Settlement’s were the invention of the social reformers Samuel and Henrietta Barnett at the end of the 19th Century. Their ideas spread around the world, and contributed to the formation of the Welfare State (a triumph that, ironically, as we shall see, led to the demise of most settlements). But a small number survive. One, Pembroke House, adheres, more or less, to the original formula.

Pembroke House (from

The purpose of the collaboration between Pembroke House and Ratio is to discover the relevance of the settlement to contemporary conditions.

Pembroke House comprises a building, paid for by the students of Pembroke College Cambridge, situated in Walworth in South London. Three of the Barnetts’ ideas have endured across the 130 years of Pembroke’s history:

  • Residents: young people, generally graduates of a university, live in a house adjoining the settlement. They live among, serve and learn from the community.
  • The work of being social: In the United States, Jane Addams, who led a settlement in Chicago, became known as the mother of social work. Not social work as we know it today with the trappings of the profession. More a mirroring of the way citizens connect and help each other, and creating opportunities to learn and develop capabilities.
  • A chapel, a place of public worship: Why would a college like Pembroke be interested in the 1880s in supporting an economically disadvantaged community in South London? Religion provides one explanation. In Victorian times the church could not keep up with the rapidly expanding urban population. Missions and settlements established by public schools and universities took some of the strain.

The world at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 21st is at the same time both different and similar. Some of the practices formulated in 1880 remain relevant, others not. Opportunities unthinkable in 1880 are now under active consideration.

What does a 21st Century settlement look like? That is what we seek to learn.