A 'movement that moves': the settlement in Britain after the First World War

Dr Mark Freeman (University of Glasgow)
5 December 2011

SPOT Newsletter Blog Post (17 January 2012)


This paper will examine how the university settlements and similar organisations reinterpreted their roles after the First World War, as British philanthropists reshaped their activities and organisational cultures in the light of wider social and political changes. Although recent work by Kate Bradley and others has begun to shift the focus of settlement historiography to the interwar and postwar periods, these institutions of organised philanthropy have usually been studied in terms of their Victorian origins rather than their twentieth-century development, despite their continuing importance in the landscape of welfare and educational provision after the First World War. This paper focuses on the emergence of representative organisations of settlements, particularly the Federation of Residential Settlements (FRS), which was established in 1920 and renamed the British Association of Residential Settlements (BARS) in 1927, and the Educational Settlements Association (ESA), which started at around the same time. The two organisations were both rivals and allies, making common cause in many individual projects while at the same time each defended robustly its own distinctive conception of the role of settlements in their communities. It is argued that, as a result of the tensions between each organisation and its members, and of their problematic relationship with each other, the settlement movement in the 1920s failed to become, in the words of the ESA executive, a ‘movement that moves’; in other words, it failed to develop a coherent vision and practice of social service. Only in the 1930s did collaborative ventures on new housing estates and in the ‘depressed areas’ help settlements to re-create the spirit of pioneering social service that had animated the pioneers of the 1880s. The paper emphasises the importance of institutional structures in promoting and impeding the development of philanthropic and educational initiatives, and shows how tensions between centre and locality restricted the effectiveness of both the BARS and the ESA. It participates in a burgeoning historiography of interwar voluntarism, as well as shedding light on the development of some less well known – but nevertheless politically important – developments in the history of adult education in this period. 

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