OUR HISTORY 1902-2016

[It's long but a good read, put the kettle on and find a comfy chair...]

The Portsmouth Family Welfare Association, Registered Charity Number 203323, is the oldest working charity in Portsmouth and is now in its 114th year.
It was founded in 1902 as The Portsmouth Charity Organisation.

Preparing this history was almost like opening a window on Charles Dickens' view of poverty in London. Similar conditions existed in our city at that time, records go back partly for 1920-1942 and from 1947 onwards
The gaps are the result of the charity's previous premises in Pembroke Road being destroyed by incendiary bombs on 10th January 1941, wherein all records of the early days were lost.

In its early years the Charity was instrumental in setting up the following social advances in the City:

  • The first Housing Association, which became Portsmouth Housing Ltd
  • Welfare for Old Age Pensioners
  • Sanatorium treatment for T.B Sufferers
  • Maternity and Child Welfare
  • Care of Mental Deficents (as they were then known)

At that time there was no education for invalid and crippled children, so a teaching centre was established for these children. This centre later developed into the Futcher Centre which then became the The Harbour School in 2007.

In 1919 a sub-committee for the welfare of the Blind was formed. During the first year 240 names were registered, including 11 children and 25 adults in the Workhouse. All had been visited by us, work was later taken over by the R.N.I.B.

In times of stress during and after the 1914-18 war applications for assistance were being made to the Charity at the rate of 20-30 a day as there were no Unemployment Benefits or Welfare Funds.

The infantile Paralysis Fellowship was formed in 1953 and 160 children were registered, half of whom were Polio cases.

All this history has been gleaned from the reports of 1953-1963, we believe that the Charity, can proudly claim to be the fore-runner of Social Services in the City.

During the period of high unemployment in the 1930's, food parcels were collected from churches for distribution to poor families. The scheme worked for two winters. A dinner scheme was started at first for women and children, later men were included as it was found that sometimes when work was available a man was too weak to do it and collapsed after a few days.

The Childrens Aid Committee was kept busy providing milk and eggs for sick children. Even the food parcels were only able to keep the poor just above starvation level.

A Coal Fund was started to help poor families living in damp and cold premises.

Another aspect of poverty was that assistance was given towards the purchase of surgical appliances and the redemption of clothing and possessions in the Pawn Shops.

It was another world from that of today.

From the 1942 report we read that children of Rhodesia sent money to England for children in bombed area's. £15 was given to the Portsmouth Charity Organisation, and this provided Christmas parcels for poor families. Also £50 was received from the Roan Antelope Copper Mines Northern Rhodesia. This was used to buy prams for poor mothers. Money was also received from Uncle Macs Appeal on the B.B.C. It was also noted that a local baker provided parcels of Christmas pudding and mince pies.

At the end of WWII it was recorded in the annual report that the beautiful word 'charity' had fallen into disrepute and so the name was changed in April 1946 from The Portsmouth Charity Organisation to Portsmouth Family Welfare Association.

Over many years the Association acted for many Service Charities and the Prisoners Aid Society and collected rent for the Douglas Haig Homes. It also acted as almoner as very few of the poor had access to banks. There were about 20 voluntary visitors, who made weekly visits to the families in need, distributing grants from charities. Gradually all this work dwindled away as charities dealt directly with their cases. We are still able to refer names when appropriate.

So what of our present work in the age of Social Services and a multitude of benefits?

There are still families and people who fall through the net and we are often the only source of last resort.

Our principal clients are single parents, families, people who have suffered domestic abuse, people on low incomes, homeless people, people with alcohol and drug related problems, people on low incomes, pensioners in need, refugees and asylum seekers.

Cases are referred to us by Doctors, Social workers, Mental Health Professionals, Portsmouth City Council Housing Department, Portsmouth City Council Independent Living Service, Central Point, The Roberts Centre and various other charities. People also approach us independently.

We are not in a position to give out money, but we try where possible to provide clothing, bedding, crockery and utensils, prams and cots. We also hold a small supply of food bought with donations.

Going back to the earliest reports there was a constant plea for food, serviceable clothing and shoes - particularly men's shoes. This need remains the same today. Reading the old reports, it makes one realise how lucky we are today with the advance in civic responsibility. Although there is now no near starvation and slum living conditions, we are still fulfilling a need for the City of Portsmouth.

Taken from the 1988/9 report there is a paragraph which is still relevant today...

Who Needs Most Help?

Portsmouth Family Welfare Association exists for the purpose implicit in its name.

No matter what-ever the trouble caused by family break-down or relationships our belief is that people are victims of their nature and up-bringing, and to deny them help is to deprive them of an opportunity of improvement. How long we will be able to fulfil this need, depends how long our finances will last. For the last few years we have been drawing on reserves to balance the books - a recurring theme in past reports.

For as long as possible, our work for those in need in the City of Portsmouth will continue in the same spirit as that of our founders, 114 years ago.

The Carnegie Library

Our HQ has had some very noteable users.

Former Prime Minister (1976 - 1979) James Callaghan was born in portsmouth

"Charlotte Callaghan returned with her children to Portsmouth where they lived in a variety of rented properties and varying degrees of poverty"

and as an adolescent "Callaghan borrowed books from the Carnegie Library in Portsmouth"

Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005 -2008, Edited by Lawrence Goldman, Oxford University Press 2013

The Carnegie Library was set up by Andrew Carnegie

"It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it as the founding of a public library"
(A full history is here)

Andrew Carnegie said "In bestowing charity, the main consideration: should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; ... to assist, but rarely or never to do all. Neither the individual nor the race is improved by almsgiving. Those worthy of assistance, except in rare cases, seldom require assistance. ... Every one has, of course, cases of individuals brought to his own knowledge where temporary assistance can do genuine good, and these he will not overlook.

He is the only true reformer who is as careful and as anxious not to aid the unworthy as he is to aid the worthy, and, perhaps, even more so, for in almsgiving more injury is probably done by rewarding vice than by relieving virtue. The rich man is thus almost restricted to following the examples of...others, who know that the best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise: free libraries, parks, and means of recreation, by which men are helped in body and mind; works of art, certain to give pleasure and improve the public taste; and public institutions of various kinds, which will improve the general condition of the people; in this manner returning their surplus wealth to the mass of their fellows in the forms best calculated to do them lasting good."

"You cannot push any one up a ladder unless he be willing to climb a little himself."

Andrew Carnegie 1835-1919