Toynbee Hall

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Template:News release thumb Toynbee Hall is a community-focused charity based in Commercial Street, near Aldgate East, in the East End of London. The charity pioneers ways to reduce poverty and disadvantage. It gives one of the country’s most deprived area a voice by providing access to free advice, support services and helps to tackle social injustice. The current chief executive is Graham Fisher.

Toynbee Hall was founded by Canon Samuel Barnett and his wife, Henrietta, in 1884 as the first ever university settlement house of the settlement movement. Their radical vision was 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 then take with them into political and national life. The charity has been pioneering new approaches ever since.

Throughout its history Toynbee Hall has led on a number of welfare issues: from initiating adult education, free legal advice services and family support in the early 20th century, through to tackling financial exclusion, social isolation and raising aspirations. Toynbee Hall has successfully created practical solutions to meet the needs of their local community – with a national, and international, impact.

The charity has been a catalyst for social reform in the UK for almost 130 years, and is continuing to bring together communities, organisations and policy makers to create new ways to help those who find themselves in poverty today.


File:Clocktower of the Toynbee Centre, Spitalfields - - 307325.jpg
The hall, with its Arts & Crafts features, is now nestled among buildings in London's East End

The original building was designed by Elijah Hoole in vicarage-gothic style. The building was designated a Grade II listed building in 1973.


Named in memory of their friend and fellow social reformer, Oxford historian Arnold Toynbee, who had died the previous year, the radical idea behind Toynbee Hall first began in 1883. It traditionally provided a base where students from the Oxford and Cambridge universities came to live as residential volunteers. This enabled the students to undertake social work in the deprived areas of the East End and learn something of what it was like to experience poverty – in the words of Samuel Barnett, "to learn as much as to teach; to receive as much as to give".

Toynbee Hall was the pioneer in the concept of “urban settlements, which then spread throughout England and the United States (including, Hull House). By 1900 there were over 100 settlements in the United States and in 1911 the leaders of the social settlement movement founded the National Federation of Settlements.

Activities and programmes

Toynbee Hall has been at the heart of social reform and continues to create new ways to help those who find themselves in poverty today – whatever their age or background.

Tower Hamlets is still characterised by high rates of child poverty, worklessness, mortality and overcrowding. The majority of the 9,000 people the charity worked with in 2011/12 live on very low incomes, have multiple needs, low aspirations and often poor health. Staff and volunteers work alongside them to identify the services they need to improve their lives, and provide opportunities for them to take action on community issues to fulfil their potential.

Their work is themed across different areas including: Advice, Youth Services, Financial Inclusion, Wellbeing and community engagement. Service users are diverse, and include young people, older people, new migrants, people who are financially excluded, people facing serious legal issues. Find out more about the breadth of their services by reading their Impact Report.

Toynbee Hall’s services are free of charge, and every year nearly 500 residential and non-residential volunteers support the charity to deliver services and engage with communities across Tower Hamlets and beyond.


Notable people and organisations

  • Charles Robert Ashbee, son of erotomaniac Henry Spencer Ashbee, created his Guild of Handicraft whilst a resident at Toynbee Hall in the late 1880s
  • The Whitechapel Art Gallery (founded 1901) grew out of annual free art exhibitions organised by Henrietta Barnett
  • Toynbee residents included RH Tawney and Clement Attlee
  • William Beveridge began his career by working as Sub-Warden at Toynbee Hall from 1903 to 1905
  • Visitors to Toynbee Hall included Lenin and Guglielmo Marconi
  • The Workers Educational Association (WEA) was founded here in 1903
  • Child Poverty Action Group was founded at a meeting held at Toynbee Hall in 1965
  • John Profumo dedicated much of his time to the Hall from the 1960s onwards after the Profumo Affair forced him out of politics
  • Sir Harold Atcherley was Chairman of Toynbee Hall from 1985 to 1990
  • Jane Addams, future winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, visited Toynbee Hall inspiring her establishment of Hull House in Chicago
  • Sir Nicolas Bratza, was a volunteer at Toynbee Hall's Free Legal Advice Centre in the 1960s. He went on to become the President of the European Court of Human Rights from November 2011 to October 2012


  • Briggs, A. and Macartney, A. (1984) Toynbee Hall. The first hundred years, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Pimlott, J. A. R. (1935) Toynbee Hall. Fifty years of social progress 1884 - 1934, London: Dent.



External links

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