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Portraits of young people ready for work now and then mark anniversary of first ‘ragged school’

Release Date: 02 Mar 2018

Young people who learn practical skills through Barnardo’s have created a series of self-portraits to mark the 150th anniversary of the charity’s first ‘ragged school’.

Teenagers at The Hub Skills Centre in Stepney Green were inspired by the recent donation of postcards dating back to the late 19th century which depict children from Victorian times learning skills with the charity.

The release of the ‘then and now’ images coincides with the 150th anniversary of the East End Juvenile Mission at Hope Place which opened on March 2, 1868, less than half a mile away from The Hub Skills Centre, two years after Thomas Barnardo first arrived in London from Ireland and began helping children.

The set of original postcards, which have been donated to Barnardo’s archive, offer a fascinating insight into the lives of young people living in the area at the time.

Hope Place comprised a pair of neighbouring cottages that were likened to a ‘converted donkey stable’ by the charity’s founder, Thomas Barnardo. During the nine years it operated, workers taught thousands of boys and girls how to read and write and provided them with training in practical skills such as wood-chopping, shoe-shining and sewing. This allowed them to earn money independently.

Once earning money, the trainees paid for their accommodation within the home, enabling Barnardo to expand into bigger premises at Stepney Causeway.  Hope Place closed in 1877 and the cottages have long since been demolished, but its legacy continues.

The Hub Skills Centre, one of more than 1,000 Barnardo’s services operating across the UK, opened 10 years ago and supports young people in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, including those who have struggled in mainstream education. It helps them to develop important functional skills as well as providing training in the construction and creative industries.

Mat Webb, a local artist and photographer who volunteers as a tutor at The Hub, worked with his regular group of young people to create a modern series of cards that convey who they are today.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:

Countless children and young people have been helped by Barnardo’s throughout its history. This is perhaps nowhere more so than the East End of London, where the very first of our services was launched. Then, as now, our goal was to nurture and empower young people to build a positive future.

These striking new portraits by teenagers at The Hub reflect the diversity and dynamism of London, reminding us to embrace our past while always adapting and looking ahead to the next challenges.

Barnardo’s work continues to be driven by a deep understanding of the pressures facing children, young people and families in particular areas and communities.

Martine King, Barnardo’s Archivist, said:

The recent donation of original postcards from the very early days of Barnardo’s is an important addition to our collection and came at just the right time for the anniversary of Hope Place.

“It’s fascinating to see how the work Barnardo’s was doing in east London 150 years ago is still reflected in what’s happening at The Hub today.


Notes to editors

Picture captions: All images are available to download here via Sharefile. Young people at a Barnardo’s service in Stepney Green have been working on their own self-portraits after being inspired by postcards showing young people who were supported by the charity in the same part of east London 150 years ago. New images show young people as they are outside The Hub, and at work; old postcards document young people as they came into Barnardo’s care, and ready for work.

For more details please contact Dan Hodges on 07887737 048 or email

The history of Hope Place

Reference: Barnardo’s Making Connections archive

Thomas Barnardo opened the East End Juvenile Mission at Hope Place, Limehouse, on March 2, 1868. Its location was off Rhodeswell Road, now Ben Johnson Road.

Hope Place was a pair of adjoining cottages, one for boys and the other for girls. It was partly a 'ragged’ school offering free classes for poor children in the area, but activities quickly developed to include Bible classes for men, women and children, mothers' meetings, girls' sewing classes and evening meetings for boys.

In September 1870, Thomas Barnardo opened his first home for working lads at 18-20 Stepney Causeway.

Hope Place continued to expand into neighbouring cottages. A makeshift hall to seat 300 was created at the rear of the buildings by removing the garden walls and adding a roof. Further expansion was soon needed and a new centre and coffee house was established in 1872 at a former pub called The Edinburgh Castle, with a much larger ragged school set up at Copperfield Road in 1875.

Hope Place closed in 1877. The site is now covered by flats on Estate Road at the south side of Ben Johnson Road. A blue plaque commemorates Barnardo's work there.

Pioneering work at Hope Place

According to archive documents, Hope Place was one of the first providers of school meals and served them on a regular basis in the winter months.

Services included the Boys’ Evening School, which was free in summer and one penny in winter. It ran for four evenings per week and boys were employed in the day.

The Boys’ Reading Room was open every evening for “well-behaved lads”. It had a warming fire, reading material and illustrated papers to browse. Many boys could not read so one person would read aloud for an hour and a half each evening. Around 60 to 70 boys attended every night. There was also a free library for boys and girls, with carefully selected volumes for those willing to deposit one shilling into the Penny Savings Bank.

The Union Jack Shoe-black Brigade (Limehouse) allowed Thomas Barnardo to open a branch brigade to provide education and employment. Boys could keep their earnings, with a part coming out to help fund the brigade, and would often move on to other employment.

Some of the most promising boys joined the City Messenger Brigade, which was established in 1870 for the ‘prompt and cheap delivery of messengers and parcels throughout the city.’

The Girls’ Free Evening School taught girls reading, writing and arithmetic, along with singing and prayer. Girls could also pay a small amount to be training in clothes-making, enabling them to earn a decent wage.

The Hub Skills Centre

The Hub Skills Centre opened in Stepney Green in 2008 after the building, a former synagogue and boxing club, was donated to Barnardo’s.

Services based at The Hub include alternative education provision for young people in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. The Hub supports the 14-16-year-old age group (years 10 and 11) through the development of functional skills, construction skills, money management and ICT training to GCSE and City & Guilds level. Pastoral care and support is provided to all students, with staff maintaining close contact with parents and carers, referring schools and other agencies.

The Hub supports around 40 young people each year. In October 2017, Zafar Tandel, a 16-year-old student at The Hub, won second place in the national Young Builder of the Year Awards. His award follows previous successes including former student Khalid Ahmed, who went on to gain teaching qualifications through the Hub and was also highly commended in the 2015 Young Builder of the Year Awards.

Barnardo’s today

Last year 272,000 children, young people and parents were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 1,000 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes.

Barnardo’s employment, training and skills (ETS) services equip young people with the skills, confidence and ambition to find work and pursue a career. In partnership with employers, schools, colleges and charities, Barnardo’s trains and supports over 3,000 young people every year in 20 specialist services. We are known for working with some of the most vulnerable children and their families; with specialist knowledge and expertise, we are able to help young people on their journey into adult life.

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