Voluntary Action Camden

the history of voluntary action camden

Voluntary Action Camden has a long history of serving communities in Camden.

We began life as the Hampstead Council for Social Welfare in 1907, but our origins stem from a historical movement for social reform that began in the nineteenth century.

Voluntary Action Camden began towards the end of the nineteenth century after decades of conservative rule had neglected the welfare of the poor and factory labourers.

By the end of the Victorian period, people had grown tired of the political establishment that only benefited the wealthy industrial class in the British Empire. In response, a national movement arose with an agenda to place social reform at the heart of parliamentary politics.

Since medieval times poor relief (alms) had been distributed by the parish clergy. The church continued to provide alms to those who needed it until the Victorian period, when the Charity Organisation Society was founded in 1869. 

The Charity’s mission was to investigate the causes of poverty on a case-by-case basis and create services for the poor and in need.

During this period, throughout the country, many local organisations were set up to carry out charity work in poor communities. The nature of this work was shaped by a Victorian moral attitude which sought to distinguish between the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor.’

At the turn of the twentieth century, local charity organisations were a fixture of community life. Just in Hampstead there was an Adolescent Care Committee, the Athletic Sports Committee, the Domestic Service Committee, an Infant Welfare Committee, the Dwellings of the People Committee, the Poor Man’s Lawyer Society, a Pastimes Committee and a Present-Day Dangers Committee, just to name a few!

These early organisations were known as ‘committees’ and ‘subcommittees.’ They were the first voluntary organisations in Camden.

The organisation worked independently and without an official code of governance. As the numbers of committees and subcommittees continued to proliferate, it became clear that a rationalised system was required to coordinate their activities and make the burgeoning voluntary sector more efficient.

The introduction of the Hampstead System

Our predecessor, The Hampstead Council for Social Welfare, was set up in 1907 to coordinate all the committee organisations in Hampstead.

This initiative worked so well it was widely adopted in up to seventy municipalities throughout England.

A timeline of Voluntary Action Camden: from the Hampstead System to a modern-day umbrella organisation

The Thirties: from social welfare to social services

By the 1930s the voluntary sector had a firmly established and recognised role in society. The identity of organisations had also evolved since the Victorian age, as had public attitudes towards poverty.

The focus had shifted from providing poor relief, to improving society and quality of life more generally.

During this decade The Hampstead Council for Social Welfare became The Hampstead Council for Social Services.

Local organisations refocused on new concerns: The Present Day Dangers Committee, originally set up to tackle the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, switched its focus on public hygiene, for example. The Council had joined forces with London Council of Public Morality in a campaign to tackle ‘the lure of alcohol’ and clean up Hampstead Heath.

Other concerns of the decade included healthy living which saw the establishment of Hampstead’s first leisure center. The Council created a campaign to address the growing problem of children’s tooth decay, and a Children’s Country Holidays Fund Committee was set up.

Forties and Fifties: World War II decade

By the outbreak of World War II, The Hampstead Council for Social Services had come to resemble a modern day charity.

The War created new problems for Hampstead’s communities and the voluntary sector mobilised in response.

An Air Raid Victims committee was set up to help the housing situation, and a Refugee Committee was set up to help the 800 refugees now in Hampstead. The number of Citizens Advice Bureaus increased to four, and a further two Poor Man’s Lawyer Centres were set up.

The Sixties: The London Borough of Camden is created

Camden was created in 1965, ‘from the former area of the metropolitan boroughs of Hampstead, Holborn, and St Pancras, which had formed part of the County of London.’

Coinciding with Camden’s creation, Hampstead Council for Social Services became the Camden Council for Social Services (CCSS).

In this decade, the CCSS piloted a voluntary workers scheme which led to the establishment of the Voluntary Workers Bureau in 1966.

The nature of social work in the voluntary sector continued to modernise.

If the first half of the century was characterised by Victorian morals, the CCSS symbolised a new, inclusive attitude towards community life and rich and poor. 

The traditional ‘casework’ of the parish which discriminated between who deserved help and who didn’t, was replaced by ‘project work’ which dealt with issues affecting entire communities, regardless of individual circumstances.

The Seventies: The CCSS undergoes a transformation

The CCSS thrived throughout the ’60s and continued to provide a full range of projects in Camden communities throughout the ’70s.

Some of these projects included:

    • Citizens Advice Bureaus
    • The Voluntary Workers Bureau
    • A Bereavement Service
    • Consumer Aid
    • Neighbourhood Centres
    • Adventure Playground
    • Minibus
    • Pre-retirement courses

The CCSS Annual Report in 1977 represented yet another pivotal shift in our history.

The focus changed from running projects to supporting and coordinating Camden’s local organisations. Perhaps resembling the type of organisation it was as The Hampstead Council for Social Welfare.

This shift entailed yet another name change. By the end of the decade the CCSS became known as the Camden Council for Voluntary Service (CVS).

The Eighties: Hello World! Voluntary Action Camden arrives

During the ‘80s, we moved to Kings Cross where we became the ‘umbrella organisation’ we are today.

No longer managing projects as we had done throughout the ’60s and ’70s, we were then issuing guidance and support to other voluntary organisations in Camden.

Our specialism then, as it is today, was to facilitate partnerships, instigate collaborative work and act as an intermediary between the community and the public sector, ie Camden Council.

The nineties to present day

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, we continued to go from strength-to-strength, developing the way we work through forums, strategic partnerships and local networks.