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14 May 2010

Take a tour of Toynbee Hall

Toynbee Hall, in Whitechapel, is a settlement house founded in 1884 by a Church of England curate, Samuel Barnett, and his wife, Henrietta. The aim of the house, and many like it, was to arrange for rich and poor in society to live more closely together, and it was established in one of London's poorest urban areas, so volunteer middle-class "settlement workers" could come and give time and service to local people.

The idea was that they would then take the lessons they had learned into normal life, to make an impact in their chosen field. It worked, in some cases spectacularly, with celebrated residents Clement Attlee and William Beveridge, becoming the most famous social reformers of their generation and maintaining a life long connection with Toynbee Hall.

The hall takes its name from Arnold Toynbee, a young academic and friend of the Barnetts, who died serving the poor. Toynbee Hall, which itself was Grade II listed in 1973 has had an amazing impact on the East End, and still provides a series of social programmes for the disadvantaged. Side projects over the years have included annual free art exhibitions organised by Henrietta Barnett, which eventually grew into the Whitechapel Art Gallery, and Toynbee Studios, which opened in 2007 and offer dance and media studios, and even a theatre, to local people.

Toynbee Hall no longer offers organised tours, but they're happy to let you do your own audio tour, with a map and mp3 tour downloadable from their website. They suggest that, should you be interested, you aim for office hours, Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm, when you are most likely to gain access, and make sure you have downloaded the tour first.

For more information, see here

^Picture from wikipedia^

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