The first week: Toynbee Hall and Mozart

This week I started as Head of Development at Toynbee Hall. My job is to grow unrestricted income for the organisation, which is likely to come from a mix of corporate, individual and major donor giving, but after just five days, rather unsurprisingly, what that looks like and how we focus our effort, I haven’t yet figured out. Ideas on a postcard, please.

What struck me before I joined Toynbee Hall was that whoever I mentioned it to, they always had something positive to say about it. On top of that, there’s the amazing history: the first university settlement, an impressive alumni including Attlee and Beveridge, and a key player in social reform. Consequently, I’ve been excited to find out more and get going.

Here are the highlights of my first week.

1.    Who is who and what we do

As you’d expect, I met many of the service managers and got a sense of what we do and the impact we have. The complex range of services fit into one of three areas:

  1. Law and money (such as the Free Legal Advice Service)
  2. Learning (such Deesha, English as a second language)
  3. Wellbeing (such as Dignify, a project supporting older people)

I also got to see our City Advice service in action, operating out of a local community centre. A free service to people living in the City who are struggling with legal, welfare benefits or debt problems, I was struck by the impartiality of the advisor and that these people simply have no other place to access the information they need.

Meeting the fundraising and communications team was great – a lovely and smart bunch of people. Hurrah! I started to get a sense of who funds us, why, how much, what for, etc. and began to look at our fundraising communications such as our appeals, thank you letters and the website.

So pretty standard stuff, really. Then all this happened…

2.    Aspire graduation

The graduation ceremony for Aspire provided the perfect opportunity to really get to know Toynbee Hall’s flagship youth service and meet the young people involved.

Aspire works with young people who are lacking in confidence and struggling for various reasons (e.g. bereavement, bullying, family difficulties). It’s an incredible programme that gets young people to connect with each other, express  themselves, and explore new things and ideas. The programme includes circus training and a trip to Jamie’s Farm. It was incredible seeing the changes that these young people have gone through, growing in confidence and being able to express themselves better. An example of this is three of young people speaking at a fundraising event earlier in the week – in front of 500 people; a daunting task for most of us.

3.    Visiting the archive

One of the highlights of my week was chatting to Liz, who works in the archive. Part of the archive is held at the London Metropolitan Archive, but the biggest collection is at Toynbee Hall itself. Liz has spent the last year collecting information from across the organisation and organising it.

It is a gold mine of history about the people of the East End, Toynbee Hall and its influence in social reform. Handwritten diaries, annual reports since 1884, pictures of everything and everyone – tennis matches, smoking debates, and various members of the royal family at Toynbee Hall.

The first thing I laid eyes on was a poster from 1907, advertising one of the Smoking Debates that took place every Thursday – this particular one was about women and the vote. Incredible to think that these debates were taking place in that actual hall.

Liz has also started to map out and research the families that were/are connected the founders, Samuel and Henrietta Barnett. In its first iteration, it’s a beautiful sheet of card with pins and string connecting all the relationships together. At some point, I hope for these names to be gracing Raiser’s Edge.

4.    Having someone sing Mozart to me 

One of our service users wanted to discuss making a contribution to Toynbee Hall so I had a chat with him. In his late seventies, he was actually more interested to discuss his passion for music and his career as a composer than making a donation. Then he then sang a bit of Mozart – an unexpected delight!

5.    Checking out the local area

I’ve been encouraged to get out and about in the local area to see more of borough and the communities that we work with. As I have no sense of direction I decided to wait until the weekend for Mr Crackles, tour guide extraordinaire. Although I’ve lived in Homerton for the last four years, I hadn’t really appreciated (a) how close Poplar, Shadwell and Canary Wharf were to me, (b) how segregated the areas are – mostly split up by huge roads, and (c) how separate worlds live side-by-side. This latter point is epitomised by the homeless people camping outside Toynbee Hall in the council-owned garden, directly opposite the building of luxury apartments.

On our cycle this morning, I took a few pictures. This one a dog amused me – note that it says ‘gentrification’ at the bottom. My interpretation is that this is trying to convey that the population of the area is changing; people with silly dogs are moving in. (I try not to be judgemental – each to their own, etc. – but if you think that dogs should go in a handbag, it’s going to happen.)

Silly dog

So it was a busy kind of week: all of the above, plus finding out that we get a 5% discount at the on-site Arts Café and discovering the foods vans down Petticoat Lane; a guilty pleasure for lunchtimes. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing more of the same plus my favourite thing – planning to plan.


Gin O’clock?

This is a real cop-out and it has been pointed out to me that this is not a cocktail, but it’s proper.

Bit of elderflower cordial, shot or two of gin, top up with prosecco.

Consequences include excellent parties and immense headaches.

Fancy something more refined? Check out The Rivington Grill – it has a gin menu. Although the service was shoddy, they earn extra points for using this quote:

“Beloved, we join hands here to pray for gin. An aridity defiles us. Our innards thirst for the juice of juniper. Something must be done.”

Wallace Thurman, Infants of Spring.


2 thoughts on “The first week: Toynbee Hall and Mozart

  1. Sounds like Toynbee Hall does some fantastic work and has an illustrious past, Beth. What an exciting and inspiring place to work. Looking forward to reading the next instalment.

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