lessons learned by researching the history of 18th-century charity.

What can the history of charity in the eighteenth century teach us today? This was the question I asked myself when I started working on my latest research project, a cultural history of charity as it is depicted in the literature and art of the Georgian period (1714–1830). And it was a personal question, because before I became a lecturer at the University of Exeter I worked as Parliamentary Manager at the Charity Commission, which oversaw the activities of the 160,000 charities in England and Wales day in, day out.

Looking at the mass of visual and printed material produced on the subject of charity during the 1700s, there were clearly resemblances between what people were concerned about then and what we are still debating today. To be sure, there were important differences. For instance, the Georgians had inherited the medieval tradition of almsgiving which the Henrician Reformation and subsequent Elizabethan legislation had effectively secularised.

The ‘New Poor Law’ (officially the Poor Law Amendment Act) of 1834 was designed to make provision for the poor fairer for society as a whole, although it was regularly accused of inflicting inhuman cruelty, as the novels of Charles Dickens and others were at pains to show. This system, which was intended to clear away the detritus of ages and which arguably paved the way for the modern welfare state, has caused us to forget the Georgian idea of charity which was much more ad hoc and more dependent on the generosity of private individuals.

With recent attempts to put charities back at the heart of service delivery and questions being asked once again about unevenness of provision and even the whims of individual benefactors, it is timely to revisit the Georgian system and establish exactly what characterised it and what lessons we can learn from it. The Voluntary Action History Society kindly invited me to present some of my early findings in December 2015 and the presentation benefitted from a thought-provoking discussion afterwards.

The gist of the presentation was as follows. I was struck by figures showing that charity plays more of a role in people’s lives today than ten years ago (40% of people in 2014 said that they, a friend or family member had had contact with a charity, compared to 10% in 2005) and that debates over the pros and cons of charity have reignited.

In the eighteenth century, people were divided about whether the upsurge of charitable activity was evidence of nationwide benevolence or the social fabric coming apart. The novelist Samuel Jackson Pratt regarded Britain’s charitable institutions such as the Foundling Hospital in London as the glory of the age. Dorothy and William Wordsworth, on the other hand, lamented the growing numbers of injured soldiers and sailors who were victims of the period’s almost continuous foreign wars.

The question of the psychology that lay behind acts of charity was also at the fore. Eighteenth-century novelists were fascinated by characters who performed good deeds because they wished to be seen doing so (Georgian virtue-signalling). Secret acts of charity, on the other hand, were a sign of incontestable virtue.George_Morland_-_The_Squire's_Door_-_Google_Art_Project

Writing in 1797, the reformer Joseph Townsend wrote ‘it is generally found, that modest worth stands at a distance, or draws nigh with faltering tongue and broken accents to tell an artless tale; whilst the most worthless are the most unreasonable in their expectations, and the most importunate in their solicitation for relief’. This reminds us that self-representation of those seeking charity is often regarded as suspect and givers are prone to be on guard against possible fraud.

William Wordsworth agonised over the difficulty of writing about personal deeds that, by their very nature, ought not to be displayed in public. In one of his best-known poems, ‘Lines written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’ (1798), he described the ‘best portion of a good man’s life’ as ‘his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love’. Publicly feted acts of charity, such as those celebrated by Pratt, were from a moral perspective a contradiction in terms.

And yet, did any of that matter if money was raised and good work done as a result? One of the most compelling recurring features of the debate is the claim that charities somehow become less charitable the larger and more vocal they become. We see this in newspaper reports today about charities being too large or using aggressive fundraising techniques. Equally, charities that receive public money are accused of being too close to the state, an echo of Wordsworth’s view that true charity ought to be a wholly personal and not an official matter.

The Georgian era teaches us, finally, that despite repeated warnings not to give money to beggars in the street, for many the face-to-face, individual encounter remains at the mystical heart of what true charity means. Charity publicity tries to reproduce the effect in posters showing the faces of needy recipients whom the giver can imagine they are helping personally. The age of sensibility when the mental dynamics of sympathy and compassion were forged lies at the root at this enduring aspect of modern charity.

As my project progresses I hope to share more of my work with VAHS, but you can listen to the seminar from 14 December 2015 here.

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