A separate paper sets out a history of the settlement movement. This has not been a solely academic exercise. The goal is to arrive at a working definition of a 21st Century settlement, one that is relevant to contemporary conditions while holding true to the original ideals of the movement.

This paper summarises the development of Pembroke House, one of the last surviving settlements, over the last 10 to 20 years. There are, of course, many continuities across the two phases of history:

  • Continued governance from a university college, with little financial support from either college or students
  • Healthy tension between faith and secular values, both contributing to a spiritual commitment to community, and an intellectual interest in new ways of working
  • The residents, university graduates who give time to live among the community and to learn from local people
  • Provision of clubs, associations and committees to bring citizens together, and an inclination towards arts, culture and learning
  • Trinity of place — the community served — space — the settlement building and learning —grown from the uncertainty of outsiders settling in a foreign environment.

Although Pembroke House suffered in the 1950s and 1960s, it did not, like most settlements close its doors. But by the 1990s is was on its knees. The building was unloved and little used. It took a personal cash injection from the Dean of the College at the turn of the century and the appointment of an energetic new warden to find the funds for survival and the resurrection of ideals. The following pages chart the recovery from this low ebb.

Context

Tony Blair’s speech delivered at the Aylesbury Estate seems like a lifetime away. The world has changed in ways he could not have imagined. Putting aside wars, climate change and a rise in the nuclear threat that has turned the Doomsday clock closer to midnight than at any time in its history, three more proximal shifts set the scene.

New public management approaches introduced in the Thatcher years and championed by Blair became mainstream and have now generated a major anti-body reaction among academics, public policy experts and innovators. The evils of hyper-individualism, social isolation, and the corrosion of trust identified by David Brooks have been both a consequence and a contributor to the new public management hegemony. The culture wars that have come to characterise U.S. politics have infected U.K. politics, most obviously exemplified in the divisions regarding membership of the European Union.

How is this felt in Walworth? Southwark is the sixth poorest borough in London, and child poverty rates in Walworth range from 38% in Newington to 43% in Faraday. (These figures roll off the keyboard losing a meaning felt by children and their parents who manage on less than £15 a day per person to pay for food, bills, childcare, transport, clothes and other household items). The challenge is complemented by inequality, of living in close quarters with families that have.

The growing wealth of Walworth is indicated on the diagram below with data on the purchasing power of citizens in Southwark and Lewisham. The impact of the global economic downturn in 2008 is clear to see, but so too is the increase in money in the pockets of the average citizen.

This has been an era of regeneration and gentrification, the pulling down of the Aylesbury and the rising of European style tenements, sometimes but not always maintaining a social mix. It has also been an era of high rent, job insecurity and a generation of young people both poorer than their parents and spending the majority of their income on housing.

Finally, the last decade has been paradoxical for public systems. Their spending power has been drastically reduced, although most services have been protected. Their interest in civil society has risen, reflecting a desire to reduce demand by unlocking the capacity of non-governmental organisations like Pembroke House.

Facts

Any history is subject to interpretation. The starting point are the facts. The attached diagram summarises that of which we can be sure, the tenure of the leadership, the financial turnover of the organisation, the political context, the major changes in strategy. The focus is on the last 10 years, but the diagram goes back to 1997, to Tony Blair’s first speech as Prime Minister, delivered at the Aylesbury Estate adjacent to Pembroke House. (See WeLearn Blair's Speech)

There have been four wardens and four leaders of Pembroke in the years that followed, each facing different challenges with divergent expertise and styles of working. (Edit in light of Michael Kuczynski notes).

Mark Williams is credited with bringing Pembroke House back from the brink. At the turn of the century, the building was in a state of disrepair and the financial situation was grim. He stabilised the organisation and raised the funds for refurbishment at a time prior when investment in disadvantaged communities was riding high.

The settlement building closed for nearly a year in 2009 while the work took place, with the activity decamping to All Saints Hall in Surrey Square, now home to the Walworth Living Room.

Williams departed to be replaced after an interregnum by David Evans in 2010. Survival of the settlement was now assured. The new challenge was to fill the space. The building was spick and span, but there was no water and no chairs. Evans recruited Aydin Djemal to prepare a five year strategy resonant of the times, specifying income and expenditure streams.

When Evans took over there were four projects (the Academy of Music, the Lunch Club, a youth club and Young Visions, a project connecting three local schools with universities and the world of work). He asked, ‘Where are the homeless people, prostitutes and junkies?’, that is of groups defined by a specific or series of disadvantages. Apart from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous using Pembroke space, and the pastoral care offered by the clergy to the most needy in the area, this part of the strategy was largely unrealised.

