Portraits of young people ready for work now and then mark 150th anniversary of Barnardo’s first ‘ragged school’

Young people who learn practical skills through Barnardo’s have created a series of self-portraits to mark the 150th anniversary of the charity’s first ‘ragged school’.

Teenagers at The Hub Skills Centre in Stepney Green were inspired by the recent donation of postcards dating back to the late 19th century which depict children from Victorian times learning skills with the charity.

The release of the ‘then and now’ images coincides with the 150th anniversary of the East End Juvenile Mission at Hope Place which opened on March 2, 1868, less than half a mile away from The Hub Skills Centre, two years after Thomas Barnardo first arrived in London from Ireland and began helping children.

The set of original postcards, which have been donated to Barnardo’s archive, offer a fascinating insight into the lives of young people living in the area at the time.

Hope Place comprised a pair of neighbouring cottages that were likened to a ‘converted donkey stable’ by the charity’s founder, Thomas Barnardo. During the nine years it operated, workers taught thousands of boys and girls how to read and write and provided them with training in practical skills such as wood-chopping, shoe-shining and sewing. This allowed them to earn money independently.

Once earning money, the trainees paid for their accommodation within the home, enabling Barnardo to expand into bigger premises at Stepney Causeway.  Hope Place closed in 1877 and the cottages have long since been demolished, but its legacy continues.

The Hub Skills Centre, one of more than 1,000 Barnardo’s services operating across the UK, opened 10 years ago and supports young people in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, including those who have struggled in mainstream education. It helps them to develop important functional skills as well as providing training in the construction and creative industries.

Mat Webb, a local artist and photographer who volunteers as a tutor at The Hub, worked with his regular group of young people to create a modern series of cards that convey who they are today.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Countless children and young people have been helped by Barnardo’s throughout its history. This is perhaps nowhere more so than the East End of London, where the very first of our services was launched. Then, as now, our goal was to nurture and empower young people to build a positive future.

“These striking new portraits by teenagers at The Hub reflect the diversity and dynamism of London, reminding us to embrace our past while always adapting and looking ahead to the next challenges.

“Barnardo’s work continues to be driven by a deep understanding of the pressures facing children, young people and families in particular areas and communities.”

Martine King, Barnardo’s Archivist, said: “The recent donation of original postcards from the very early days of Barnardo’s is an important addition to our collection and came at just the right time for the anniversary of Hope Place.

“It’s fascinating to see how the work Barnardo’s was doing in east London 150 years ago is still reflected in what’s happening at The Hub today.”


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