As an Area Manager of the inner city Social Services Department of Westminster, I was continually frustrated at the lack of provision for the care of older adolescents for whom we were responsible. One of my own clients went to live in the establishment Ann Eland (then Urquhart), was managing in Chelsea. It had been her ambition to set up a community of her model for just the group of young people we could not adequately accommodate. Through my visiting my client I realised that, in Ann, we had a gem who should be encouraged. I therefore chaired a committee, assembled by Ann, which set up The Stepping Stone Community in Finsbury Park. We rented three houses from a Housing Association; staffed it with suitable carers, and opened it to young people aged 16-plus in their last two years in care. This voluntary work was additional to my employed occupation. The unique element was the ‘normal adult’, one attached to each house. The idea was that these adults, all in work, were to provide a model for the young people. Adults and adolescents alike each had a bedsit. In exchange for their accommodation the adults were contracted to attend a house meal once a week. They and the other residents took turns in producing the fare. This organisation thrived for more than twenty years in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Unfortunately, because of the growing reluctance of Local Authorities to fund such agencies, we began to struggle financially. For our last five years our treasurer and I kept us afloat with personal bank guarantees. This was beginning to worry us. We therefore approached another child care agency, The Thomas Coram Foundation, seeking a merger. The Foundation had an infrastructure we couldn’t match, having benefitted from the legacy of a wealthy eighteenth century merchant. This included many valuable works of art. They welcomed our suggestion. I chaired the merger group, and eventually the long-established agency took over our project with a promise to honour its values.
“CaptainThomas Coram (c. 1668 – 29 March 1751) was a philanthropist who created the London Foundling Hospital in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury to look after abandoned children. It is said to be the world’s first incorporated charity.” (Wikipedia) I first ventured into the Foundling Museum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundling_Museum) in Brunswick Square when, as an Assistant Child Care Officer in 1967, I attended a London Boroughs Training course there. I spent much of my time gazing at the art works on the walls. Little did I then know that three decades later I would chair a committee bringing together this foundation and our own Community.
The original setting up committee meetings for Stepping Stone took place in the office of Ann’s own personal bank manager in the centre of Westminster. One evening, on the way to one such a gathering, I was driving down a very congested Park Lane. On this stop and start trip I periodically, when stationary, bent down towards my empty front passenger seat. This prompted intermittent flashing from the car behind. Minutes after my arrival at the bank, Ann arrived and greeted me with: “Did you finish the crossword?” She knew exactly what I would have been up to.
Today, of course, Ann would never have been able to enjoy face to face contact with her bank manager, even if there had been an existing branch.
It is greatly to Ann’s credit that members of all sections of Stepping Stone travelled to Bungay to attend her funeral in 2011, paying tribute to how she had changed their lives. I gave the eulogy, including tales from the long term friendship that developed with Ann and her husband, Don.