The new strategy also co-included with the global financial crisis, the introduction of austerity as a national policy and a rolling back of the state. As the expenditure line on the graph demonstrates the first half of the last decade saw the settlement bump along in financial terms, spending between £200,000 and £250,000 annually, after which, the line rises.

Two other appointments explain the change. Mike Wilson arrived as a refugee from the civil service, by his own description a little lost. Ali Kaviani came with the unlikely combination of a Phd in Cosmology and a passion for dance. In different ways, both were able to generate income and draw new constituencies to the area.

Their contribution, and the interests of the funders they attracted, introduced a lot of tension, healthy and unhealthy, into the settlement. One focus was a sense of constriction imposed by the building on Tatum Street, of a history that provides both foundation and limitation. Out of that came an interest in a ‘third space’ between home and work, or in the case of Pembroke House, between settlement building and citizen. There was much exploration of the potential for a ‘public house’, almost literally realised when the opportunity to buy the neighbouring Huntsman pub came up. The net result was the Walworth Living Room, located in All Saints Hall a five minute walk away, the temporary home for the settlement when it closed for refurbishment in 2009.

At the same time, another shift was taking place. It has received much less attention but arguably is the most significant in the settlement’s 130 year history.

In 2018 David Evans stood down. Ellen Eames became Warden. But at the same time Mike Wilson became Chief Executive and the Pembroke House Mission became the Pembroke House Settlement, an alteration in legal status as well as name. This represented to most the proper representation for what Pembroke House had always been, a settlement not a mission. It also reflected a major shift in power away from the church towards the charity.

Ethics

Mission and settlements drew their ethics from Christianity. The idea of a settlement established in part to save the rich from themselves, to rescue the affluent West end of London from social isolation, led the Barnetts to a broader ethical stance. At the core, as illustrated in the long history, was a humility born of ignorance of the context into which the external resident, the university student or graduate, was placed. It was a humility that demanded a deference to local citizens, and of the settlers need for personal growth.

This humility is evident over the last decade. It can be seen in the interest in and adherence to the ideals of the settlement movement expressed by Mike Wilson. It shows up in the sense of not knowing and the need to find out that is inherent in the inclusive dance work introduced by Ali Kaviani and Nina Feldman. The openness to learning exhibited by some of the residents is another indicator. (Some, quite naturally, arrive with a sense that they know, and with a passion to apply what they know).

Religious ethics and ways of being have not gone away. David Evans came to Pembroke without a great deal of knowledge about the settlement movement but with a way of thinking from having live in Friary that was entirely consistent; an interest in community, an openness to integrate those from outside of the community, and a tolerance for the diversity of people’s lives.

The struggle of faith has been ever present (see for example Welearn 10). As the leadership team grappled with what should sit at the core of the Walworth Living Room, Ellen Eames referred back to the concept of the body of Christ, that the church represents an organisation in which members have equal standing, an organisation to which all members can give, and through which all members can be transformed, their agency intact.

For the emerging leadership, these ideas are expressed more in terms of meta-ethics, often the same values and principles expressed in secular terms. The work of philosopher Gillian Rose, in particular her rejection of linear progression from challenge to solution, and her call to stay ‘in the difficult middle’ resonated with Mike Wilson as he assumed the leadership of Pembroke House (listen to Welearn 29). Another example is the drive towards reflection about the minutia of settlement life as a mechanism for learning and progression represented in the work of Ali Kaviani and Nina Feldman, and described in the report Method-C.

As is evident, the engagement between settlement and community remains intellectual. This is evidenced in the amount of discussion about activities like a street party that other community organisations might see as straightforward. It is clear also in the nature of the activities, the focus on the arts, music, and dance. It is serviced by the mix of residents, staff and external experts.

There is of course a counter view. Some working at Pembroke have to get used to what they see as residents intellectualising the blindly obvious. An established community worker might perceive a lack of common sense, asking is not the role of a community centre to provide the space for people to come and make things happen? These are among the many tensions that have to be managed in a settlement.

Tensions

By definition an organisation produces tension. Pembroke House is not an exception to this rule.

The settlement comprises many constituencies. There are residents, paid staff, volunteers, trustees, consultants and partners, organisations paying for space, funders, and citizens. These constituents do not speak with one voice. But the leadership, bound by an ethic of humility, must find and help navigate a shared path. The challenge is heightened by the fact that most people involved in Pembroke House have a strong emotional commitment to the idea of settlement, or at least their own idea of settlement.

Some of the tensions have been mentioned. Residents, largely unpaid, come with passion but little practical knowledge stand on an equal footing with paid staff who bring their own passion and long experience. The healthy friction between religion and meta-ethics has been discussed, but it is worth saying also that it sits atop a century long struggle within and between church and secular forces regarding settlement governance, funding and use of space.

