On Wednesday, August 9, our students got a chance to get out of the classroom and explore London’s East End with a trip to Toynbee Hall, London’s oldest settlement house.
After a morning of coursework, students met outside Fordham’s London Centre before heading to the tube and catching an eastbound train to the historic sight. This was the group’s first opportunity to get hands-on experience inside a London settlement house after visiting two of NYC’s oldest establishments, Henry Street Settlement and University Settlement.
Toynbee Hall was created in 1884 by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, with a vision to “to create a place for future leaders to live and work as volunteers in London’s East End, bringing them face to face with poverty, and giving them the opportunity to develop practical solutions that they could take with them into national life.”
Students were greeted with a tour of the organization’s grounds and a brief history of Toynbee Hall and its impact on London. A “catalyst for change” for over 135 years, Toynbee Hall offers locals in need legal advice, debt advice, a community center, and more. It also has a research department dedicated to improving the city’s living conditions. Some of its more recent research has focused on Making Tower Hamlets Safer, Young Renters, and the impact of COVID-19.
The most interesting aspect of Toynbee Hall’s research center is how it includes community members to help conduct the research itself. Fordham students were treated to a presentation about the organization’s Participatory Action Research.
Toynbee Hall’s Participatory Action Research
“…When we try to find out more about things we start with the experts – people who have lived experience, and then those people are involved at every stage from collecting data, to sharing findings with decision makers.”
After a quick break for lunch and tea, students returned to hear from Toynbee Hall CEO Rebecca Sycamore. Sycamore, who joined Toynbee as its leader this year, said she is still in full-on learning mode – soaking in everything she can about the organization’s history and impact today.
Sycamore is a social worker by trade, showing our current MSW students that this profession prepares them for the leadership roles coming their way. The CEO said she has worked in the area for years at multiple local organizations dedicated to helping the unhoused population. With a broad working background, Sycamore said her experience in fundraising has been particularly helpful when climbing the ranks as a leader; showing that she can persuade others to commit to an organization’s mission made her indispensable.
After Sycamore’s presentation, the floor opened for questions. One student threw her a curveball: What is the worst part of your job?
Sycamore didn’t say the long hours or the lack of appreciation (both of which would have been fair in their own right) that those in the helping professions can grow accustomed to over the course of their careers. She cited the feeling of worry – specifically not knowing what could happen next – as the “worst part” of her position.
“There could be a fire across the street at 3 a.m.,” she said, “and everyone in the area will need services immediately. We would have to figure out how to handle that.”
This answer harkened back to what these students heard from Tony Armstrong, CEO of LocalityUK, at the settlement house panel discussion that kicked off the Summer London Program.
“It’s challenging work,” Armstrong said. “But it’s challenging because you’re doing something worthwhile.”
Trip to Tower Bridge
After the session at Toynbee, a few of our students took to the streets of London to visit the historic Tower Bridge. Check out some pictures below of our day at Toynbee and the Tower!