A brief history – 1865 to 1990s
Social Concern has a history going back almost 150 years. A charity with a voice relevant to the needs, questions and aspirations of modern society has its roots in the Temperance movements of the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1860s the link between anti-social and criminal behaviour and patterns of addiction and a sense of futility was recognised. The initial action taken then to raise awareness of a growing social problem remains at the heart of the charity’s objectives today.
In the mid-eighteen hundreds one of the most urgent social challenges was posed by drunkenness or what would now be called alcohol misuse. Changes in social patterns and the development of urban industrialised society had led men and women to seek solace in regular drinking. Alcohol was relatively cheap and easily available however vast amounts were spent annually, particularly by the working classes. This kept many families poor and struggling for basic food; often families went hungry and women and children were regularly exposed to violence and neglect.
Today the work of Social Concern stretches beyond alcohol to other forms of addictive behaviour such as drugs misuse and gambling, to crime and criminal justice and to the need for mediation and reconciliation in an increasingly disparate society. The task, begun it its early years, of offering a positive influence in the drafting of legislation and social policy, continues today with as much dedication and vigour.
Social Concern identifies the need for change and, through lobbying and informing decision–makers within the government and Church and through raising public awareness, seeks to influence for the good. Our work is, as it has always been, aware of the needs of young people who are our hope for the future. We work with schools and youth workers, preparing educational materials which are hard-hitting and relevant, to get across the message that alcohol, drugs and gambling destroy lives. In the words of our original constitution, we seek “the promotion of temperance and of higher moral standards in the individual, the family and the community, the restoration of the intemperate or delinquent and of those addicted to drugs or gambling, or otherwise in need of help and the relief of distress or suffering arising from delinquency or intemperance or addiction”.
The mid-nineteenth century saw the rise of many Societies scattered around the country dedicated to Temperance or moderate living. The greatest threat seemed to come from the ever-increasing consumption of cheap and readily available alcohol which made vast profits for industry and government but which shook family life to its foundations. These societies were generally secular in origin and so in 1862 members of the Church of England established a society based on religious principles: the Church of England Temperance Society or CETS. In 1875 Queen Victoria became its patron – the first in a long line of royal patrons – and the work of promoting abstinence from drink continued apace as the Society grew.
In the following year, the Society received a letter from a far-sighted philanthropist named Frederick Rainer, pleading that the work be begun to reform those convicted of alcohol-related crimes. It was clear to many that crime and alcohol were inextricably linked, yet only now did the proposal come to challenge the problem at its root. Rainer offered five shillings – a substantial gift at the time – for the establishment of a Police Court Mission to work with convicted men and women teaching them to turn from drink. The work was a great success and soon Missions were to be found all over England. Hence, the very earliest roots of the Probation Service.
By 1882 Temperance Missionary work was spreading everywhere: preaching missions were organised to teach men and women about the dangers of intemperance. Juvenile branches of the Society, “Church Bands of Hope” began educational work among the young and soon over 6000 branches were set up.
By 1885 the first home was set up for “inebriates”. Hancock House, near Battle (Hastings, East Sussex), was the first of many to be opened over the succeeding years, not just for those addicted to alcohol, but for boys and girls at risk of falling into crime. These homes provided a secure and supportive environment for the work of rehabilitation.
It was clear that alcoholism was not the only addiction cutting deep into the fabric of society. The CETS missions revealed a deep need for work with compulsive gamblers. So, in 1889, the year the first Van Missions began taking the Temperance message to towns and villages, fairs and racecourses around the nation, the Society resolved that this should become a more definite part of its work. Week after week men could be seen going hungry having lost their earnings on the horses and the Society responded not only by preaching but by feeding these men and their families in their need.
Part of the work of reform was to encourage people away from sources of temptation. Public houses were like magnets drawing in the poor of the locality because they offered not only the numbing comfort of drink but also warmth and companionship far from the cold realities of their homes. With true vision the Society opened and ran “coffee taverns” where alcohol was never served; the turn of the century, 19th to 20th, found these growing in popularity and together with a sustained campaign of publicity and education began to turn the tide. Today we find their message quaint but in their time the message was clear and direct: “Drink and Gambling Breed Sorrow”.
