A Knight’s Tale (94: The Stepping Stone Community)

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.


  1. Isn’t life strange in the twists and turns it takes us on. Few travel a straight road and you have had your share of bumps and hairpin bends, detours and freeways. I frequently look back at some of the many experiences I have had that I didn’t realise at the time would be so enriching, informing and a worthy addition to the bank of experience that would assist me in the years to come. You looking at those paintings sparked off this thought – as for doing the crossword in stop-start traffic … really Derrick!

  2. The eloquence and correctness of the writing in this post are quite impressive. Most of us are probably not as careful about using language as precisely as you do here. I had to laugh at you for being a distracted driver decades before cellphones. Rhetorical question, does this partially explain the good luck you have shown with cars in some of your other posts?

  3. Your post is a beautiful tribute to Ann, as well as your own work . I m glad a merger with Thomas Coram Foundation was possible, and you and Ann saw it through. You both and your staff changed a lot of lives for the better.

  4. I often wonder about the budget cuts we make, it always seems to hit the elderly, the vulnerable, the poor and the hungry. With a heartless knife we cut them off. I will never understand.

  5. Glad you were doing something for kids that age. Over here the are turned to the wolves when the turn 18 unless the lucked out on a foster care family.

    1. The good news is 47 states now have good programs that provide extended help, and care, for foster kids after they turn 18. 🙂 My youngest daughter made that her career. She has helped so many kids. 🙂

  6. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful woman! And The Stepping Stone is THE perfect name for the work Ann, and you, and others did, Derrick! Such important work! Thank you for helping so many young-uns! 🙂
    Sometimes all people need is for us to help them take the first few steps and then they can run (succeed)! 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…my youngest kiddo has a career working in an organization helping kids who are 18-22 years old. They are kids who “outgrew” the foster care system by turning 18. She helps them get jobs, enroll in college, find places to live, how to cook food, helps them start their first bank account, helps them learn how to care for themselves and their apartment, helps them learn how to navigate public transportation, get health insurance, and SO MUCH MORE. When they have to appear in court for various reasons she goes with them and is often their advocate. I am so proud of her and the work she does. 🙂
    PPS…A person has to do something while waiting at a red lights and long stops! 😉 😀

  7. You had such an impressive career, Derrick! The work you and your colleagues did must have changed countless lives for the better. Stepping Stone is still in existence in its new iteration?

    1. I don’t think so, Liz. On the Coram website there is a very extensive and detailed timeline of the organisation and its services for children and families in which there is neither mention of Stepping Stone nor the services we offered, C’est la vie.

  8. I’m so glad the merger with the foundation was successful. It would have been a crime to have your hard work and dedication go to waste.

  9. I agree with Lavinia, Carolyn and Aletta, that this is a lovely tribute to Ann. I am impressed with the strong founding principles and longevity of your Stepping Stones project. I am so glad you were looking out for older teens. A friend of mine at a church I work with has alerted me to the specific challenges of teens in foster care, and I had not realized how they suffer their own kind of social neglect compared to other foster kids. She has organized a program to create backpacks filled with things this age group might particularly need when suddenly placed in foster care. The backpacks are left with the placement agencies, and handed to the kids on their way to their new home. I am dying to read your book, by the way. I wish it was already published.

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