In the last five years, income and expenditure has risen. Funders come with objectives, for example health and development outcomes to be achieved, or the number of people funnelled into services.

Their ability to rob third sector organisations of their core values is well documented. That has not happened with Pembroke House but the relationship between foundations and grantee demands constant attention.

The extra sources of funding has supported growth in staff, space and partnerships if not, as yet, any obvious expansion in the numbers of citizens engaged with the settlement. Growth brings its own set of tensions. Other third sector organisations in Walworth may reasonably look on with some jealousy at the Pembroke’s ability to raise funds in times of scarcity.

Which leads on to the question of governance. The settlement is a charity the board of which reflects the strong ties to Pembroke College, Cambridge. The College contributes little financially, although the alumni do make a small and steady contribution. The leadership team raise most of the money, building up commitments to foundations and public sector organisations. The church retains historical status, and is also the landlord for some of the settlement’s activities. The settlement itself is landlord to some third sectors organisations, IntoUniversity for example, which helps young people develop their academic careers. And then there are the community members, some of whom have strong views about the settlement’s work.

Finally, there is a tension between what has been called in other publications fixing and connecting. Traditionally, in the third sector, when a citizens presents with a need, the organisation and/or its representatives will attempt to meet that need, to fix the problem.

There is a natural and virtuous pre-disposition to intervene and help. The settlement movement does not rule out fixing people’s problems but the tradition is more akin to that of a religious institution, of providing a context in which people will resolve their own problems, usually through connection with others or some spiritual ideal.

The broadening

The core principles of the settlement movement summarised in the paper on the history of the settlement movement have remained reasonably constant at Pembroke House. There has been a broadening in the application of those core principles in the last decade. Some of this development has been welcomed, some has been a source of doubt or concern.

The resident body has widened. Pembroke College is no longer the primary source of graduates coming to work in the community. During David Evans time graduates of other Oxbridge colleges were admitted, and in the last few years graduates from other universities have become resident.

The shifting between religious and secular ethics, and between church as leader and church as constituent has been mentioned. In line with most non-governmental organisations Pembroke House describes itself as a place of all faiths and none, or as omnistic. It is difficult to calculate if this is true or not. In another sense, the settlement has narrowed, with attendance at church services by Walworth citizens falling in line with the national decline in church attendance.

The place has broadened (see Welearn 2). As far as can be gauged, historically Pembroke House mainly served people living from the streets around the settlement house. Funders have encouraged an extended geographical reach. Around 2015, the settlement began to talk in terms of the ‘triangle’, the wards of East Walworth and Faraday. As the investment ramped up, the third Walworth ward of Newington was added. There is too little data to know whether this aspiration for broader reach is being realised.

There is now additional space. The settlement building has been supplemented with the Walworth Living Room. There have been discussions in line with the geographical expansion to use other spaces to the West of Walworth. There is more diversity in the way the settlement’s buildings are used, with other organisations purchasing space.

Finally, austerity has pushed both public systems and foundations to take a closer interest in civil society, and therefore in civil society organisations like Pembroke House from which it can learn and partner with. This is evident in the collaboration between the settlement and the local health trust to provide mental health services in Walworth, the use of the Walworth living room by GPs and local authority children’s services experts, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity’s choice of Pembroke as a learning partner for its work in Walworth.

Challenges

The short history gives some indication of the challenges ahead for the settlement, for Pembroke and for the idea of a 21st Century settlement.

Eating while thinking is placed at the top of the list. The early settlers did not say much about raising money, putting food on their own table. Maybe they did not have to worry. Maybe it was something to be avoided in polite conversation. The same cannot be said today. Raising the funds for projects, to improve mental health or reduce obesity or get more young people into university is relatively straightforward. Raising funds to think about and test new ideas about the condition of civil society is more complicated.

Pembroke has been reasonably successful on this front in the last five years, but success generates new hazards. The exponential rise in financial turnover summarised in the diagram above is not designed to be sustained. What is the point of levelling? Too much income could create an antibody reaction from other non-governmental organisations in Walworth. How is this to be managed? The size and complexity of the settlement has grown, but the organisational structures remain broadly the same. How should these adapt, while remaining true to the settlement ideals?

In this latest period of reform, the innovation has been largely internally generated and pushed into civil society, inviting citizens to participate. Most effective innovation creates its own pull, requiring the creator to manage external demand. The precise direction of travel for the settlement and the Walworth Living Room is not yet charted, but one option is to create connection, for example to generate a 1,000 conversations per week within the Walworth Living Room. This objective is viable and verifiable but it will require a switch in focus from pushing ideas onto a reluctant public to creating a context that the public cannot resist.