The first quarter of the 20th century saw the work of the Temperance Movement consolidate and begin to bear fruit. Much of the change can also be attributed to the Great War of 1914-18 which in five devastating years changed the social map of Europe and laid the foundations for the modern society.
The Criminal justice Act of 1925 brought the work of the Police Court Missionaries under the authority of the State and with this was laid the foundations of the modern Probation Service.
The period 1939-45 and the upheaval of the Second World War precipitated an acute rise in delinquency, alcoholism and gambling. The work facing CETS was clear and with new effort a thrust was made both in the work of rehabilitation and of education of the young. In the immediate post-war period films were made and resources offered to Sunday Schools and Youth Groups to drive home the message which it seemed every generation had to learn afresh.
In was in the 1960s that the foundations for modern work of the Society were laid. 1963 saw the opening of the first out-patient centres for alcoholics, among them the Reginald Carter Foundation in London, where treatment could be offered free of charge. It was at this time that the National Council on Alcoholism was established and it, like many organisations, some of which still continue today, owes its origins to CETS and the Temperance Movements of 100 years before.
Towards the end of the 60s, the Society’s work began to focus on the support of community initiatives, particularly in the rehabilitation of young drug addicts. However, greater change was soon to come. In 1969 the Society was dissolved and its mission vested in a new organisation, the National Council for Social Aid. The objects of this new charity were those of its predecessor but the vision was fresh one: to collaborate with the Diocesan Boards of Social Responsibility in the broad range of social problems and yet remain independent of them in a relationship of dialogue. It was then that the stated objectives of the charity took on the pattern which became familiar thereafter and continues today: the work of training and educating policy-makers and those in positions of influence; of monitoring government policy and responding to it and raising public awareness of key directions in social change; of preparing and publishing information and materials for schools and the general public.
At the time and following government initiatives, the Council established series of housing associations intended to provide support to the homeless. Social Aid’s many hostels around the country were vested in one such association, the Social Aid Housing Association, which maintained the properties whilst allowing their daily management to remain in the hands of local communities. In 1978 this Association became fully independent of the National Council.
In response to changes in the Charity’s constitution, Social Aid changed its name in 1991 to “Concern” – The National Council for Social Concern. This change was intended to reflect its brief to work in collaboration with individuals, other charities and with media and government, offering a positive and creative challenge. Its mission, that of its founding fathers, has always remained the same, to promote temperance and moderation not only amongst the most vulnerable but in all members of society, to help free individuals from influences and addictions which blight their lives and those close to them.
The most recent and present period 1990s to 2010 – a snapshot
Under the tenure of Bishop Colin Docker, the work of charity expanded in the 90s into new fields of policy and advocacy, supported the early development of GamCare and Alcohol Concern. In a very intense period from 1995 to the close of the century, Social Concern produced publications on drugs and alcohol misuse and criminal justice, supported and energised the beginnings of the Restorative Justice Forum and ran training seminars for a wide range of professionals from within the UK, and from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand on the development of restorative justice policies and practice within various criminal justice systems.
1999 saw the last year of the charity’s full ad active involvement with both policy and service delivery. In January 2000, the Chair and Trustees were compelled to make the most difficult decision to drastically reduce the charity’s operation in order to preserve the dwindling capital and seek a new and effective role which would both continue the life of the charity and ensure the objectives and aims of the charity were met.
In April 2000, Social Concern began a new venture in grants provision to other agencies with broadly similar aims and ethos. During the following years and first decade of the 21st century this role has developed with great success with the charity able to support a wide range of innovative projects and schemes up and down the country. In many ways, Social Concern has been able to spread its fundamental and original message ever further by providing grant support to organisations that continue and develop work that Social Concern would have taken on and by giving support to projects whose innovative work would not see the light of day without this support.
The charity remains independent but proud of its historic and close affiliation to the Church and continues to offer support without prejudice across all faith groups and all individuals in the community.