Many of the field notes summarised on this site are in service of three papers being prepared by Ratio:

  • A long history of Pembroke House looking over 140 years
  • A short history of the settlement concentrated on the last decade, and
  • Implications for settlements in the 21st century.

Here are some early reflections on the short history.

Despite being established as a mission, Pembroke House appears to have maintained the ideals of the settlement movement as evident in the:

  • Continued governance from university college, with little financial support from either college or students
  • Healthy tension between faith and secular values, both contributing to a spiritual commitment to community, and an intellectual interest in new ways of working
  • Role of residents, university graduate who give time to live among the community and to learn from local people
  • Provision of clubs, associations and committees to bring citizens together, and an inclination towards arts, culture and learning
  • Trinity of place -the community served- space -the settlement building and learning -grown from the uncertainty of outsiders settling in a foreign environment
  • Alignment to non-conformist movements such as absence, public health, arts and crafts, women’s suffrage, garden cities, some of which formed the bedrock of the welfare state.

Although Pembroke House suffered in the 1950s and 1960s, it did not, like most settlements close its doors. (Garret Giblin has explored the reasons for the survival).

But by the 1990s is was on its knees. The building was unloved and little used. It took a personal cash injection from the Dean of the College at the turn of the century and the appointment of an energetic new warden to find the funds for survival and the resurrection of ideals.

People, naturally, have been the drivers and change and continuity in the short history of the last decade. Trustees govern. Wardens -three in the last 15 years- and now an Executive Director have provided leadership. In different ways, Grisel Tarifa and Ali Kaviani have also made enduring reforming contributions. There have always been residents, and some like Shem Jarrold have fulfilled multiple roles during and beyond their residency. By one analysis, it is residents that make Pembroke unique among civil society organisations.

The building remains the lodestar. It was rebuilt. The problem of filling the space has been constant, and is now extended to the experimental site at Walworth Living Room. (This is not to say the space cannot be filled, although at times there has been major underuse, but making the settlement attractive to citizens is a continual challenge).

The concept of space has been re-examined over by settlement folk over the last decade. The settlement house provides and restricts possibilities. The idea of a ‘third space’, that which lies between home and work, emerged. From there, and the opportunity presented by the local pub the Huntsman being available for purchase, the idea of a ‘public house’ was developed, a context for local people to connect. The failure of that venture leads to the Walworth Living Room a few streets away from the settlement.

The potential for the settlement to be a test bed for innovations in public services, or a broker between change agents took hold.

The challenge of space leads to four other lines of inquiry. The first is outreach. Attempts by Fausto to go door to door in the community opened up one set of possibilities, a settlement more interested and influenced by the needs of local residents. The second is another redefinition of community, the Walworth Triangle, home to 25 to 40 thousand thousand residents depending on where the boundary is drawn, arguably far too many to even know about never mind use the settlement. The third is partnership borne from the recognition that not every activity in the settlement need be delivered by the settlement itself.

The fourth development comes from public systems and local foundations getting interested in how to better engage in and possibly be grounded in the communities they served. At Pembroke House they found people who had achieved this objective, who were intelligent and curious, a short cut to progress. From here the potential for the settlement to be a test bed for innovations in public services, or a broker between change agents took hold.

The settlement, nonetheless, managed to evade any of the trappings of what is called the second era of public policy learning dominated by accountability for outputs. There have been pockets of learning, a PhD rooted in the weekly lunch club and extraordinary detailed data used by Ali Kaviani to improve dance and other club activities. But there has been little published material. These data are now being analysed and written up, and the method that produced them codified and applied to other activities at Pembroke House, the Walworth Living Room and in the community. But learning remains an add-on much as it has for the last decade, and in contrast to the early settlers who had to learn to compensate for their naivety of the communities into which they came to live.

Landing Points

The short history, like the long, is full of stops and starts, of conflict, some resolved, some enduring, some still little understood and, no doubt, some not recognised but influential. The next chapter in this story is far from clear.

Pembroke reconnects.

One possibility rests on the idea of third space described above. That the settlement (Pembroke House and Walworth Living Room or the latter) acts as context that brings together citizens with public servants, to be together, to learn together, and develop together. In this formulation, the public servants are the new university residents, cut off from quotidian life of the people they serve. Pembroke reconnects. In this formulation, connection is the primary mechanism through which citizens stave off mental ill health and other long-term conditions. In this formulation, the settlement recovers the sense of not knowing, of needing to find out, acting as a focus for curious others.

Implicit in this prospect for the future of the settlement is the idea of it acting as a pivot, as an honest broker between public systems, civil society organisations and citizens.

These developments seem to imply a change in the value given to the agency of citizens, a need for the settlement to resist the impulse to help those in need and instead provide a context where citizens will be drawn to help one another.

Some of these themes were apparent in the first ‘stake’ on the future of Pembroke House described in the next entry.

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