Learning remains a challenge. The long history puts learning as a centre piece for settlements, particularly in the United States. At Pembroke it is present but variable. It has been possible to establish a reading group of residents, staff and external consultants to reflect on many of the ideas contributing to the papers in this series. It has been possible to test out quite radical ideas, for example to machine learn video data on Living Room activity to measure the number and depth of conversations. The codification of Method-C represents another opportunity for development.

On the other hand, other than archives of administrative data, and applications for funds there has been nothing written about the work of Pembroke in the last three decades. Increasingly methods to learn are embedded into the core of an organisation’s work, but at Pembroke they have been applied at the edges, to test out early prototypes in the Living Room, to develop a method to learn from routine activities, and to record a history that inevitably will be of interest to only a small proportion of those who work at, reside at or use the settlement.

The variable engagement with learning may explain the challenge regarding place. The broadening of the place served by Pembroke has been described. Less attention has been paid to the meaning of place. Is it a statement of geography or is it, to use Seamus Heaney’s words, “beyond maps and atlases, woven into itself, like a nest. Me in place, and the place in me”. Heaney takes us towards a definition of place consistent with our work on a relational social policy, one that focuses on the context, on tending the space around citizens, drawing out the better angels of their nature.

Conclusion

People, naturally, have been the drivers and change and continuity in the last decade. Trustees govern. Wardens -three in the last 15 years- and now an Executive Director have provided leadership. Grisel Tarifa and Ali Kaviani have also made enduring contributions. There have always been residents, and some like Shem Jarrold have fulfilled multiple roles during and beyond their residency. By one analysis, it is residents that make Pembroke unique among civil society organisations.

The building remains the lodestar. It was rebuilt. The problem of filling the space has been constant, and is now extended to the experimental site at Walworth Living Room. (This is not to say the space cannot be filled, although at times there has been major underuse, but making the settlement attractive to citizens is a continual challenge).

The concept of space has been re-examined over by settlement folk over the last decade The settlement house provides and restricts possibilities. The idea of a ‘third space’, that which lies between home and work, emerged. From there, and the opportunity presented by the local pub the Huntsman being available for purchase, the idea of a ‘public house’ was developed, a context for local people to connect. The failure of that venture leads to the Walworth Living Room a few streets away from the settlement.

The challenge of space leads to four other lines of inquiry. The first is outreach. Attempts by community organisers to go door to door in the community opened up one set of possibilities, a settlement more interested and influenced by the needs of local residents. The second is another redefinition of community, the Walworth Triangle, home to 25 to 40 thousand thousand residents depending on where the boundary is drawn, arguably far too many to even know about never mind use the settlement. The third is partnership borne from the recognition that not every activity in the settlement need be delivered by the settlement itself.

The fourth development comes from public systems and local foundations getting interested in how to better engage in and possibly be grounded in the communities they serve. At Pembroke House they found people who had achieved this objective, who were intelligent and curious, a short cut to progress. From here the potential for the settlement to be a test bed for innovations in public services, or a broker between change agents took hold.

The settlement, nonetheless, managed to evade any of the trappings of what is called the second era of public policy learning dominated by accountability for outputs. There have been pockets of learning, a PhD rooted in the weekly lunch club and extraordinary detailed data used by Ali Kaviani and Nina Feldman to improve dance and other club activities. But there has been little published material. These data are now being analysed and written up, and the method that produced them codified and applied to other activities at Pembroke House, the Walworth Living Room. But learning remains an add-on much as it has for the last decade, and in contrast to the early settlers who had to learn to compensate for their naivety of the communities into which they came to live.

Landing Points

The short history, like the long, is full of stops and starts, of conflict, some resolved, some enduring, some still little understood and, no doubt, some not recognised but influential. The next chapter in this story is far from clear.

One possibility rests on the idea of third space described above. That the settlement (Pembroke House and Walworth Living Room or the latter) acts as context that brings together citizens with public servants, to be together, to learn together, and develop together. In this formulation, the public servants are the new university residents, cut off from quotidian life of the people they serve. Pembroke reconnects. In this formulation, connection is the primary mechanism through which citizens stave off mental ill health and other long-term conditions. In this formulation, the settlement recovers the sense of not knowing, of needing to find out, acting as a focus for curious others.

Implicit in this prospect for the future of the settlement is the idea of it acting as a pivot, as an honest broker between public systems, civil society organisations and citizens.

These developments seem to imply a change in the value given to the agency of citizens, a need for the settlement to resist the impulse to help those in need and instead provide a context where citizens will be drawn to help one another.