10 December 2007
WHEN MINNA Gollock and her lady friends first walked into Rotherhithe and Bermondsey in 1887 seeking to aid the poor and deprived in the slums, they could not have believed that 120 years later the legacy of their work would still be going. But that is exactly what happened.
As Time and Talents (T&T) celebrate their birthday this week, still embracing and helping people of all ages in Southwark, it’s important to note that today’s slick operation had its roots in middle class Victorian Britain.
The popular image of Victorian women is of a priviledged, pampered existence oblivious to the poverty that the outside world, and sometimes the servants in their homes, dealt with on a day to day basis. But that could not be said of Minna Gollock and her cohorts.
For these ladies left the pleasure and comfort of Kensington and Chelsea, and entered the slum areas of London to make a difference and to help those less priviledged than themselves.
When the rector of Bermondsey came calling the ladies rushed to help, their focus being the women of the area who lived and worked in cramped and unhealthy conditions.
The group were not readily accepted by the locals, who understandably questioned their motives, so the ladies had to work hard to tour factories to get the rough edged locals onside.
The first premises that T&T established was in Bermondsey Street in 1899. It became a place to step away from the rough and ready streets, where you could learn skills of refinement such as dance and cookery, a place to become a lady. Well, for a short time anyway.
The Bermondsey women would often be taken on day trips, or even into the homes of the middle class ladies, who were always amazed by the generosity of the poor of the area despite their hardships.
In 1913, the factory girls were given a true haven when a hostel was opened by T&T in Abbey Street. Although a simple complex, sixteen girls lived in their own rooms. An absolute luxury in a time when families and siblings shared one or two rooms. It was not unusual to share with your brothers or your grandparents, making privacy non existent.
The hostel even allowed the girls to bring their boyfriends into the common room, an outrage by Victorian standards. Unfortunately it was wiped out in 1940 when a bomb hit the premises.
By 1931 T&T moved into a new location in Abbey Street. Here the organisation that exists today can be seen in its embryonic stages. The new premises allowed them to start clubs and groups for all sectors of the community.
During wartime the centre took on a new guise, as the needy and nervous would shelter in the centre, while the ladies who looked after them hit the streets to pick up any casulties. All the while bombs were being dropped from above.
After the war the state of the properties owned by T&T in Bermondsey Street and Abbey Street became so poor that they had to be closed, and the group operated from the Dickens Estate.
In 1980 they moved to their current location at the Old Mortuary in St Marychurch Street. The centre became and still is vital to the organisation.
T&T came to the area as they believed they should be within touching distance of those they could help.
Now the only difference is that those that help others at the centre often live within walking distance too.
The centre that opened in 1980 has recently undergone a six month refurbishment and the T&T moved back home last month promising to redouble their efforts.
The women who walked into Bermondsey in the 1800's may not have realised what they were starting and the legacy they would leave, but the gratitude that the area owes them and those who worked there now and over the years is immeasurable.
The least we can say is Happy Birthday Time and Talents!
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